Monday, December 31, 2007

the end of the affair

Just time for a little round up, as we depart the festive season and get ready to enter a new year.

As hoped there were many pleasing parcels under my Christmas tree, including a bounty of new books to add to my sagging shelves. I’m pleased to welcome -

Found: the best lost, tossed, and forgotten items from around the world (Davy Rothbart)

Wall and Piece (Banksy)

A Winter Book (Tove Jansson)

How We Became Human (Joy Harjo)

Storm Damage (Brian Patten)

Capyboppy (Bill Peet)

Bogwoppit (Ursula Moray Williams)

Survivor - My Story, the next chapter (Sharon Osbourne)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

A little something for the poet, the dreamer, the artist, the collector and the child in all of us.

As the last days fade I annually compile a summary of the best albums, films and books of my past year, to circulate among like-minded friends. This year I share part of that list with you, my virtual but well-read friends.

With the help of Goodreads it would have been all too easy to pick ten books with a 5 star rating - but looking back perhaps at times I was too generous with those stars - you just finish a book, you enjoyed it, you give it 5 out of 5, you look back months later and some that only got 4 now seem stronger and more lasting given a bit of distance. I’ve therefore picked 10 books (out of the 93 that I read this year) that appealed for different reasons -

In A Fishbone Church (Catherine Chidgey) - my favourite Compass Journey Page read of this year

Encyclopedia of Snow (Sarah Emily Miano) - my favourite form messing book, and probably my favourite cover too

The Road (Cormac McCarthy) - for seeing my old cowboy loving friend trying his hand at something different

The Gift of Rain (Tan Twan Eng) - for being the Booker novel that most surprised me by how much I liked it

Number9dream (David Mitchell) - for making me feel so excited by a book, jumping around and smiling and all

Fred and Edie (Jill Dawson) - for being my favourite new author of the year

Do White Whales Sing at the Edge of the World? (Paul Wilson) - for being picked from a charity shop on the title alone but being thoroughly splendid

This Side of Brightness (Colum McCann) - for bleak beauty and making me care about tunnels under New York

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) - for allowing me yet again to prefer the voice of the retard

Tori Amos : Piece by Piece (Tori Amos) - for being my favourite non-fiction, and for making me love her even more, despite not really understanding a thing she is on about

See you all on the other side.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

tis the season

Yesterday I received a delightful little book called Sei - The Glassblower’s Apprentice in the post from Canongate - they had even taken the trouble to co-ordinate the envelope to match the book cover! A festive treat and a vast improvement on the usual corporate card. And its prompted me to do a pre-Christmas catch up.

A long time on the shelves I finally dusted off Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams with the desire to sample Sylvia Plath in prose mode. Many of the pieces are awkward and not that great (although she sounds particularly strong when writing about the sea), but at times her unique eye shines through and we get phrases that would sit happily in her later poems -

‘There might be a hiss of rain on the pane, there might be wind sighing and trying the creaks of the house like keys’

I also travelled beyond the sky via Moondust : In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (Andrew Smith). I enjoyed the author speculation far more than the actual meetings with the astronauts, and his lunar descriptions were unexpectedly poetic, full of shadows and silence - with a moonwalker struggling to navigate the surface ‘trapped in a dusty hall of mirrors’.

I have also conquered my vague fear of Paul Auster. I read The New York Triology about ten years ago, mainly to see why so many of my friends had him high on their literary pedestals. But it didn’t help me to understand - it was ok, but nothing that special. Since then I’ve built him up into one of those ‘he must be great, it must be me that is lacking something’ writers - but I decided to give him a go again. And I genuinely enjoyed Oracle Night - despite the fact that my copy had brown speckles embedded in every other page (which distracted me far more than his use of footnotes). I still don’t think he is that special, but he writes something a bit different, and that is mostly a good thing.

For a reader like me its impossible not to give books to all my friends at Christmas. This year I have wrapped and handed over about a dozen volumes, in all shapes, sizes and persuasions. Books of pictures, books of words, and blank books for those who long to write their own. I’ve also spotted a fair few book-shaped presents lingering under our tree, so hopes are high that my shelves will be even more laden come this time next week.

At this time of magic and sparkle I like to pick appropriate books to read, things that harmonise with the season. Last year I immersed myself in a couple of the Canongate Myths, and there are two still on my shelf so over the coming week I might slip my head inside The Helmet of Horror or dip my finger into the Lion’s Honey. Or I might spend time with Geoff Ryman (Was) and see where his re-working of the Oz story lands me. And then there is The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly) apparently a fairytale for adults - but which has such mixed reviews that I’m rather wary of it.

But for now I am spending the last days of advent in the company of The Portable Virgin (Anne Enright’s collection of short stories) - aptly titled what with all that business with Mary and the donkey!