It’s the Books of the Year post! This is the second time I’ve tried to write this; the first time I began, I wanted to try and put in a bit of context, do something a little bit different from just a straight-forward ‘This was good’ list, and it ended up turning into thoughts on ubiquitous computing :S
So here we go. A straightforward books of the year post.
This is the list of all the books I’ve read this year, and from it, unless I have counted incorrectly, I can tell you that…
* I read 25 books, counting all the installments of the Glass Books as one book. This isn’t as many as I thought it would be; a lack of big, relaxing summer holiday meant I didn’t get too much read in the summer, and books like Possession really slowed me down. Still, it’s about one every couple of weeks, which isn’t bad since I mainly read on my journey to work (30 mins each way).
* 7 of the books were non-fiction – 28% of the total (not including Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’)
* Of the novels, most (14) were contemporary (i.e. written after I was born, in 1980)
* It’s rare for me not to finish a book; this year, there were two – Shalimar the Clown and The People’s Act of Love. Both were very highly praised, and on my side, both were ones I was really looking forward to. I stopped reading not so much because they were bad novels – although they were – but because neither of them worked as a novel. The writing, the plot, the characters; it just failed, on a basic level, to work for me as a reader. Both suffered, I thought, from being horribly over-written. Shalimar was the worse of the two, simply because its characters were just so dreadful. The only time you felt for them you felt they existed to make you miserable in a very petty way. Both books were terribly serious without earning the gravitas they strove for. The worthiness of their topics (religious extremism in both cases) only made their intellectual failures more glaring.
* Generally, books from writers I had read before didn’t disappoint; Pico Iyer’s Sun After Dark was tremendous. It wasn’t always entirely successful, but when his risktaking pays off, his travel writing is just luminous. I read it before and during back-to-back trips to Houston and Taipei, and it caught the feeling of motion, of travel and the journey itself, perfectly. One of these days I will write a positive review of it on Amazon to counterbalance the detractors! Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go was excellent, too; not a radical departure from previous books, but chilling, moving and delicate. Taichi Yamada’s In Search of A Distant Voice didn’t live up to the promise of the Strangers though, being rather insubstantial.
* I don’t regret buying the subscription to The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters; it was £25, but worth it for the experience of a handsome new installment every Monday. Only the fact I haven’t got the final chapter yet spoils it slightly.
* And finally, the book of the year… it’s got to be Everything Is Illuminated. It’s brilliant and I would be more jealous of how good it is if a) it wasn’t so beautiful and funny and b) so inspiring. I feel terrible I was so late in getting round to it.