Back at the beginning of 2010 I wrote a post regarding my goals for the coming year. Here at the end of 2010 I thought I’d revisit that, and look back over what stands out for me from the year.
My main plans for the year were to read Proust and to read Russian superfluous man novels. I also wanted to read Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, due to its influence on Eugene Onegin.
Well, I read the Byron and I read the first of the Proust and that’s as far as I got. Proust it turns out is as brilliant as I expected, but dense reading and hard to fit in around other commitments. I suspect I read less Russian fiction than I would have had I not had a goal, since I wanted to read in a sort of vague order and therefore didn’t read books that didn’t fit that order.
So much for resolutions. I’m not making any for 2011, though I still hope to read more Proust and more Russian superfluous man novels.
Otherwise, it’s been a challenging year in terms of my reading. Not so much for content, though I have read some satisfyingly difficult books, but in terms of juggling my love of books with the demands of work and a house purchase. Put simply, I’ve not read as much as I’d have liked.
Still, enough with the negative. Here’s a dozen books that looking back really stood out to me:
Hearing Secret Harmonies, by Anthony Powell. Volume twelve to A Dance to the Music of Time and a powerful and melancholy end to the sequence. Brilliant and I’m glad I read them all. Shame I didn’t read Proust first, but there you go.
No Tomorrow, by Vivant Denon. A perfect slice of Ancien Régime amorality.
Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust. Does this need explanation?
The Pendragon Legend, by Antal Szerb. This is just dazzling. Funny, intelligent, daring, playful. It’s an absolute delight and a hugely satisfying novel on a number of levels.
A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien. I wouldn’t have expected to like a novella about growing up in Hollywood at all, let alone so much. This though is simple and well written and surprisingly affectionate. It’s stayed in my memory where other books have faded, or remained for the wrong reasons (I’m looking at you, The Road).
I was Dora Suarez, by Derek Raymond. A novel which famously made Raymond’s publisher vomit across his own desk, and which made me feel genuinely queasy too. I don’t know that I recommend it, but it takes talent to make the reader actually feel nauseous. Still not as good for me though as the first of Raymond’s Factory novels, He Died with His Eyes Open.
Pig Earth, by John Berger. A Kevinfromcanada recommendation and a very good one. Poetry, prose, drawings and essays on Marxist theory all combine to create an extraordinary portrait of French peasant life. Superlative. His A Painter of Our Time was bloody good later in the year too.
Skylark, by Dezső Kosztolányi. I don’t use the word masterpiece lightly, but I use it here. A portrait of a dull elderly couple and their dull daughter. Like Ozu’s Tokyo Story, it sounds tedious beyond belief but in fact it’s as good as it gets.
The Canal, by Lee Rourke. Ballardian existentialism and reflections on boredom. A first novel and so not flawless, but interesting and launched me onto a wave of reading (Ann Quin, Gordon Burn, soon Anna Kavan) that I’m finding very rewarding.
Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton. A master of the minor key as I think John Self once said. Nobody does bars and bullies better than Hamilton.
Berg, by Ann Quin. Challenging and strange, and able to keep my attention in the middle of a horrific deal closing and a house move. It’s not without its problems, but it merits much more attention than it receives.
Alma Cogan, by Gordon Burn. Dark and mesmerising and exceptionally well written. Thanks to John Self who’s well ahead of me on Burn and recommended this as the place to start with him.
All that and I’ve not mentioned Tales of Belkin, or The Jinx, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, or Butterball, or Stone in a Landslide (or Beside the Sea), or anything by the marvellous Jean Rhys, or… Well, ok, it’s not been that bad a year on reflection.
Looking back, one other thing that strikes me is that in terms of genre I’ve enjoyed the crime much more than the SF. Chester Himes and particularly Ross MacDonald both stand out in a way that none of the SF really has for me. In part that’s because the best SF I read, the Gibson, I’d read before but otherwise it may be that I’m choosing the wrong titles or it may be my taste is shifting. I’m not sure. I may not buy much more of it though until I’ve read the SF titles I already have at home just in case it’s not speaking to me as much as it used to.
Otherwise, 2010’s not done yet. I hope to finish my current David Peace. I may read Anna Kavan’s Ice or I may just read something fat to relax with while digesting excessive amounts of turkey. Thanks to everyone who’s commented on any of my posts over the last year and thanks to those who’ve read but not commented. It’s been good keeping the blog going, even if it is occasionally tricky to find the time to do so.
Happy Christmas to everybody.