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And what Netty thought of the 2012 Reading Challenge … in, uh, February …

February 5, 2013

waters-memeIsn’t John Waters just awesome?

OK, so it’s that time of year again. The time of year where, amongst all the other lists I make, I decide on my top 12 from the previous year’s Reading Challenge. What’s that you say? You’re doing your 2012 list in February? Dude, chill – I may have missed the (western) new year by a month and a bit, but I’m still early-purly for the (eastern) new year! OK, I know it’s a lame excuse, but I’m sticking with it anyways.

Netty’s (vastly different from Andy’s) top 12 Reading Challenge tomes for 2012:

12. JORGE LUIS BORGES – COLLECTED FICTIONS
Understandably lauded and worthy writer? Tick. Moments of sheer genius? Tick, tick. But for the vast majority of the time unspeakably dull and tedious? Tick, tick, tick.

11. ALLEN GINSBERG – HOWL/FROM SELECTED POEMS 1947-1995
I’m with Andy on this one. Just watch the movie Howl instead. The one where James Franco plays Ginsberg. Franco doesn’t really pump my ‘nads, but he does an awesome job in this surprisingly good flick. Hold on – this is supposed to be a book blog, right?

10. PETER ROBB – M
Look, Robb is undoubtedly a very good writer, and this is an impressive reconstruction of the incredible, often soap opera-ish life and times of Italian painter Caravaggio. But what can I say? – when it comes to art, I’m a thoroughly modern Milly. Soz, Pete …

9. SAMUEL BECKETT – WAITING FOR GODOT/FROM THE COMPLETE DRAMATIC WORKS
The legendary Irish playwright’s most famous offering for the stage – essentially a play about nothing, in the Seinfeld sense of the phrase – has merits aplenty amongst its absurdist, existentialist bent. But I still think I would have gained more from seeing it, rather than reading it.

8. JEFFREY EUGENIDES – THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
The death of the five Lisbon sisters in early 1970s midwest America – as revisited by the fellow small-town boys who loved them – is a fascinating and evocative coming-of-age tale, with a very dark, sly twist in its tail.

7. THEA ASTLEY – IT’S RAINING IN MANGO
That Astley only clocks in at No. 7 on my list is in no way a reflection of the quality of this work – it just means that I liked the six above it even more. Mango is a must-read, multi-generational saga of life in northern Australia, featuring the unforgettable Laffey clan, and a very important part of the canon of our greatest literature.

6. RICHARD FORD – THE SPORTSWRITER
The first installment of Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy is a skilful, often sublime portrait of the pathos of being a white, middle-class, middle-aged man. You don’t always like Frank, a forty-ish sportswriter struggling with the meaning of life in the aftermath of his divorce and death of his eldest son, but you can’t help rooting for him – in the Yank sense of the term, of course.

5. MARGUERITE DURAS – THE LOVER
Duras’s thinly veiled memoir of the love affair between a young French girl and her older Chinese lover – and the story of her emotionally splintered expatriate family –  set against the backdrop of 1930s Saigon, is simply stunning. The cover of Andy’s copy calls it “exotic and erotic” – a crude enough, but completely accurate summation.

4. TONI MORRISON – BELOVED
Morrison’s beautifully crafted depiction of African-American slavery in 19th-century southern USA is shocking but not sensationalist, subtle but does not shy away from the sheer horror of the events that unfolded at the time – and whose effects continue to resonate through that country to this day.

3. NEIL GAIMAN – AMERICAN GODS
Gaiman’s epic road trip across the length and breadth of the United States – as told through his protagonist Shadow, who has unwittingly and unwillingly got caught up in the ultimate war of the gods – is sprawling, ambitious and not always successful. But in shooting for the stars, and not always getting there, it encapsulates the best of truly great fiction.

2. JULIAN BARNES – FLAUBERT’S PARROT
Along with Vidal’s Myra, there was no other book I enjoyed more last year than Barnes’s clever, succinct, often hilarious treatise on the life and times of 19th-century French writer Gustave Flaubert, as seen through the eyes of the fictitious character who sets out to makes sense of his life and thus truly understand his favourite author.

1. NADINE GORDIMER – THE CONSERVATIONIST
I just loved this book. Gordimer is a difficult, but ultimately rewarding and immensely gifted writer who has spent her life fictitiously chronicling her native South Africa through and beyond the apartheid regime – and, through its deeply flawed protagonist here, captures its big, bruised heart beautifully in these pages.

But that’s not all, folks! Then there was the mini-challenge – books/authors I’d never read that Andy chose for me, from amongst his favourite books/authors. The only one I didn’t love was Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, although I am glad that I finally got around to reading it. Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin, China Mieville’s The City And The City were all very, very good reads; John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge were awesome.

So 2012 was the year of good books. Here’s for more of the same in 2013. And speaking of which, just what will Andy and I be tackling this year? Stay tuned, fellow lovers of literature – the 2013 list to follow, stat …

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