Saturday, December 17, 2005


Catching up with the "books of the year" lists

Large ice pellets fell from the sky for most of yesterday, so business at the shop was understandably slow, and I put my feet up and browsed in the year-end book reviews. The TLS has Frank Kermode on page seven noting that one of his picks is Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, (Faber) "...not because it is the best of his books, which it isn't, but because it led me to read the others and discover, belatedly, the magnificence of The Unconsoled." This is how real readers read, isn't it: according to highly personalized chainlinks of books, leading from one to another, not just following some "best" list.

That said, of course I have my own best of the year list - meaning best books I've read this year, which seemed to be the case in the TLS also, not just what was newly-published in the past twelve months. So this year I read widely in the Jonathans: Lethem, Franzen, Safran Foer. I would add Ames, but I have yet to read one of his novels, or his autobiographical book. I particularly loved the essays in The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, 2005). He speaks a language I understand. I respond well to books that have as a main component the search for meaning in life through reading and books, and the resulting melancholy that often arises as the authors figure out how to survive in our generally less-than-friendly-to-the-life-of-the-mind society.

Hence my love of The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (Believer Books, 2004). I'd already read all the articles this book contains, in the Believer magazine, but that doesn't compare with the satisfaction of having them in book form (as he says, "Books are, let's face it, better than everything else..."). One of my absolute favorites.

I also read widely this year in what I call the Hyphens: Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Rupert Hart-Davis, Alec Clifton-Davis (read the wonderful Buildings of Delight, Gollancz, 1986), and James Lees-Milne (Another Self, Hamish Hamilton, 1970, one of the best memoirs of a British childhood I've read).

Back to Frank Kermode. He's one reason I read the TLS. His memoir Not Entitled (FSG, 1995) is another favorite book. “The Manx… like to stay at home, but they have not always been able to.” (p.262) I myself am of Manx descent, so the memoir is meaningful to me above and beyond its intelligence and interest.

More year's best books soon. I've got to tend shop...

I was sent here [so to speak] by Grumpy Old Bookman whose blog is my lunch break treat on weekdays. Am also a Patrick O'Brian fan so was interested in your piece about him.
Have added the Jeremy Mercer book to my list. Looking forward to more visits. Merry Christmas from the backwoods of Spain.
Hello Anne and thanks to the Grumpy Old Bookman for sending readers my way. Merry Christmas to you, too... Last winter I read "21" - the unfinished fragment of Patrick O'Brian's last novel, and I could barely stand to finish it because I didn't want that to finally be all there was. If he had written twenty more books I would start on them tonight.
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