It’s the time for lists, apparently. I for one am pro-List.
I know many are anti, but for me end of year lists allow me to pick up on all the things I missed out on over the year- and there’s always a lot. I think there is a real risk that journalism is now slipping into the ‘world of lists’- the influence of Buzzfeed- dumbing down complex events into ’10 things’ for example. But for end of year round-ups of books, films and albums- I AM GAME.
I read a real mixture of old and new so I’m often quite slow on new releases and I’d struggle to compile 10 of the “best” books I read that came out this year as it would really just be the few new books that I’d read that year, so I’ve separated my list into two- The Best New Books I Read This Year, and The Best Old Books I Read This Year; with 3 of each.
Every Day Is For the Thief- Teju Cole
Teju Cole’s Open City (which I also read this year) wooed me with its melancholic Sebald-ian narrator, drifting through the urban environment, disengaged and detached. I’ve read quite a few articles which criticise Cole for the referential nature of Open City, and yes it is a richly detailed book with references to composers and artists, but it is not used to alienating effect (in my humble opinion), and rather, creates a detailed feel to the narrator’s head space. EDIFTT is less referential and more personal, mirroring Cole’s life to a certain extent, and thus is much more emotive that Julius’ narration in Open City. I wrote about the book in more depth here: http://www.litro.co.uk/2014/07/book-review-every-day-is-for-the-thief-by-teju-cole/
The Flamethrowers- Rachel Kushner
If I had to choose my book of the year- it’d probably be this. I read this over the summer and I often find myself thinking back over the story and the characters, and it has over time become one of my favourite books I’ve ever read. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes The Flamethrowers such a poignant and touching book, but something about the story of futurism and motorcycles and the late 70s New York art scene and its unswerving addressing of authenticity in art, really chimed with me. I haven’t read anything else by Kushner, but from this book, here is an author who controls language and form with beautiful finesse- highly, highly recommended.
The Absent Therapist- Will Eaves
This is the kind of book that I lap up. One, it’s from the wonderful CB Editions, whose books are beautifully minimal in their design, and fantastic in their choice of authors. Two, its short. I don’t like short book because they’re short. But there’s something about a 100 page novel that is just as (or more) powerful than a 1000+ page brick- see Jean-Phillipe Toussaint, Ann Quinn…The Absent Therapist is made up of little bursts of prose, a thousand different voices tied together by this idea of ‘The Absent Therapist’. Often funny and frequently touching, Will Eaves manages to touch something profound without having to say it, and manages to discuss our own foibles and idiosyncrasies in a subtle and gentle way.
The Blind Owl- Sedagh Hedayat
I won’t repeat myself, as I’ve already written about this fantastic little book here: https://joepha.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/the-blind-owl-sadegh-hedayat/
Stealth- Sonallah Ibrahim
A revered thorn in the side for Egypt’s tyrants, Sonallah Ibrahim is an author I’ve read more about than I’ve actually read. Stealth is a child’s look through the keyhole into the adult world and the strange rituals that structure our everyday lives. The pacing of Stealth is really satisfying and is essentially a book about very little, but is a touching insight into the way that children perceive the adult world.
Three- Ann Quin
The greatest British Female author? Yeah probably. Everyone should Ann Quin, they just have to. Quin stares unblinkingly at Middle Class life and its perverse morality (particularly sexual morality), and is unflinching in her unpacking of the repressed lives of those in the Middle Class. Quin was really a special talent and should be much more widely read- her sprawling structure trawls through the fragments of words and feelings that make up our lives, and pieces them into something beautiful and striking.
There is also a host of books that came out this year that I’ve got but probably won’t get round to reading till early next year but I imagine they’ll be great, they include:
F: A Novel- Daniel Kehlmann
Our Lady of the Nile- Scholastique Mukasonga
The Notebook- Agota Kristof
The Author and Me- Eric Chevillard
And finally: Things to look forward to in 2015 which I also think will be great, or at least hope…..:
Satin Island- Tom McCarthy
Sphinx- Anne Garetta
The Laughing Monsters- Denis Johnson
In Light of What We Know- Zia Haider Rahman (Paperback version)