Well, ’tis that time of the year. Winter Solstice — the time when you will find me burrowed under blankets by the fire, book in one hand, tea in the other. Also the time when the “Best of” book lists are coming out. (I’m most grateful to find THE EMPTY ROOM on a couple of them.)
I love book lists and recommendations and I post mine on Booklikes.com and TheReadingRoom.com. They’re both independent sites — by which I mean not affiliated with any large book retailer — and you can, if you’re interested, follow me there.
However, since it is almost year end I thought I’d post a list of the books I’ve read this year, linked to my reviews if I wrote a reasonably long one, in case you’re interested. Some great books this year and next year’s list is looking to be just as terrific. Books I particularly loved are in bold.
Since I’ve read over 70 books this year, I’ll post in installments. Here’s the first 25 . . .
1. Island by Alistair MacLeod – It is astonishing to me how timeless these stories are. They seem to exist utterly outside of contemporary life, and yet are undeniably relevant in every way that matters.
2. Stories about Storytellers by Douglas Gibson – A lovely book by a pioneer Canadian publisher about the writers he published and guided. Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Mavis Gallant . . . they’re all here. A wonderful read for fans of good literature, full of lively and poignant anecdotes.
3. Alone with You by Marissa Silver — Splendid short stories. Go buy this one!
4. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – One of my favorite books. Perhaps the greatest depiction of the repercussions of untreated alcoholism and the ‘dry drunk’ I’ve ever read.
5. Among Murderers by Sabine Heilein — Great idea, but . . .
6. Henri Nouwen by Wil Hernandez – A reasonable introduction to Nouwen’s work, but very dry and oddly uninspiring. Better, perhaps, to read Nouwen, than to read about Nouwen.
7. The Restoration Artist by Lewis Desoto – With the language of a poet and the eye of a painter, Lewis Desoto has written a book of astonishing depth. This timeless novel lures the reader to a near-mythical island of beauty and longing, and there explores loss, grief and the meaning not only of art but of life itself. Since I ‘blurbed’ this book, I didn’t formally review it.
8. Ubik by Philip K. Dick – A wonderful brain-cramping twisted thrill ride of a book. What a mind Philip K. Dick has. Part of the joy of a novel like this, which is supposedly set in 1992, is seeing how he got the future right, where he got it almost right, and where his imagination got lost (although in delightful ways). It’s easy to see why he inspired so many writers. Bravo.
9. The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes – Well-written, but disturbing.The title is wholly ironic, as the everyday objects here wist into frankly terrifying parodies of the American dream. Suburbia has never looked more sinister.
10. With Malice Toward Some By Margaret Halsey – This 1938 book won Halsey one of the early National Book Awards. A delightfully acid account of her impressions during a brief period she and her husband spent in England.
11. The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz, Katherine Ketcham – A wonderful book — inspiring, accessible and thought-provoking. Through the writings of Alcoholics Anonymous and a wide variety of faith traditions — both in commentary and wisdom stories — the reader is guided to accept the liberating and profound truth that wholeness and serenity are found in the paradox of perfection in imperfection.
13. Last Acts of Kindness; Lessons for the Living from the Bedsides of the Dying By Judith Redwing Keyssa – Keyssar certainly doesn’t romanticize how hard dying is on everyone involved, but she does a terrific job of calming the waters. It need not, she shows us, be a time of terror and agony.
14. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative By Thomas King –It should certainly be required reading for anyone who cares about stories, First Nations people, history, religion or politics (and particularly the #IdleNoMore Movement).
15. The Glass Harp by Truman Capote — Capote’s early work, before the booze, drugs and despair ruined him. These are finely-written stories, full of Southern Gothic misfits and grotesques. The language is beautiful, the subject matter, especially in hindsight, quite heartbreaking. In a world full of outcasts and marginalized dreamers, one senses how the author himself felt alienated and out of place.
16. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity By Katherine Boo – Astonishingly well-researched. Boo’s attention to detail and ability to vanish into her writing, allowing the subjects of her work to maintain the spotlight, is admirable, however . . .
17. The Information By Martin Amis – This is not an easy read. Dense and packed with rich, often playful language, it is a satire, a memento mori and a scathing indictment of modern literary criticism. The best analysis I’ve found of the book is here, by Martin Locock: http://locock.blogspot.com/2006/07/revengers-comedy-interpreting.html and for anyone interested, I suggest they read it. It will help, however, to tell you that the ‘information’ in question is, as Locock asserts: “…not death as such; the information is the knowledge of one’s own mortality.” Indeed.
18. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese – A wonderful book. Subtle, profound, deeply moving and beautifully written. It should be on everyone’s reading list. He has a new one coming out in 2014, which I can’t wait for, and I’ve another of his books on my to-read list. What can I say? I’m a fan.
19. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story by Elisabeth Bailey – As astonishing as it may sound, reading about seriously ill woman finding companionship with a wild snail who lives next to her sick bed is an experience both profound and moving. It is a meditation on life with the microcosm of a gastropod’s life serving as the symbol for the majesty, mystery, tenacity and downright lushness of existence itself. A slim volume which is far greater than the number of its pages, it’s a book I will no doubt read again. In truth, I became surprisingly attached to the little snail.
20. Bound By Antonya Nelson – A thoughtful, elliptical novel. Beautifully written, deeply insightful.
21. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle – Beautifully written and thought-provoking, about the summer during which the author’s mother did the hard work (for all concerned) of dying. The link will take you to an essay I wrote on the book and the “Solace of Ousia.”
22. Just Kids by Patti Smith – Reminds me that every once in a while not all youthful dreams of artistic fame are mere delusion. Well worth the read for a portrait of the time and place as well as the artists.
23. A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich – Wonderful book. Witty, humane, informative. Children will be lucky to find it; but perhaps adults will be even more appreciative.
24. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman – This is an utterly astonishing book — complex, thoughtful, elegiac, Wiman’s book of essays are a profound medication on faith and poetry and the search for meaning.
25. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West – Beautiful book. Just as inspiring and relevant today as when it was first published in 1931.
So, there’s the first 25 up. Read from January to April of 2013. More to come . . .
Happy mid-winter reading, everyone! (My favorite of all the return-to-light celebrations!