Friday, 26 December 2008

Stuck-in-a-Book's Books of 2008

Boxing Day, and the sales in Yeovil were rather underwhelming, since almost all the shops were shut. Did manage to buy most of Woolworths' stock for not very much money, but even at 60% off I couldn't bring myself to buy any of the books.

I'd hoped to give my list of favourite books after listing those by my family, as promised, but none of them have written about their favourite book of 2008 yet... tut tut... hopefully that will come to you before long. Instead, I'll offer my favourite reads of the year - I couldn't get it down to ten, in fact there were 42 on my shortlist... so here's my Top 15. (I don't include re-reads or more than one book by any author)

15. The War-Workers - EM Delafield
Written in the First World War, Delafield's novel is about women working in the Midlands Depot, though never very clear what they're doing - the central character, Charmain, is relentlessly work-focused, but rather selfish too. A last-minute entry, as I only read it last week; a bit of a slow start, but gathers pace, and some very witty turns of phrase. Some extracts here.

14. Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
One of the books I was lucky enough to review this year, a novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, written in the most exquisite prose. Not wholly Woolfean, as that would just be imitation, but certainly inspired by that most wonderful writer. My review here.

13. Alva & Irva - Edward Carey
Utterly quirky - twins make a model of their fictional town out of plasticine. And that's just for starters. So memorable, and in amongst the bizarre happenings are moving touches about growing up together and growing apart. More...

12. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
Very Dodie Smith, very Nancy Mitford, fun and joyous. Energetic tale about poverty-striken family in an old house (see the Dodie Smith comparisons?!) including Penelope, who meets whirlwind Charlotte at a bus stop. More...

11. Miss Marlow at Play - AA Milne
A play by AAM which I hadn't read, the usual Milne inimitable whimsy. Very short, but I always love dipping into Milne territory and enjoying the fanciful and inconsequential. In fact, with new reads and re-reads, Milne might be my most read author this year.

10. Pencillings - J. Middleton Murry
Mr. Katherine Mansfield's witty, literary and erudite essays, written in 1922, on many and diverse topics: literature vs. science; an amusingly poetic book about herbs; the use of the word 'genius' in reviews; Winston Churchill... More...

9. The Bestowing Sun - Neil Grimmett
I requested this book to review when I learnt it was set in Somerset - about families and art and so well written. Neil Grimmett has mentioned the potential of a trilogy... pop over to Flame Books and buy this before everyone else finds out. More...

8. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald

After finding Human Voices so-so, I loved this melancholy but wise tale of starting a bookshop. Thank you Lynne for giving it to me. Which Penelope Fitzgerald novel to go for next? More...

7. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Finally rectified having not read this deserved classic, I'm sure everyone knows everything about it - I was surprised how little space the trial occupies, this is much more a novel about a father/daughter relationship. More...

6. Yellow - Janni Visman
Agrophobia and neuroticism were never so well told. This, along with Alva & Irva, was a novel I bought after seeing it in the Bodleian cataloguing department - quirky, striking, unique. More...

5. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A short story, but came in a stand-alone Virago. Superlative. (And proves the popularity of books with 'yellow' in the title this year.) A marvellously subtle depiction of mental illness and the inadequacy of the contemporary medical profession. More...

4. Lucia's Progress - EF Benson
My big re-reading project of the year was the Mapp and Lucia novels, inspired by Elaine aka Random Jottings discovering them for the first time. I'd never read the final two in the series, so it had to be one of them - and they keep getting better and better. Bereft to finish. More...

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
Thanks Elaine for putting this in my path; fun and moving and literary and wonderful. Set in 1946, and owing a little to the Provincial Lady, this epistolary novel sees authoress Juliet exchange letters with residents of Guernsey, and later visit them, bringing Occupation Guernsey to life. A lot of bloggers have delighted in this; so sad that the author died in 2008. More...

2. As It Was - Helen Thomas
Not just because the author shares her name with my aunt... Edward Thomas' wife was overshadowed by his fame, but her autobiography of their marriage is beautiful and honest. Despite obviously loving him enormously, he comes across as a fairly vile man - even so, As It Was and the sequel World Without End (published together, with extra material, as Under Storm's Wing) are must-reads for the true depiction of life and the exceptional writing quality. More...

1. The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters - ed. Charlotte Mosley
Unutterably divine - social history, comedy, insightful, moving. A lot of bloggers have eulogised about this collection, expertly edited by Charlotte Mosley, and indeed many reviews came last year - I read the collection slowly from November '07 to April '08, which is an ideal method. I've since got/read a few other Mitford letter collections, but this is something exceptional. This book felt like a journey with a family, and I have rarely been so upset to finish a book. More...


For the sake of simplicity, here's that list again, without the extra bits:
15. The War Workers - EM Delafield
14. Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
13. Alva & Irva - Edward Carey
12. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
11. Miss Marlow at Play - AA Milne
10. Pencillings - J Middleton Murry
9. The Bestowing Sun - Neil Grimmett
8. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
7. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. Yellow - Janni Visman
5. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
4. Lucia's Progress - EF Benson
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
2. As It Was - Helen Thomas
1. The Mitfords: Letters of Six Sisters - ed. Charlotte Mosley

4 comments:

  1. Merry Christmas!

    I've been eagerly anticipating your list and enjoyed it very much.

    The Quirkology book sounds interesting too!

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  2. Yes, I loved The Mitfords,too. I couldn't help feeling incredibly sorry for Unity. Really wanted to know more about the brother, Tom, too.

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  3. what kind of books do you read actually? or you just love to read all books?

    ~hello from Malaysia

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  4. Hi - just happened upon your blog - was struck by your two "yellow" books in this list - I my thesis is on the color yellow so I feel a kinship. (:

    ReplyDelete

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