Finally, I got around to it. It has taken two months to tally up my 2019 reading. (I keep a record of each book I read.) 95 books.
I like to think about my favourite for the year, but choosing one, or even a couple, is always difficult. This year I have come up with a new category: The Books That Have Stayed With Me.
So, The Books That Have Stayed With Me from 2019, in no particular order, are:
- Beloved ~ Toni Morrison Her writing of slavery and the ongoing trauma is powerful, disturbing and so beautifully written.
- Bel Canto and Commonwealth ~ both by Ann Patchett I didn’t want Bel Canto to end, partly because I knew that no good could come to many of the characters, and also because I wanted her beautiful writing to go on. Who knew that a book about a hostage situation could be so wonderful! Her words dip and soar across my mind and the point of view shifts seamlessly between characters. I was resistant to getting onto the Ann Patchett Bandwagon, but I am onboard, and loving the ride!
- Exit West ~ Moshin Hamid Two things stay with me. Firstly the intriguing idea of the portals opening to transport people to other places on the globe. Secondly, the premise of dystopian novels is usually based on the idea that when society collapses so too will all decency and humanity. Hamid doesn’t base his novel on that idea. While there are many examples of inhumanity, he writes of ways in which a future in a broken society may be built on generosity and a mingling of cultures.
- The confessions of the Fox ~ Jordy Rosenberg This book defies description. The best I can do is say it is a wild romp through the transgender world of the 18th century.
Memoir? Biography? Philosophy?
- The trip to Echo Spring ~ Olivia Laing Laing follows in the footsteps of six great American writers ~ Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Berryman, Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway ~ who were all alcoholics. She looks at how their addiction influenced their writing. It doesn’t sound appealing, but if you know Laing’s work you will understand how attracted I was to her writing. (I loved To the River.) Like Morrison and Patchett, her writing moved easily between characters and across time, with jewels of writing. And I have a fascination for addiction.
“When the sun came out the cataracts of ice shone blue, sliver, grey, pewter and sandy brown, the colours entwined like marble.”
- Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me ~ Bill Hayes Another beautifully written book, which is as much about Hayes’ love for New York as his love for Oliver Sacks. The writing is an interweaving of stories of the chance encounters with New Yorkers ~ in taxis, subways, parks, bars ~ and his journal entries of his life with Sacks. He creates a very warm and charming view of people, an optimistic view. Sacks comes across as very sweet, innocent, shy, but with a ferocious brain.
- The Art of Travel ~ Alain de Botton The best way that I can encapsulate this book is to say it is about artists, travel, art works, philosophy, writers, tourists all tied together by de Botton’s smooth writing and fascinating insights.
- Dark Emu ~ Bruce Pascoe Pascoe argues, quite successfully in my view, that Aboriginal people were not the hunter gatherers portrayed after white settlement, but instead had an extensive agricultural system, where they grew crops, stored grain, had aquaculture and managed game animals. And they did so in a way that was suited to the land, creating a fertile land. According to Pascoe, indigenous people were baking bread long before the agrarian revolution in the Middle East.
- The Park Bench ~ Chaboute What a sweet, moving novel this was, of a park bench and the people how interact on it and around it. It is the sort of story that graphic novels do so well.
Now it is over to you….any recommendations are most welcome. I do follow up on them. (For example, someone recommended Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. The second book The Eye in the Door came so close to being on my list. Maybe it should be there, because I still remember how moved I was by the brutality inflicted onto conscientious objectors in the First World War.) I couldn’t get some that were recommended.
On an artistic note, I have been working on some more embroideries, these ones based on the sea. Tomorrow I am going to write about them in my Letter from the Studio. Sign up for the newsletter if you would like to know more about my art.