2 January 2007

2006 Lit. Review

I’ve done an annual tally a la those intimidating book blogs out there and come up with my own round up for 2006. In addition to magazines, newspapers, children’s books, academic journals and numerous books for uni, I managed to read the following.

For book group:
Ulverton by Adam Thorpe. Read this twenty years ago and loved it. This time, not so much. Neither did anyone else in the group so I felt a bit bad. It’s still one of the most unusual books I’ve read.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Received rave reviews but I felt it drifted along and several months later I can’t remember much about it. A journey, a son, some religion? Ho hum.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Not very good writing and although I cried all the way through it and the characters engaged me, the ending was stupid. I have no intention of reading Picoult again.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Wow. Reading this immediately following the Picoult merely highlighted the superior deliciousness of Grenville’s writing. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this much as I hated Lillian’s Story and barely tolerated Idea of Perfection so it was a wonderful surprise.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees was next and although some in the group were not interested, I really liked this book. The three sisters’ characters were beautifully drawn and the protagonist was very real. I wholly lived in this book while I was reading it, and I liked that I learnt stuff about beekeeping too. A sweet bonus.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. We read her collection of short stories (Interpreter of Maladies - isn’t that the best title?) the year before for book group and loved them. This debut novel was readable and enjoyable, but I think short stories are Lahiri’s forte.

Shadow Boxing by Tony Birch. Gritty, working class, inner city Melburnian. 1960s school of hard knocks memoir stuff. Spare, simple writing about brutal times. His photo on the back cover is exactly as you would expect (boxer’s nose and hard eyes) – apparently he teaches creative writing at Melbourne Uni these days.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail. Another one I just loved. Dreamy and evocative, and oh so visual. I am cross that the filming of this story was stopped – I spent the whole book picturing Our Nic as the speckled beauty, floating quietly across a landscape like that of the national park at the end of our road. The book annoyed some of the more pragmatic of our book group, and Murray Bail is quite weird sometimes (Homesickness, anyone?) but I went with it and was swept away. The word ‘lyrical’ springs to mind.

Emma by Jane Austen. Mixed reaction from the group but with most people appreciating the writing from afar, if that makes sense. (As in, stylistically fixed in a specific time long long ago). I enjoyed it and plan to read Persuasion some time soon.

On audio tape:
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. I was mesmerised by this, once I learnt to tune out the sounds of the narrator licking his lips and sucking in air. I had read McEwan’s Atonement the year before and been underwhelmed, but this one gripped me from its startlingly visual opening lines. The man can really write. I refuse to talk about the film version which got the beginning just right, but then, well, no, I’m not going to talk about it.

A dreadful bodice ripper that got me all hot and bothered on the freeway. Blogged about elsewhere but I can’t find the link.

Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish - unlistenable. Great premise and it sounded intriguing, but I just couldn’t take it for more than two cassettes. I found it overwritten and pretentious, but did enjoy Death of a River Guide the year before so will try Flanagan again, if only in deference to the lyrical writing of his brother Martin.

Step Ball Change by Jeannie Rea. Light and lovely, not terribly memorable but pleasant enough at the time. I liked the way the author wrote so very convincingly about her total obsession with dance. I’ve never been the least interested in tap dance, but I’ve done a lot of modern dance in my time and understand the feeling of totally losing my body in music.

Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx. Very stripped back, spare prose as per usual for Proulx. Some stories were better than others and there was much brutality and violence; the collection ends with the starkly beautiful and poignant Brokeback Mountain so I had to get the film out on DVD. It lived up to the book.

Girl with a Pearl Earring Tracey Chevalier. Will definitely look up more of her books. I loved loved loved this. Absolutely exquisite. Possibly my book of the year. I want to get a print copy on my bookshelf as soon as possible so I can read and savour it at my own pace. The film of the book was gorgeous, but the book even better. Loved loved loved it.

Down Under by Bill Bryson. I’ve read this, and although it passed the time in the car, I didn’t like the overtly nasal American accent of the narrator. I kept wishing for the dulcet tones of Bill himself to take over. Also, Americans canNOT do Australian accents (not even Meryl) so they should not try. Cue neat segue into …

my current audio book in the car … Collected Stories by Janette Turner Hospital, read by an Australian actor who canNOT do American accents and keeps putting r’s where they don’t belong (ie. Honder and idear and Mamar). Apart from that, I’m enjoying these stories, some more than others. And only a few feature Americans [and thus the need for the accent] so it’s bearable.

Other books read throughout the year. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but here’s what I remember:

Possession by A.S. Byatt on babelbabe’s recommendation. Loved it – so rich and layered and intelligent and detailed and erudite and eloquent and unlike me right now [or ever]. Will read this again and again I suspect. I’ve put it on the book group list for this year and am making everyone else read it so I can talk about it some more. I want to marry Roland and live in the BM. Of course I did make the mistake of watching the film version.

Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters which was nearly as good as his brilliant A Fine Balance (one of my top ten all time books) but not quite. I’m definitely going to chase up his other books though.

Emergency Sex [and other desperate measures] by Cain, Postelwait and Thomson. Not great literature but a ripping yarn about twentysomethings in scary places. Warning: makes one very cynical about the UN.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Another scary one, featuring an opening scene that grabs you by the collar and reels you right in. Incredibly visual – they must have made this into a film, yes? I also enjoyed Atwood’s Alias Grace a few years ago, and her new one Oryx and Crake is on the list for book group this year.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Fabulous historical crime fiction, featuring those pesky Plantagenets. Finished a couple of days ago, on the beach at Inverloch. Followed immediately by …

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute. I’d seen the BBC tv series starring Helen Morse and Bryan Brown many years ago and enjoyed it, but had never read the book. The first half of the book was gripping, particularly with the knowledge that the cross-country march of the women and children prisoners was based on a true story. But I was shocked by the blatant racism in the last half (it was written in 1950 when it was apparently quite okay to say abo and boong according to Mr Shute and his nice English gel) and I felt the story went off the rails. Finished the next day on Venus Bay beach, leaving a nasty taste in my mouth.

I’m now reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk but struggling to maintain interest. Reading about blizzards while lying on white hot sand just feels wrong.

So, my top book of 2006? I can’t pick just one, so will go with Girl with a Pearl Earring, Possession, Eucalyptus, and The Secret River. All fabulous and I’m pleased to say two of them are Australian authors.

(Top all time books: those above, plus A Fine Balance, Life of Pi, Year of Wonders, and The Time Traveller’s Wife).

In 2007 I’m looking forward to reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Alice Pung’s growing up in Footscray memoir Unpolished Gem and Salley Vicker’s new one The Other Side of You (I absolutely loved her Miss Garnet’s Angel and quite enjoyed Instances of the Number Three). I also plan to tackle The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Listen by Kate Veitch, and Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson which was generously flown across the oceans to me by dear babelbabe along with several other books this year. I’d like to re-read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and then move onto his Memories of My Melancholy Whores possibly just because the title appeals to me. Persuasion and The Name of the Rose are also on the TBR shelf along with Stones from the River and numerous others. I would hate to count how many unread books I own.

Too many books, too little time.

Sigh …

Next up, my knitting round up?


Jodi said...

Thanks for the reviews! I have The Kite Runner and The 13th Tale on my 2007 to-read list, too. I highly recommend Stones from the River, The Name of the Rose, and Persuasion. I certainly enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but I was more impressed by how she wove different stories together in Case Histories.

Happy New Year!

Mary said...

I'm loving all these reading round ups - lots of inspiration for new books to read, plus some nudges to read some that I've got sitting on shelves unread. You MUST read The Name of the Rose, such a great book.

Lazy cow said...

You are kidding! BB sent you Behind the scenes? Guess what I picked up for you (and promptly forgot to send) a month ago? Yep, the same book. Truly spooky.
Glad you enjoyed Possession too, and I did like Eucalyptus (but Nic is way too old!)
BTW, my blog is not intimidating, have you checked out some of the literary ones, with great writing? THEY are intimidating.

Anonymous said...

yes handmaid's tale was made into a movie, one i have not seen but would really love to. kite runner is fantastic, def something to look forward to in 2007.

after living in melbourne a few years ago, i am so happy to find melbourne blogs and relive some of my happier moments on lygon street :) happy reading in 2007.

nutmeg said...

You got through some great reads there Suse. I picked up The Other Side of You for $10 the other day and was quite chuffed. I have Miss Garnet's Angel down for reading this year. So too A Fine Balance.

We read Emergency Sex for book group and the subject matter really got us talking. The lady annoyed the hell out of me though.

I would also like to tackle The Secret River and Gilead - I've heard good, middling and bad about each. I will just have to see for myself and just stop talking about it :-)

Looks like you've got a good reading year coming up. I recently read Unpolished Gem and enjoyed it immensely.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, I've already left a comment here already but I guess blogger doesn't like me.
The Handmaid's Tale has been made into a movie with Natasha Richardson. I found The Kite Runner powerful and loved Behind The Scenes. Happy reading on those ones.
Is it really already Tuesday down under?

String Bean said...

I love your book reviews and I always write them down in my Book of Books to Read. After you mentioned Eucalyptus, which is a lot like reading someone's dream, I've taken your book advice to heart.

If you're looking to learn from books, you should read these nonfiction books:

A History of the Palette and Jewels by Victoria Finlay; Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel (founder of Aftelier Perfumerie); A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman; The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes; and This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Your music-loving son would like that last book.

BabelBabe said...

Handmaid's Tale was actually a decent movie - check it out.

Am looking forward to Family Matters, as Fine Balanace is in my top - well, at least twenty - ever. also, Miss Garnet's Angel.

My book group did not do well with Possession - not one person finished it, and I was disappointed. (It was more or less the clincher in my decision to quit the group.) wish your group better luck!

BabelBabe said...

also, btw, Diane Ackerman is an excellent recc - I own and have enjoyed every single one of her books.

Jane said...

I have one word to say to you. Persuasion.

herhimnbryn said...

Girl with a pearl earring....truely divine....I often find myself arranging sliced veg artistically now! Who read it?

Possession.....I adore this book, love to read it in the winter, by the fire with a large glass of red.

I now want to read Eucaluptus afer your description, thankyou.

Re Sally Vickers...the other Side of you. It didn't enchant me like M G A or Mr Golightly's Holiday...very different, however her writing style always enchants me.

Sense and Sensibility have you read this one of Jane's?.....Colonal Brandon....I would marry you in a heart beat! Also the film ( script Emma Thompson) was perfect....but then Alan Rickman may have made me somewhat biased!

Lovely reviews Soup Lady Thankyou.

laurie said...

thanks for your post. enjoyed it. "girl" is an all time fav of my too. one year gave it as a christmas gift to many friends and found at World Market little glass dutch ornaments to go with.
i will put some of your suggestions on my 2007 list.

Sharon said...

Can you imagine what it is like to work in a bookshop and have temptation constantly with you... I really enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale - kept me guessing right until the end... Listen was an ok read - I thought it got better as the storyline 'fleshed out'... I am currently reading The Meaning of Night - jury is still out on this one... I read The Gilead closely followed by The Sea... I felt they were similar in many ways... Neede something that upped the pace after that... I have started making a list of all the books I would like to read - in no particular order - a mixture of classics, new and others.... I recently bought Possession from a second hand book store... The Other Side of You looks really good too... Have you read Shantaram and The Book Thief??? Both amazing books... Yes it is a shame that filming was halted on Eucalyptus...
Sharon sighs here - I agree - far too many books and so little time...

Kim said...

A list such as this just scares me.

Hope you had/are having(?) a great holiday.


Di said...

Thanks for reviews. I have read some of these books, but it is always good to get recommendations so that when I get to the bookshop or library I am not left wondering where to look first. If you only read one book in 2007, make it The Kite Runner. A beautiful story and an incredible insight into life in Afghanistan today. It makes you realise how lucky we are living in Australia.

sueeeus said...

I am so insanely jealous of you and each and every commenter! How do you find time to read?! I am astounded by how many volumes you consume!! Astounded! Awed! I am embarrassedly unable to recall more than one book for the entire year, which was Sue Monk Kidd/Mermaid Chair or something like that. It was okay, but not glorious. I shall HAVE to make a list of best-of's for that one fine day when I will have the discipline to read. :) You are so inspiring.

simmyb said...

Goodness I'm impressed with your list - I'm wondering when you read though. I've decided to read more this year and devote a couple of evenings to it. However, with children going to bed or upstairs at 9 or 9.30 I find I drift off to sleep if I read that late. I ought to read in the mornings but I'd feel odd doing it then and guilty (need to work on that one I think).

By the way I love Possession (didn't know there was film) and I've re-read it about 4 times. The Magus is another I re-read. I blubbed through most of the Kite Runner. Just read Wuthering Heights whilst I was ill - what a great book.

Tish said...

I just finished The 13th Tale and couldn't put it down (started it one day and finished it the next). We've had a lot of snow (southern Colorado) so I've been able to indulge in a lot of knitting and reading while waiting for the plow to dig out our street. I've also just finished the newest Tony Hillerman (Navaho mystery series set in Arizona/New Mexico), Dana Stabenow (Alaskan mysteries-I used to live there and recognize a lot of the places she mentions) and Earlene Fowler (quilt themed mysteries set in central coastal California). Next up is either the newest Patricia Cornwell, Bill Bryson's Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, or The Life of Pi.

Kim said...

Despite my dissing earlier comment, one of my new years resolutions is to return to reading on the bus on Mondays and Tuesdays (the day I don't take Jasper into the city w/ me to daycare).

I am thinking of starting with Eucalyptus or maybe The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Your thoughts/advice?

Jeanne said...

After the film of "A Town Like Alice" came out, I read everything my local library had by Nevil Shute, voraciously. Cried at the end of "On the Beach," too, not the least because I'd actually BEEN to Melbourne. I haven't read him in years, now, but I was impressed by the fluidity and ease of his writing.

(I tend to think that sometimes we make too much of Political Correctness these days, but it's sobering to read such casual racism from 1950s writers, especially ones who are otherwise thoughtful and perceptive.)

Have you read the other books by Josephine Tey? Each different, but all with her characteristic wit and intelligence.

You MUST read "Persuasion," and you must see the movie, too. I laugh at myself now that I thought it was boring when I first saw it (maybe it was PMS or something, heaven knows), and now it's one of my all-time favorite movies. Brilliant.