Long Live The Book [February 2]
As we shuck off the old year and steel ourselves for the new (2011 – good lord! 1991 still feels recent to me) it’s worth cranking up the memory machine and noting some highlights of the cultural calendar. I’ll start with books (theatre, opera and film to come later):
‘The Boat’ by Nam Le – this book could be called ‘A Stretch of the Imagination’ (if that title hadn’t already been taken), given the astonishing authenticity with which Nam Le inhabits the minds and worlds of his fictional (and sometimes not so fictional) characters. I heard him being interviewed by Jo Case at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in October where Le told us that ‘as writers we need to go to the painful places’. A timely reminder. Read ‘The Boat’ and fall in love with the short story again.
‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy – I finally caught up with this novel that most book-loving folk read years ago. Suddenly so much about the London i first encountered as a school-girl in 1979 (eg. steel drums bands at school assembly) made sense to me. A great companion to some of Zadie Smith’s best writing.
‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ by Jeff Kinney (parts 1,2,3 and 4) – thanks to Reuben Cumming (aged 11) for putting me onto this stuff. Hilarious. Not just for kids (or maybe for small kids and big kids)
‘Exposure’ by Joel Magarey – a funny/sad tale of a young man circumnavigating the world, trying to negotiate a peace treaty with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Works beautifully as a rare insight into the fear-filled life of an OCD sufferer, as a travel book, and as a romance.
‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan – I hated most of the main characters, loathed the version of human nature that McEwan offers us, but loved this book about climate change politics. Clearly we’re all rooned – but you gotta laugh or you’ll just curl up inside a dark cupboard and wait for The End.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee – it had been about thirty years since I last read this masterpiece and fortunately i’d forgotten most of the plot so i could enjoy it all over again – in bed, in the bath, on the tram, couldn’t put it down. I’ve already pencilled in the next-re-read for 2041.
‘Six Impossible Things’ by Fiona Wood – funny funny funny young adult novel that works as a page-turner for not-so-young adults too. Local, universal, pop cultural, and with a good old-fashioned happy ending.
‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen – finished this one in tears. What an opus of righteous anger. I feel like I’ve met America now – the neighbour who’s gonna take over your street and corrupt your children and fill the drains with sump oil, but bring you delicious fresh-baked cookies after church. As good as ‘The Corrections’, I reckon.
‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss – poetic, elegaic novel with an ingenious Rubik’s Cube structure, all based on one big wooden desk that has had many owners. I wanted to keep writing down quotes from this novel for later perusal. Another one that had me in tears quite often (but that’s a good thing).