A Year in Books: 2010

Here are two of the reasons why I blog: 1) I can keep track of things which would otherwise have disappeared through the cracks of time and 2) I am able to detect patterns. Through blogging I can keep track of how many books I read and learn that I read between twenty and thirty books a year. OK, one memorable year I did read 103 books but I had just graduated from university/unemployed, I was single and I had no net access/TV. 2010: 21 books, down from the 38 books of 2009 but a big up in quality. I started this reading year pledging to improve the overall quality of my reading matter and I'm pleased to say I stuck to it. I hope to continue this trend in 2011: quality over quantity. I'd still live to get a few more reads sneaked it but needless to say that my reading time is competing with my crafting time, so we'll see which activity wins out in 2011..

The worst books: I always knew that the Julia Quinn novel, Splendid, was going to be one of my worst reads of the year. A book set in Regency London should properly not have its characters sound as though they lived in 1990s Los Angeles, full stop. On the other hand Splendid was not the spectacular train-wreck that Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe turned out to be. I used to like her books until I realised she was essentially a one-note author hiding underneath a layer of pretend- counter-cultural-coolness - and Our Tragic Universe is not even that pretend-cool. If Julia Quinn is guilty of letting her cardboard characters slipping into a contemporary register, Scarlett Thomas is guilty of writing books she does not have the actual ability to write (I'll come back to this point later when discussing another author). Finally, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was a huge disappointment.

The honourable mentions: Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil was an entertaining book but one always destined to live in the shadows of Chabon's superior Kavalier & Clay (one of my top reads in the Noughties). I finally got around to reading Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White which was good but not anywhere near as breathtakingly brilliant as Faber's Under the Skin (see A Year In Books: 2009). Crimson was also "a novel thriving on exploring the dark side of society, and yet (..) polite enough to become a Sunday evening BBC costume drama" which continues to bug me a bit. China Miéville's The City & the City was a clever, well-written novel fusing crime fiction and science-fiction. The book was a touch too plot-driven for me but I really enjoyed Miéville's light writerly touches. Tom McCarthy presented himself as the heir apparent to James Joyce declaring his novel, C, to be 'the Finnegans Wake for the 21st Century'. Utter nonsense, of course. I thought McCarthy guilty of the same crime as Scarlett Thomas: attempting to write novels that are outwith their novelistic abilities. Unlike Thomas, though, McCarthy can actually write and while C does not live up to its billing, it is a fine conventional Bildungsroman disguised as an experimental novel. At times it felt like McCarthy had written his book especially for me with amusing High Modernist references coming right, left and centre. C is an acquired taste, no doubt about it,  but I liked it a lot.

The very good reads: David Mitchell is one of my favourite contemporary authors and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet did not disappoint. It is densely plotted, well-written and I felt bereft when the book ended. Quibbles? Not many. At times you could almost see Mitchell moving his characters around as though they were chess-pieces - that may not work for everyone but I did not mind - and the pacing was occasionally uneven with some parts moving slowly followed by rip-roaring action. Colm Toíbín is another of my favourite authors and Brooklyn turned out to be one of the highlights of my reading year. I'm not much of an emotional reader but I connected strongly with Brooklyn's depiction of the émigré experience. Finally, on Lori's suggestion, I read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five over the recent holidays and I was blown away by it. It read like a heady combination of Nabokov and Alasdair Gray. Not my last Vonnegut book, then, and definitely one of the best reads of 2010.