I love books and I love lists of fun things and I’ve just found this website, Broke and Bookish, which has top ten book lists every Tuesday! The most recent one was post your top ten books of 2017.
I’ve reread a lot of things this year so it’s good to go back and look at what’s stood out so far, among old and new favourites. In chronological order of when I read them, because that’s the way my mind works.
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
This book has been talked and written about a lot since Trump was elected, since it’s apparently about ‘his’ voters – disadvantaged, frustrated, rural, white people. The nostalgia is strong. There is a theme of: we were violent and poor in the past but at least we had a work ethic! Vance seems to blame the welfare state and drugs for ruining his people’s sense of purpose, but he is also scathing of parents treating their kids badly, not putting enough emphasis on education, and allowing potential to be wasted out of disinterest or a kind of reverse snobbishness.
2. The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion
At the beginning of the year everyone seemed to be talking about Joan Didion in that infuriating way of presuming everyone knows who she is and what she does. So I decided to read her and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read her before. This book is a beautiful, surprisingly lucid account of the grief after her husband dies and her daughter is very sick. I’ve read a couple more since this one but Magical Thinking remains at the top.
3. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
An old favourite. I haven’t read much of Coetzee in a while because the most recent one (The Childhood of Jesus) was very disappointing. It was good to return to this. It amazes me when protagonists can be unlikable without making the novel unlikable. His characters seem to have more than three dimensions – is it possible to have a six-sided character? Because that’s what they are.
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another old favourite that I read while in Winchester, as seeing Austen’s grave made me want to reread her. This was the first Austen I read and while I have since come to prefer Persuasion, I am appreciating P&P more and more as the TV show grows distant in my memory. The TV show is awesome, but there are extra layers in the novel – and I’m possibly liking Lizzie less and less without Jennifer Ehle’s bright eyes to make her inspiring.
5. The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
I read this year’s ago and had it mind as a great Toibin book. I’ve felt the more recent ones – Brooklyn, Nora Webster – were missing something which Blackwater and The South had. A deeper immersion in life, perhaps. Other than a random flashback section at the beginning which I didn’t like, this was as good as I remembered. Families in all their tense, judgmental love, complicated by the fear and grief of AIDs and the moodiness of the Irish seaside.
6. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
A new book! It was listed for the Bailey’s Book Prize this year. I have this idea in my head that I don’t like sci-fi, and then I realise most dystopians are counted as sci-fi and I love a good dystopia. A flu epidemic, unlike anything that’s come before, wipes out 90% of the population. What I loved was how the structures of modern life were adapted despite the lack of modern conveniences – I mean, of course an airport would be a great place to set up a community, even without electricity. I should see how far away Gatwick is for when the apocalypse strikes.
7. Blindness by Jose Saramago
Another dystopia and one I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. I’d heard great things about it, and although it took some time to get into the style (no names, rare paragraphs, no dialogue tags, long long sentences), it’s reputation is well deserved. What would happen if everyone went blind? What a question, even without all the disturbing allegorical layers to it. The chaos is quick and brutal and disturbingly believable. I don’t think Saramago has much faith in governments and after reading two dystopias in a row, I might not either.
8. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
This movie came out and everyone started talking about it, but I didn’t realise it was a YA novel from a few years ago. Small Australian country town in the sixties, prejudice and frustration and cricket – it all feels very recent and could easily have been set now. The mother was thoroughly unlikable, full of petty anger and tending towards masochism, and I can’t wait to see Toni Collette play her in the movie (when I get round to it).
9. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Another new one. This is on lists of ‘best debuts in 2017’ so I thought I’d give it a go (I am trying to read more debuts). It’s about two university students in Dublin who befriend an older, semi-famous couple, and begin a mixed-up mess of relationships with them. All the characters were so enigmatic, and while that seems a little unbelievable, it also felt like one of those cliques of famous people a la the Bloomsbury group or Taylor Swift’s posse.
10. Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose
I’m cheating a bit with this one because I haven’t quite finished, but it is amazing. It’s just really good examples of different types of writing – and writing that is good for different reasons – with super enthusiastic analysis of why it’s so good. It encourages readers/writers to slow down and sink into words, which I have been finding hard lately. Writing and reading frenetically around full-time work does not scream ‘spend an hour on each sentence!’ so this is a really good reminder which I will have to read over and over again. I also love that the author’s name is ‘Prose’.
Suggestions for the second half of the year are very welcome!