2014 – 18 books, three months late

March 11, 2015

Or maybe two months late. Anyway.

Any excuse for a pic of a guy with his shirt off.

Any excuse for a pic of a guy with his shirt off.

Traditionally, Netty and I have rated our year’s reads in our own way. Netty usually if not always gives you a one to 12 of our reads, which she has done once again, whereas I am a bit more slapdash. This year however, I am prepared to be slightly more decisive:

The Story of the Eye is the worst book Netty and I read this year. It may be the worst book I have ever read. Erotic? Surreal? Oh please. Just fuck off. And if you want to write about bullfights, read Hemingway first. Blah. Fuck off. Did I say that already?

The Golden Notebook is infinitely superior to The Story of the Eye. It is also, easily, the second-worst book Netty and I read this year. I can see how it must’ve been revolutionary at the time it was written, I can understand why it holds an honoured place in the feminist canon. Also, it’s a bit crap.

The poetry of Seamus Heaney and the short stories of Lydia Davis are not a bit crap. They are for the most part fine, finely crafted pieces of writing. But while some of Heaney’s poems touched me, perhaps stimulated my memories of Northern Ireland; and while some of Davis’s stories amused and engaged me; while both writers left me impressed with their talents as writers, for the most part I was left disappointedly indifferent.

Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines didn’t leave me indifferent. Songlines was good – really good. It was witty and beautifully written and moving and enlightening – although when you discover, having finished the book, that some of it is apparently fictiticous, or might be, it does sort of take the wind out of the sails a bit.

Anna Funder’s Stasiland, a real-life memorial to the devastation wrought by East Germany’s secret police, and Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a fictitious, hard-boiled depiction of Prohibition-era America, might have more in common other than the fact that I really, really liked them both. But they didn’t quite have enough to get themselves into my top five.

Actually I have a top two. Actually i have a top one. But I do have five that were better than the other seven.

Bolano’s By Night in Chile was amazing. Jolley’s The Well was amazing. Mahfouz’s Palace Walk was amazing. To be honest I can’t give you a reason why those three fall behind O’Brien’s Irish Girls, other than the last was read most recently, while the other three were read at the beginning of the year. But from where I sit right now, with a half-empty glass of sauv blanc in my hand, O”Brien eclipses all others.

Except, obviously – like, obviously – for Mary Gaitskill. Bad Behavior may not be the best thing Netty and I have read over the past few years. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. But it is far and away the best thing I have read this year. The two collections Gaitskill has written since – Because They Wanted To and Don’t Cry – don’t quite live up to the promise of the original, but it’s a fucking sliver of a “don’t quite”. Seriously, seriously awesomely great stuff.

I can’t guarantee it, but this may be the first time our lists have bordered on inverse.

As far as Aunty Iris is concerned – not one of the books I read last year disappointed, but I can say that Under the Bell, A Severed Head and The Book and the Brotherhood are probably weaker than The Bell, The Nice and the Good and The Sea, The Sea. The Bell is probably the best of the six. Although if I read all six again this year I’d probablly have a different opinion.

And so… On to 2015. Cos we’re only three months in …

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