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Legs Eleven – Andy reviews his year’s reading

January 9, 2012

Netty and I have been told a few times we should make our posts shorter. And for the most part we’ve ignored you, you rude fuckers. But I might not blather on too much this time because, well, do you really care? Really?

There is no reason whatsoever for this picture to appear in this post.

2011’s books for me fall very roughly into three sets. There’s the ones I’m glad, seriously, really glad to have read. The ones I feel have probably made my world a better place. There are those I really quite enjoyed and kind of vaguely rocked my world in a rockabye baby type manner.  And there are those I enjoyed but whose absence would not have made my year any worse. This is an improvement on previous years, when there has been at least one book which either Netty or I or sometimes both have loathed with psychotic, demented passion.

Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go) and Litt (I Play the Drums et cetera)  did not especially rock my world, while Miller (Lovesong) and Gibson (Neuromancer) are nudging their way in that direction but probably don’t quite make it. Which I guess that Miller and Gibson belong (only just) in the same category as Pamuk (My Name is Red), whose book was rewarding but demanding – demanding to the point, occasionally, that you wondered if the reward was worthwhile. It was, ultimately, but not spectacularly so. Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop was more impressive than all three but doesn’t quite make it to awesomeness level. I grudgingly – very grudgingly – might put Didion (The White Album) in this set, too; while Gibson and Miller just get themselves off my bottom rung, and while Carter makes a desperate grab for the top rung and falls short, Didion just about gets herself there – and then doesn’t. Quite. Maybe.

Which leaves us with O’Connor’s Complete Stories, and Moore’s Collected Stories, and Pinter’s Birthday Party and DeLillo’s Falling Man.

OK, come on. That’s a pretty impressive quartet to end the year with, no?

I could try to pick a favourite from these four. Netty will have her list and it will have a Number 1, don’t you worry about that. O’Connor’s stories may fall short, but only just, and only because there is some early and inferior material included that she would not in a million years have allowed to be published had she been alive to oversee the collection. Take that into account and these four books stand head and shoulder above the rest of our Challenge reading this year.

So anyway. Netty and I have never reviewed the revisited element of the Challenge at the end of the year (have we, Netty? I’m pretty sure we haven’t) and this year I thought fuck that, maybe I will. So here’s my verdict on the six authors from previous years whose work we decided to explore further: Oates - bad choice on my part. She is notoriously productive and some of what she produces is less than impressive. The rest? No complaints whatsoever. Auster’s Illusions perhaps left a bare smidge to be desired but beyond that Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises? Spectacular. Bukowski’s Ham on Rye? Spectacular. Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater? Spectacular spectacular. And Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions? Spectacular fucking spectacular.

Having said that, here’s some of the stuff that was published this year that I read that you should read: The Last Werewolf (Glen Duncan). Embassytown (China Mieville). What the world will look like when all the water leaves us (Laura van den Berg). The Tiger’s Wife (Tea Obreht). The Stranger’s Child (Alan Hollinghurst). The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes). Burning Bright (Ron Rash). Zone One (Colson Whitehead). And I’m guessing a bunch of other stuff as well that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

Reading’s cool, innit. Don’t just think Gee, I should read that one day. Read it. Read it now.

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