Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Favourite Books Of The Year

My recent vision problems have cut my reading-time to almost nothing, and I've felt lost without a book in my hands. Now my eyes are a little better I'm reading again, although at a slower, more measured pace, and here's a short list of the most memorable titles I've read this year.

My favourite general non-fiction title has to be Ben Goldacre's Bad Science which answered all sorts of questions I had about how research can be rendered unreliable by poor practise, and how results can be manipulated and designed. I consider it essential reading for all writers, whether they write fiction or non-fiction, regardless of whether or not their work has a scientific bias. It's informative, clever, beautifully-written and laugh-out-loud funny, and not to be missed. My other non-fiction pick of the year comes from Robyn Scott, who I met when we both took part in Sue Cook's The Write Lines radio show. Robyn was kind enough to give me a copy of her memoir, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood, which I've now read twice. It's an absolutely stunning book which deserves to win handsful of very significant prizes. My only criticism of it is that I wanted it to be longer!

Onto novels. Sue Gee's wonderful Reading in Bed delighted me. It was so beautifully-paced, so carefully-drawn: I loved it (and my friend, Sally Zigmond, felt the same). I've now read most of Sue Gee's books and am watching out for her next one, ready to snatch it off the shelves as soon as it appears. Patrick Gale's Notes from an Exhibition also had me spellbound: I'd not read him before I found this one on the three-for-two tables at Waterstone's. Gale is a beautiful writer, capable of using great lyricism and emotion without dipping into sentimentality, and I am looking forward to working my way through the rest of his books. As for Paul Torday: I resisted the urge to read his Salmon-Fishing book, popular though it was: the title didn't appeal to me, and I thought the cover was a little dull. Then a friend gave me a copy of The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce, and I was enthralled. It's a beautiful, sad, wistful book, and I love it.

The two most beautiful books I've bought this year have to be John K Bollard's companion pieces, The Mabinogi and Companion Tales to the Mabinogi. Bollard is a noted authority on the tales of the Mabinogi, and he tells the stories in his typically sparse and very Welsh style; his books are illustrated with stunning photographs of the Welsh landscape which come from Anthony Griffiths, a prizewinning photographer with an exceptional eye. I love these two books, and hope that more will come from this particular pairing. Lovely stuff.

I am particularly fond of short stories and this year I read two fabulous collections, both from Salt Publishing: Carys Davies' Some New Ambush, and Tania Hershman's The White Road and Other Stories. Both books show the short story at its absolute best and even now, months after reading them, the stories are still fresh in my mind: both Tania and Carys are expert at implication and their styles, while different, are sparse and poetic. They are now both on my list of must-buy writers.

I've read over a hundred books this year, and it's been difficult to pick out my favourite few: but as I've written about each one here, I've wanted to pick it up and read it again, right now. For me, reading is a constant, reassuring joy, and 2009 has been a wonderful year for books and for blogging: I thank everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read my blog this year, and look forward to reading my way through 2010 alongside you all.


Karen Schwabach said...

So glad your eyes are doing better, Jane. It's good to see your blog again. Happy New Year!

Karen Harrington said...

Wow, that's a lot of books for the year! Happy New Year to you!

Tania Hershman said...

Jane, so glad your eyes are slowly getting better. A world without reading is sad indeed. And thank you so much for the lovely mention, so glad some of my stories spoke to you. Carys' collection is stunning, a wonderful choice, thanks for the other recommendations. May 2010 be an excellent year of reading for you and for us, your devoted blog followers!

Sally Zigmond said...

Welcome back to Blogland, Jane. I thought we'd lost you to Twitter. I've had nobody to be rude to recently, except that Morgan woman but she gives away chocolate which makes it difficult.

Good, too, to see four of my favourite books on your list, including Tania's.

See you in 2010, if only at a certain book launch some time in April!

HelenMWalters said...

I have the Carys Davies collection on my TBR pile. Must actually read it soon.

catdownunder said...

Ah, purr! I missed you Jane - but you just added some more to that already dangerously unstable stack of books I sit on. When am I going to find time to read these and keep my paws on the keyboard? Whatever, welcome back but please do not overdo it!

Donna Hosie said...

Continued best wishes for a speedy recovery, Jane.

Your comments on "Notes from an Exhibition" match mine. I had never read a Patrick Gale novel until I picked up that one and it made an indelible impression. I also vowed to work my way though his back catalogue.

Rachael King said...

If you liked Paul Torday, I highly recommend his latest, The Girl on the Landing. It has a similarly unreliable narrator to TIIOW and is even more compelling in my opinion.

katy said...

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your comment on our blog. I'm glad you enjoyed Bad Science so much - I'll let you know when we have more features concerning Ben Goldacre. I enjoyed your list and will be looking into some of the books you reccommended