Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 ~ My Literary Year That Was

At the end of each year I love going back and having a look at what books I enjoyed and what I did not.  So, without further ado - what I enjoyed:

Philip Roth
Phillip Roth was a new author for me this year, and I found that I was very comfortable with his writing style.  I read several of his novels, but hands down my favourite was The Plot Against AmericaNarrated by a young Philip Roth, I completely identified with this nerdy little boy and his beloved stamp collection (yes, a little known fact about me is my love of stamps and my stamp collection!).  The novel is an alternate history which is seen through young Philip’s eyes as he tries to make sense of the affect of the isolationist Charles Lindburgh’s presidency on his local Jewish community and immediate family prior to America entering World War II.  I loved it.

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

I haven’t finished this one yet, but I’m ¾ of the way through it and it deserves a mention here.  I read somewhere that the best way to read a Pynchon novel is just to read the words and if some of it makes sense or connects in some way then good-ho, but if it doesn't just keep reading and try to enjoy his use of language.

 I totally disagree. 
This is my first Pynchon novel, but the best way for me to enjoy Mason & Dixon has been to read it in conjunction with essays and notes on the novel.  Pynchon just gives you so much in a few words; one sentence can hold a plethora of meaning, historical fact, science, humour and innuendo.  After reading just the first chapter I realised that there was something very special about the writing and I didn't intend missing a trick.  I only read three pages a night and then I read through associated notes so that I completely understand what I have read and can research some of the historical and scientific references.
This novel is also an alternate history, as related by the Rev. Wicks Cherrycoke who claims he 'was there'.  With a bit of embellishment for the sake of the children listening to the story we follow the friendship of Mason and Dixon as they complete the famous Mason-Dixon line in America.  There are a few adventures thrown in, and a hilarious segment about a chef and a love sick mechanical duck.  I have never read anything like this before, it’s been a total challenge.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This was the year that I discovered this awesome poem. I don't really like poetry, although my favourite childhood book was A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, but Coleridge has a gothic bent which really appeals to my tastes.  When I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner it totally blew me away, and I have read it and listened to it many times since.
New Authors

Each year I always try to find new authors to read.  I did try several new ones this year but the stand outs for me were William Faulkner (I read The Sound and The Fury) and Philip Roth.  On the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die listing that I follow Don DeLillo has more books on it than that of any other author so I tried Falling Man (not on the list) and The Body Artist.  Unfortunately I found both of these novels profoundly boring, and the writing style reeked of self indulgence, so I'm very wary of trying another.

The Classic

My 'classic' this year was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.  After two or three false starts I finally got into this very funny novel and I marveled at how well the humour still worked today, although I did find the second part of the novel much easier to read than the first part.  Sancho was funnier and more endearing in the second part, and I loved his multitude of proverbs.  There were a couple of very good short stories within the novel (as well as some short stories that totally detracted from it!), one of which was the excellent The Impertinent Curiosity about two friends, Anselmo and Lothario, and an 'indecent proposal'.
What I Didn't Enjoy

Apart from Don Delillo, I also struggled with The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde and The Invisible Man by H G Wells.  Out of over 67 books read for the year that’s not a bad failure rate.  With all these novels it was the characterisations which let them down.  Jean Rhys dared to use characters from Jane Eyre and I could not correlate the two stories at all, Jasper Fforde’s characters were just plain silly compared to his other wacky novels, and the character of The Invisible Man was a nasty piece of work through and through and I didn't enjoy reading about him.  Another set of characters I didn't enjoy reading about were those scottish drug addicts in Trainspotting.

But, I'm sorry to say (because my love of Stephen King goes way back), my most disappointing read for 2013 was Dr Sleep.  This novel was highly anticipated, especially on the back of the brilliant 11/22/63, but I have to say it – it was abysmal.  The writing style was amateur, the story just plain silly, and using Dan Torrance from the The Shining has now marred this novel for me.  If I mention that I will be shelving my copy between The Regulators (written under Richard Bachman) and Rose Madder, you will 'get' how bad I found it.

The Horror

My reading year would not be complete without a horror or two thrown in, but I'm finding it harder and harder to find a new horror to read, or should I rephrase that to 'a readable horror'.

I started the year with The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson but it's such a well known, and well worn, story that I didn't get the thrill I was looking for from it.  My next attempt was Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist, but I just didn't 'get it' and it wasn't scary at all. THEN, I picked up a small factual book called Zombies: A Field Guide to The Walking Dead by Dr Bob Curran and a couple of articles in it did unsettle me in the way I was looking for.  I also really enjoyed an old classic The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson which was years ahead of it's time and which completely thrilled me. Cypher the cult classic by Kathe Koja wasn't too bad, but I didn't connect with any of the characters and I also finally got round to reading some once elusive Shirley Jackson novels, and mostly she did not disappoint.

So, with 2013 winding down, I'm now full of anticipation to my reading year ahead.  I hope it's a good one!


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