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.
Next up, my knitting round up?