My 7 Favourite Books 2009

Current obsession: my imaginary boyfriend, Julio.
Currently reading: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Current bad habit: cracking my toe-knuckles.

Regeneration  – Pat Barker

There have been countless novels written about the Second World War, both during, and in the many years since. Regeneration is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Eye in the Door and concluded with The Ghost Road (which won the Booker Prize). What I particularly like about these novels is that they deal primarily with the psychological damage caused by war, as opposed to the physical accounts that most war stories provide. Sure, this novel has its fair share of bloodshed and recounts of the battlefield, but its primary concern is with what happens to the mind of a man who sees frontline battle. It was a concept that really struck me, and one that I find fascinating. I’ve always been curious about the strange ways in which the mind works. Set in an Edinburgh mental hospital for afflicted soldiers during the War, Regeneration is also revolves around psychology and methods of therapy during the era, which now seems both familiar and archaic at once. The story also involves the friendship between two real-life poets being treated at the hospital. I haven’t read The Ghost Road yet, but The Eye In the Door was slightly disappointing to me after Regeneration.

London Fields – Martin Amis

I have a bit of a literature-crush on Martin Amis. I read an interview with him in Vice magazine where he said “I used to be a Mod, but that all changed after my fourth scooter crash”. And that’s when I decided that I loved Martin Amis. Another of his novels, Time’s Arrow, very nearly made this list because it made me completely reconsider the nature of the world and the way in which things happen. I recommend it- it’s a bit of a head-fuck at first, but once you set things right in your mind (the story is told backwards. Like everything is being rewound on a big video player) it takes you in very unexpected directions. BUT, I digress! It was London Fields that I ultimately chose for this list, seeing as I created all these imaginary rules, like that I couldn’t have the same author twice. I absolutely loved this book. Firstly, as the title may suggest, it’s set in London, which as we all know, I have developed an unhealthy obsession with. In fact, my main reason for seeking this book out at all was due to its having “London” in the title. What really makes this special are the characters, which are so unbelieveably well-written they genuinely seem real. Keith Talent in particular was apparently the literary embodiment of a London flatmate of mine who will affectionately be known as Cockney Steve. I was also completely enamoured with the character of a 9-month-old baby named Kim, which took me completely by surprise. I don’t like kids, y’see. But Kim was so beautifully characterised that I found myself genuinely concerned for her well-being. I found it necessary to unburden my fears for Kim on one of my (then) new workmates because I just couldn’t bear the thought of her coming to harm. Oh, and above all, this book is funny!

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Well heeeellllloooooooo, Rhett Butler! Thus heralds the most throbbingly intense crush I’ve ever had on a literary character. Move aside, Yossarian, you’ve been trumped! Gone With The Wind is such an epic story in the true sense of the word. Grand, sweeping and all-encompassing, this book has everything- love, war, passion, births, deaths, betrayal, heartbreak. Even though I know the classic movie well, it was no detriment to the multilevelled story. There is so much detail, and it is written in such an engaging style that I immediately found myself swept up in it. Rhett and Scarlett are not in the least bit likeable- they’re selfish and stubborn and completely self-absorbed, and yet, they are so intriguing it’s almost impossible not to follow their story adamantly. It wasn’t until I had finished the book that someone informed me that Margaret Mitchell had come under criticism for Gone With the Wind bearing strong resemblances to Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. I have Vanity Fair on my bookshelf, so I plan to make my own assessment.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

I adore Angela Carter’s stories. They are always full of magic. Writers such as Carter and Jeanette Winterson, another favourite writer of mine, seem to effortlessly blend fantasy and reality, where it is entirely natural for tigers to disappear into mirrors and clown troupes to get blown away in a snowstorm. Nights at the Circus is like every dream about running away to join the circus writ large. There is an enormous winged lady at the center of the story, which naturally appeals to me, with my stubby inked wings. PLUS, she’s delightfully Cockney. The circus travels from Victorian London to St Petersburg and a train on the Russian tundra. It’s lovely and sad and poignant. I would like to live in that world.

Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga

There are so few black African writers, and even fewer of those are female. In Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga presents the story of three African women torn between two cultures. I have an interest in Africa, and African writers, and this book in particular really touched me. It had a profound effect on me, not just as a novel about the African experience, but as a novel about women. They could be any women in any country- the experience is universal. What I liked about Nervous Conditions is that it presents the problems that arise from Western education and the juxtaposition between the two cultures, in a very subtle and heartfelt way. It makes an important point in a simple, unassuming way.

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry

I’d been searching for this book for months, ever since Graham Linehan raved about it on Twitter, and as we all know, anything said by Graham Linehan, or on twitter, or said by Graham Linehan on twitter, I unquestioningly accept as gospel. And so I was particularly glad to discover that this book was every bit as incredible as Mr Linehan promised it was. Much like Gone With the Wind, this novel is an epic in the true sense of the word. It’s a hefty piece of writing, weighing in at about 800 pages (I think), but is so enthralling that I found myself flying through it. The characters are believable and likeable, yet realistically flawed. I found myself becoming attached to the characters, and if anything should happen to them, I felt genuinely distressed. I always think that the mark of a truly remarkable novel is the ability to make the reader feel something, even if it is distress, or horror, or sadness. As well as being an epic, Lonesome Dove is also a traditional adventure story, full of cowboys and Indians, love unrequited, abductions, ambushes, raging river crossings, outlaws, cattle-drives and shoot-outs, and yet it never ventures into cliche or repetition. People seemed surprised when they saw that I was reading a Western, but I never really thought of it as such- to me it was just an epic story set in the time of the settling of the American West. Don’t judge a book, etc, etc.

Fear of Flying – Erica Jong

This is blurbed (if that’s not a word, bite me) as being “the female Portnoy’s Complaint“, and as exploring the essence of female sexuality, but to be honest, I found it to be more about psychology than sex. Of course, if you should happen to ask Freud, it’s all the same thing (the dirty pervert). I absolutely loved this novel, because there were so many passages that I felt could have easily have been written about me. The way women think, the way they make themselves suffer, and the way they view themselves, it’s almost as if this book was, in parts, written specifically for my benefit (although I’m obviously not so deluded as to believe that it was). I love those lightbulb moments when reading novels when a passage just hits you and you think “Yes! YES! Exactly!” That is the whole reason I read at all- for those moments when it becomes clear that there are ways that other people can put my feelings and beliefs into words on a page and have other people feel them too. Except that they’re not my feelings, they’re the feelings of the author, or the character created by the author. And then I start pondering that I am not alone in the world, and that other people, both real and fictional, share the fundamental similarities that I do. Novels are like a dialogue between two people- the author and the reader. A.S. Byatt wrote “Think of this- that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.” And this is why I read.

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One Response to “My 7 Favourite Books 2009”

  1. Uncle Crazy Says:

    love that you read some classic books – stuff i’ve still never got around to reading. i will indeed pick some of these up now, thanks to you.

    if i may make a suggestion for your books list this year: “The End Of Mr. Y” by Scarlett Thomas. The best book I’ve read in at least 5 years.

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