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ANRC2009: Netty’s verdict

January 24, 2010

Let me start by saying that if Andy and my Reading Challenge goes another 10 years, 2009 may well go down as my least favourites of those. (Of course that’s not going to happen because everyone knows the end of the world is nigh, what with the Mayan calender ending in 2012 an’ all – and I can hear the scoffs from my blogging partner from all the way across town as he reads this.) Andy has said before – and I have relayed this train of thought previously – that it’s a “challenge”, and by crikey at times last year it certainly felt like it. Although, thankfully the diamonds outweighed the dross.

Herewith, my ANRC2009 top 12, in descending order:

12. Rabbit, Run – JOHN UPDIKE
I’m sorry, but this is truly a quantifiable piece of shite, with one of the most dislikeable, unsympathetic characters I have ever encountered in my many, many years of reading. Sure, Updike can write some, but that’s overshadowed by this despicable, loathesome, sad and sorry excuse of a character. For mine, one volume of the adventures of Rabbit Angstorm is one volume too many. There’s another three and a novella out there, but I would personally rather be hung upside down by my toenails and slathered in hot wax and goose feathers than ever, ever read any of ’em.

11. The Black Swan – NASSIM NICOLAS TALEB
Andy, consider this my last and final apology to you for making us read this self-important, grandiose, pompous, unfathomable slab of crapola masquerading as a must-read on global economics. It’s not. Maybe I should have chosen Freakonomics instead … Oh hindsight, what a wonderful thing you are …

10. Delta Of Venus – ANAIS NIN
Very few people write diaries intending that they be read. Very, very few people write sex well. Some of Nin’s erotic sketches contained within this collection are passably OK, but quite frankly if I want titillation, I’ll head to the DVD cabinet.

9. Some Jazz A While – MILLER WILLIAMS
Williams clocking in at number nine should not be seen as a thumbs down. There’s a lot to wade through here, but at its very best Williams’ poetry is highly personal, poignant and thought-provoking.

8. Invisible Man – RALPH ELLISON
An astounding book, as relevant today as it was when it was written some 60 years ago. A simply but beautifully realised fictional study of American race relations by someone who – often painfully – knows the way it goes.

7. The Law Of The Land – Henry Reynolds
Simply a book that every – EVERY – Australian should read. If I was in charge (yes, I know – frightening thought that that is), this would be on all high school syllabuses, and mandatory reading for all new Australians, too.

6. Tree Of Smoke – DENNIS JOHNSON
One of those big, fat, often unwieldy modern American books. Complex in its myriad character and plot threads, but surprisingly readable and ultimately rewarding. And a welcome addition to the canon of twentieth-century war fiction.

5. Liquor – POPPY Z. BRITE
A great romp and a helluva lot of fun to read. Memorable, amiable characters (are you listening, Updike? Even if you were still alive, I doubt it), evocative setting, interesting if somewhat predictable plot, gallops along at a page a minute. Won’t change your life, but will definitely enhance it for a couple of hours. And sometimes that’s more than enough.

4. The White Tiger – ARAVIND ARIGA
The 2008 Booker winner is sly, witty, chock full of the blackest of black humour and well worth taking the ride in narrator Balram’s limousine – as long as you’re not Mr Ashok …

3. Voss – PATRICK WHITE
He might have been a cumudgeonly old bastard, but White well deserves his formidable literary reputation. Voss contains some of the most superb, beautiful, lyrical prose I have ever read. You can see, hear and smell our country in its pages.

2. The New York Trilogy – PAUL AUSTER
Meta-fiction at the very top of its game. Intelligent, clever without being smarty-pants about it, and challenging in the best sense of the word. A mind-fuck of a book, and that is meant as an absolute compliment. And only very, very narrowly pipped into second place by …

1. For Whom The Bell Tolls – ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Astonishing, masterful, compelling. Ernest Hemingway, we are not worthy.

Well that’s 2009 dispensed with. Standby for the 2010 list, on a separate blog coming to a news feed near you ASAP.

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