The theme for this year’s World Book Night which took place on 23rd April was Books To Make You Smile, which is something we could all do with after the year we have had. Normally, there would be many public events taking place in libraries and other establishments to get people reading. Of course, these could not take place. My friend and colleague Louise and myself, who both work for Isle Of Wight Libraries decided to produce a Book Chat to discuss books which have made us smile. This can be found here. Just click on the link and Enjoy!
I am continuing my countdown of my favourite books I read in 2018.
5. House Of Stone – Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Atlantic 2018) Read and reviewed in November
Another title (like Claire Hajaj’s #8 rated novel) that I would never have come across if it were not for the good folks at nb magazine who sent me a copy to help out with the longlisting for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards. The shortlist is due to be announced this month and this is one title that certainly should be up for serious consideration as for me it was the best debut novel I read and narrowly misses out on being my favourite novel published in 2018. Zimbabwe born Tshuma is a real storyteller and here tells the history of the last fifty years of her homeland using an unreliable narrator who plots his way through and manipulates the other characters. I said of it “Along the way there are some brilliantly memorable characters and writing often outstanding in its vibrancy and power. The horrors are not at all shied away from but there are also moments of great humour and to put at the centre the dark machinations of the narrator is a stroke of genius. It’s a prime example of how a location can be seamlessly embedded into a plot and used to inform and enrich.” This is unlikely to be as easy to find as some of the works on this list but is definitely worth seeking out.
4. Ladder To The Sky – John Boyne (Doubleday 2018) – Read in June, reviewed in July
A great year for books with ladders in the titles (cf: Anne Tyler’s # 6 rated book). Irish author John Boyne reached the top of my personal book ladder last time round with his outstanding “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” and this, his latest, is almost as good. Novels about writers tend to not be as good as they think they are but this look at the publishing industry with its emphasis on the creative process and the ownership of ideas is extremely strong. I said “this is a beautifully balanced book, another complete package, which offers a tremendous variety for the reader with humour, tragedy, twists, crime and moral dilemmas all present to form a heady brew.” For the second year running John Boyne has produced the best novel of the year published in the year I read it.
3. Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan (Square Peg 2018)- Read and reviewed in March
My favourite non-fiction read of the year. I’d highlighted this as one I really wanted to discover before publication and I was certainly not in anyway disappointed. In fact, I enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated. Lucy Mangan explores the reading material of her childhood in a superb “book about books”. I said of it; “Thank you Lucy Mangan. This book has brought me so much pleasure. I have relished every word, laughed out loud and been bathed in a warm, nostalgic glow which has made me late back from tea breaks and almost missing bus stops.” I don’t think there can be much higher praise! I have recommended this book so many times this year and will continue to do so.
2. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne (Definition 2006) – Read in September, reviewed in October
I actually had this sat on my bookshelves for quite a few years unread. I’d seen the film but I was so enthralled by Boyne’s “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” that I had to explore a bit of his back catalogue and read this, his most famous work. He really is a great find for me as an author and got very close to doing the unprecedented and being named the author of the Book Of The Year for a second year running. In fact, everything I had read by this writer has been a five star read with his 2015 children’s novel “The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain“, pretty much a companion piece to this just missing out on the Top 10 this year because of the number of outstanding books I’ve read (the other non-Top 10 5 star read was Kate Atkinson’s “A God In Ruins“). Bruno is relocated with his family away from the grandparents he loved to a house in the grounds of a place he believes is called “Out-with” peopled by men and boys in pyjamas behind a wire fence. Painfully sad and extremely powerful and an essential read, even if you have seen the film.
And the reviewsrevues book of the year for 2018 goes to:
1.The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (Penguin 1845) – Read and reviewed in December
I’m sure that this is just coincidence but for the second year running the Book Of The Year has been the very last book I’ve read. I don’t think this is because I forget the books I’ve read earlier in the year because I do carefully go through everything, it may be because I’m keen to fit in a book which has the potential to be a big-hitter before the new year dawns and this was certainly a big-hitter in every sense of the word. It took me a month to get through the 1200+ pages but it was certainly time well spent as it introduced me to a classic novel dominated by a fascinating character which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Brought to life in a vibrant translation by Robin Buss and recommended to me by my friend Louise, whose mission is to get everyone to reading this book. I certainly now think she has a point.
I’ve never read Dumas before and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more and he is a deserved addition to my awards list. Dumas becomes my first French author to join my ultimate favourites and the fourth translated work. It is the best nineteenth century novel I have read since I read “Jane Eyre” in 2000. Here is my Hall of Fame for the past 11 years:
2018- The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1845) (France)
2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)
2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)
2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)
2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)
2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)
2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)
2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)
2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)
2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)
2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)
Happy New Year and let’s hope there’s lots of great reading in 2019!
The rest of my Top 10 for this year can be found in my earlier post here
Thank you, Lucy Mangan. This book has brought me so much pleasure. I have relished every word, laughed out loud and been bathed in a warm, nostalgic glow which has made me late back from tea breaks and almost missing bus stops. I found myself yearning for a “snow day” so I could just stay at home and fully immerse myself in the author’s childhood.
Lucy Mangan truly deserves the title “Bookworm”. Reading, as a child, at every opportunity, eschewing social situations and getting through vast numbers of books makes her a true authority on children’s literature from a child’s perspective. I didn’t think I read as much when I was young as I do now but I realised I must have done as a sizeable number of books Lucy devoured I had also read. She is a few years younger than me but the world of juvenile publishing did not move as fast as it does today and many of the books in our libraries and schools in the 70’s had been published a generation before. I didn’t come from a home with a lot of books and whereas Lucy’s Dad provided her with a regular supply from when she was quite young, my Dad tended to do the same for me with comics. I have two older sisters so much of their abandoned reading material became mine, because as Lucy rightly points out as a child the bookworm will read whatever is available, so my knowledge of books involving characters such as “My Naughty Little Sister“, or set in girls boarding schools or about girls with ponies (the last being my sister Val’s staple reading diet) is probably greater than most of the men who will read this book.
Lucy is lucky enough to still possess her childhood books. She obviously didn’t have a mother so keen to donate “treasures” to jumble sales to either be sold for a few paltry pennies or occasionally bought back by myself.
Her memoir reinforces the importance of libraries. I can still remember the very first library book I borrowed, (it was a picture book version of “Peter And The Wolf” with a yellow cover. I took it out many times) so that experience obviously firmly imprinted itself in my West London mind as much as it did for Lucy on the South of the River in Catford.
Some of the titles alone brought back great memories – “Family From One End Street”, “Tom’s Midnight Garden”, “The Saturdays” “The Phantom Tollbooth”, “The Secret Garden”, “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”, “Lion Witch & The Wardrobe”, The “William” novels were all great favourites with both Lucy and myself. (No mention of a couple of others I was obsessed by “Emil & The Detectives” and “Dr Doolittle”, maybe they were moving out of public favour by Lucy’s time). She shares her strength of feelings against certain things, she had a limited tolerance of talking animals and fantasy (which saw off both “Babar The Elephant” and Tolkien) and does so in a way which is both stimulating and very funny.
Through the books she read we learn much about her family life which brings in a whole new level of richness into the work. I’m also totally with her on the subject of re-reading, which in my teaching days was often a bugbear for some parents who wanted their children to forge ever onwards to “harder” books. She puts this over masterfully;
“The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. It’s like being able to ask a teacher or parent to repeat again and again some piece of information or point of fact you haven’t understood with the absolute security of knowing that he/she will do so infinitely. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.”
As well as examining the past she looks to the future and to her own young son, not yet so fussed about reading and announces: “It is my hope that our son will read our amalgamated collection and become the world’s first fully rounded person.” I love that!
Expect perceptive insights on all the major players and books from the period – from the still very popular Enid Blyton (“She was national comfort reading at a time when mental and emotional resources were too depleted to deal with anything more complex”), the religious elements (which also completely passed me by as a child) of CS Lewis (“no child ever has or will be converted to Christianity by reading about Cair Paravel, Aslan, naiads, dryads, hamadryads, fauns and all the rest. If they notice it at all, they are far more likely to be narked than anything else. And they probably won’t notice it at all.”), the development of the first person narrative dating from E Nesbit’s “Story Of The Treasure Seekers” to her 80’s obsession with “Sweet Valley High” (that whole publishing phenomenon passed me by as I was no longer a child by then). Her thoughts on the joys of reading pile up one after another in this book. I cannot imagine enjoying a book about children’s literature more. It is an essential read for all of us who like to look back and who like to feel we are still young at heart!
Bookworm was published as a hardback by Square Peg in March 2018 . Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.