As usual, here we are, wrapping up another big year of ANRC books, from 2015 – in March 2016. You’d never guess that Andy and me have spent most of our professional lives working to strict deadlines, would you?
All jokes aside, we kind of got derailed a bit in the last couple of months thanks to unforeseeable Big. Life. Shit. But, as Grace Slick once said, it’s a new dawn. So without any further ado, here’s my annual top 10* best-of list for last year.
(You might be wondering about the presence of that asterisk. For the past couple of years, Andy and I have taken off the first two months of the year, reducing our annual read from 12 books to 10. Late last year, in a comedy of errors, I was left high and dry with a back order of one of the year’s books – King of The Badgers by Phillip Hensher – that never arrived. Seriously. I’ve had this book on order since last October. Andy, meanwhile, had it done and dusted literally months ago. So hence we never got around to blogging on it. Andy might have something more to say about this when he does his summing up.)
Well, there’s usually one stinker in each year’s batch, and for mine the 2015 award goes to Nabokov’s Lolita. All the top-notch writing and clever plot twists in the world can’t make up for the novel’s basic premise: a manipulative late thirtysomething bloke having a sexual relationship with his young teenage step-daughter. No thanks.
Ever wondered what the future holds? In the view of Frenchman Houellebecq, not much at all. Or, in the Australian vernacular, we’ll all be rooned. A dark, bleak, unremitting read on life with an equally pessimistic take on the future. One for the masochists, or maybe the sadists. If you insist on reading it, make sure you do so with a stiff chaser of anti-depressants at the ready.
A modern sci-fi classic in which drop-dead gorgeous, 20-something Rydra Wong, a multi-linguist poet and space captain, unravels the coded mystery of Babel-17, brings an end to a decades-long intergalactic war, and finds true love out there in space to boot. Trust me, there’s a lot of fun to be had here if you’re willing to suspend all earthly beliefs and go with the galactic flow.
Forty-eight of the best from American short-story maestro Beattie, all originally published in the venerable New Yorker magazine and stretching across three decades. With superbly drawn characters and a razor-sharp eye for minutiae, Beattie is up there with the greats. Including – yes – the greatest of them all, Raymond Carver. This is a must-read for all fans of short-form fiction.
Far less addictive than crack – no matter what Zadie Smith says. But the first installment of Knausgaard’s six-volume memoir My Struggle is a mostly fascinating account of a Norwegian boy growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, in the shadow of an uneasy relationship with his father. The aftermath of the death of the Knausgaard patriarch is some of the most compelling and affecting prose you will ever read.
Set in a Scottish all-girls’ secondary school in the 1930s, Sparks’ novella tells the riveting tale of a highly influential teacher who, ironically, is eventually brought undone by the very group of girls (“the Brodie set”) into whose lives she ingratiates herself. Is she a monster or merely misunderstood? Probably a bit of both, actually.
The disturbing tale of a late 1970s childhood tragedy set in the Australian suburbs, Hartnett’s award-winning Of A Boy is a magnificent book – sublimely structured, beautifully written – that, once read, will never be forgotten.
My post on this weighty, exhaustive account of the advent and timeline of AIDS in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s opened with the line: “This is the most important book you will never read”. Stories from those who were on the frontline of the most significant disease of the latter half of the 20th century – the patients, the medical practitioners caring for them, the scientists racing to solve the puzzle of this retrovirus, and the many levels of bureaucracy standing in the way of all of them. Essential reading.
In my original post, I noted that Half Of A Yellow Sun might just end up being the best book I would read all year. How prescient of me! Adichie’s sprawling, harrowing account of one family’s life before, during and after the Nigerian civil war of the 1960s is truly, absolutely great fiction. If you only read one book from this list, make it this one*. (*But if you could do me a teeny tiny favour, please also read And The Played On. I can barely split them, but it’s Yellow Sun by a nose at the final post).