Friday, January 06, 2012

The Books I Enjoyed Most in 2011

I was going to a best books of the year list, but since taking on the degree work and simultaneously trying to work through the 1001 list, I have read precious few novels in the year of their publication.  Here instead then are the books that gave me the most reading pleasure last year.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey 10*
Quite wonderful, highly enjoyable, both laugh out loud funny and achingly sad, Kesey's best known novel is a near perfect work.

Address Unknown - Kressman Taylor 10*
A Jew betrayed by his German-American business partner sets about gaining a measure of justice, or revenge, in a cunning literary manner.  Published on the eve of WWII, Taylor's novel was banned by the Nazi's.

Cover of "The Burial at Thebes"
Cover of The Burial at Thebes

The Burial At Thebes (Sophocles Antigone) - Seamus Heaney 10*
Long poem or short novel in the style of a poem ? Heaney's translation is flowing and exciting.  He has a most special gift for language.

Appreciating Art - Diana Newell 10*
I bought this to help on my pre-degree course and what an excellent guide it is.  Newell explains clearly, and with lavish illustrations and reproductions of famous art works, how Western Art and painting in particular has evolved from 1400 t the present day.

Attention All Shipping - Charlie Connelly 9*
Radio 4 and the Shipping Forecast are two small parts of what makes the British British.  Connelly explores the physical areas of the Shipping forecast, encountering the people who live in or by them, and uncovering a trove of fascinating shipping and weather related lore.

Surface Detail - Iain M. Banks 9*

Hell is real if you believe in it, or rather if your culture wants or demands it.  Banks has a serious look at one aspect of belief in amongst giant space ships with weird names, death and technological resurrection and a a world sized weapons factory that might threaten known space.  Banks' Culture novels are still the cream of contemporary space sci-fi.

The God Of Small Things - Arundhati Roy 9*
Roy's complex weaving of the lives of a Indian family, told largely through the eyes of one of a pair of twins takes in diaspora, love, passion, the changing political landscape in India and has always at its heart a terrible tragedy that is hinted at in the earliest pages but only is only truly made clear as the novel draws to a close.  Intelligent, passionately enthralling and brilliantly conceived, Roy shows deep understanding of all the many kinds of love.

City Of Thieves - David Benioff 9*

Cover of "City of Thieves (Thorndike Pres...
Cover via Amazon

Two men fall foul of the Communist authorities in besieged Stalingrad and are sent on a bizarre mission to find a dozen fresh eggs for a wedding cake.  It sounds bizarre, but Benioff makes his idea work beautifully.  Yes it is really about the horror of war and man's inhumanity to man, but there is scope for friendship and laughter amongst the bleakness of life in a city at war.

Under Fire : The Story Of A Squad - Henri Barbusse 9*
Translated from the French, this really is the horror of.  Barbusse holds nothing back as he describes the living hell the French troops endured in the trenches of WWI, all based on his own experiences as a soldier. 

Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe 9*
Was Marlowe a better playwright than Shakespeare ? Faustus certainly shows him as a man with of inventive, acerbic wit and a sharp turn of phrase.

The Great God Pan - Arthur Machen 9*
Classic horror, pre-Lovecraft and very much of the same style that H P would later employ.  Only really a novella, but well worth searching out.  Stephen King says it is perhaps "the best horror story in the English Language."

Terra : Four Events That Changed The World - Richard Hamblyn 9*
Hamblyn takes us on a tour of almost apocalyptic natural disasters, always emphasising the human cost.  The section on the Lisbon earthquake - which was followed by firestorm, aftershocks and tsunami - is particularly gripping and well written.

The following were also excellent...
Lord of the Rings Trilogy - J R R Tolkein 10*
Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K Jerome 9*
AA100 Reputations - Ed. Elaine Moohan 9*
Making Sense Of The Arts - OU Course Team 9*
The Time Machine - H G Wells 9*
Of Human Bondage - W Somerset Maugham 9*
Ilkley Revisited - Mike Dixon 9*
The Storyteller's Tale - Omair Ahmad 9*
VSI English Literature - Jonathan Bate 9*
A Month In The County - J L Carr 9*
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens 9*
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman 9*
Forgotten English - Jeffrey Kacirk 9*

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