December 11, 2007

Twelve from the Shelves: My Books of 2007

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 2:10 pm by John Self

This seems like a good time to recap on the first year of this blog, and give a few pointers to anyone wading through it looking for something interesting to read.

Please feel free to share your own read(s) of the year in the comment box below.

Light Years

1. James Salter: Light Years. “So relentlessly seductive … that each time I returned to it I felt like a teenage suitor: giggling, nervous, hot-faced with intimidation.”

2. Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown. “A typically dense multicultural circus, written with verve and vivacity. … Like an eight hundred page book squeezed to half the size.”

3. Indra Sinha, Animal’s People. “A meaty, joyful, feast of a novel, filled with violence, energy and humour.”

4. Brian Moore, The Emperor of Ice Cream. “A perfect amalgam of multi-faceted subject and unfussy form, keeping numerous plates spinning at once. … Elevates Moore into the twentieth century greats.”

5. Warwick Collins, Gents. “Brings a Fetherlite touch to thoughts of sin, racism, prejudice, family, society and sex. Punches so far above its weight that it will effortlessly knock you out.”

6. Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude. “Pretty much flawless … Simultaneously horrible, very funny and eventually highly involving.”

7. Peter Ho Davies, The Welsh Girl. “A slow burn triumph … has all the qualities necessary to make it a sure fire modern classic.”

8. Philip Roth, Exit Ghost. “A filling and mature book … elegiac and moving.”

9. Jill Dawson, Watch Me Disappear. “A quite fascinating and subtly horrifying story of girlhood and sex … makes thrusting three-dimensional life from the black-and-white page.”

10. Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation. “If it doesn’t move you to weeping then you should have your tear ducts checked by a qualified professional. … A perfect valediction for Vidal.”

11. Stefan Zweig, Twilight/Moonbeam Alley. “Bleak and ironic … one of the finest stories I have ever read.”

12. Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods. “Fits so much into 200 pages that I kept checking back to make sure the book was numbered properly.”

Which leaves no room for Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, Gerard Woodward’s I’ll Go to Bed at Noon, Roddy Doyle’s Paula Spencer, Charlotte Mendelson’s When We Were Bad, or J.R. Ackerley’s We Think the World of You

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29 Comments »

  1. Gavin said,

    Interesting list, John, and I intend to check a few of those out.

    As I mentioned in another reply, this is the year I discovered Denis Johnson and I’m currently devouring his entire back-catalogue ( nearly finished ‘Already Dead’, then back to his debut, ‘Angels’). He is *not* a perfect writer, there’s a little too much theology and hardboiled existentialism, but it’s fantastic to find someone who is writing so ecstatically.

    I also intend to read everything by Philip Roth, again, not a perfect writer, as he seems enormously aggrieved about the slightest of things and his approach to women can be nasty, but when he’s in form it’s a full-blooded thrill to read. ‘Sabbath’s Theatre’ was the best of the five or six of his I read this year. ‘Cheating at Canasta’ by William Trevor was sublime, pitch-perfect and melancholy, Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’ was blacker than black, as was Patrick McCabe’s ‘Winterwood’ and John Updike’s ‘Terrorist’ was politically dubious but astonishingly written throughout. Hmm, no women writers, I must rectify that next year.

    Oh, and it was nice to discover this blog which I really enjoy. It was looking for reviews of Glenn Patterson’s disappointing ‘The Third Party’ which brought me here and I’m glad I found it.

    Happy Xmas!

  2. John Self said,

    I have to agree with a lot of your enthusiasms, Gavin. I picked up Updike’s The Centaur recently, which was originally written as a companion piece to Rabbit, Run but has become rather sidelined with the runaway success of Harry Angstrom. I think I concurred before about Winterwood too, which was one of my favourite books of last year.

    I have a few more of Roth’s Zuckerman books awaiting attention: The Anatomy Lesson, The Counterlife and I Married a Communist. Indeed I had the first of these in hand last night to begin reading, when my magpie eye was caught instead by another of those damn NYRB Classics that nobody else is interested in…

    William Trevor I am going to have to investigate. I have a couple of selections of his stories, Ireland and Outside Ireland, but they’ve remained unread on my shelves (like most collections of stories) for years.

    So maybe they will be the shape of my 2008, along with new novels by Adam Mars-Jones, Philip Hensher, Martin Amis and the sublime Patrick McGrath…

  3. Tony S. said,

    “The Welsh Girl” is next on my reading list, and I’m happy you reinforce my decision to read it. One of my books this year which I strongly recommend is “Throws Like a Girl”, a book of stories, by Jean Thompson. I still read everything that William Trevor writes, but it seems as he gets older he gets more somber, rural, and sparse and less interesting, and I much prefer his younger works such as “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake” or “The Ballroom of Romance”. I’ve read a quite a bit of Phillip Roth, but he is not one of my favorites. My favorite John Updike book is “Gertrude and Claudius”, but other than that and his stories, he is not one of my favorites, although I too did like “The Centaur”.. One English writer that I absolutely admire is Sybille Bedford. I read “A Compass Error” this year, most of her others within the last few years.

  4. John Self said,

    Sybille Bedford! As it happens I have her A Legacy to the forefront of my to-be-read shelves, so that sorts that one out. Thanks Tony! Will have to look into Jean Thompson, whom I haven’t heard of.

  5. Oh dear – haven’t read any of this year’s books … must do better next year! And I didn’t like Michael Frayn’s Spies :(

  6. jem said,

    Great to see your top tips for the year, including a fair few that you reviewed before I joined you. Echoing other commenters – I’m glad to have made your virtual acquaintance, and look forward to reading with you over the coming year. Must think about my own favourites of 2007…

  7. kimbofo said,

    Wow! I tend to think our reading tastes are largely in line, but I’ve not read one of these on your list!! I do, however, have “Gents” and “Animal People” in my TBR pile, so I’ll be sure to dig these out for a read very soon.

  8. Interesting list John. It’s been great to read your blog as you’ve been discovering Roth. As an avid reader of his I must confess I was slightly less enthusiastic about Exit Ghost but he’s still a great writer. I hope you’ll read more of his. I agree with Gavin that Sabbath’s Theatre is fantastic, as is American Pastoral. I’m also pleased to see Gavin has found Denis Johnson. He’s a fascinating writer, eclectic and far from perfect but Tree of Smoke won this years National Book Award and is a flawed masterpiece. Thanks for all your work John, I’m really glad I discovered you this year.

  9. I am not quite ready to post my list yet but Bleak House will definitely on it. I started off the year with The Thirteenth Tale and am ending it with Bleak House. What a great year for reading. I will post my list between the holidays.

    I have a Salter book on my shelf but I don’t think it is that one. Must take a look. I also have Shalimar on the shelf. I have not read any of these and now I must do some searching.

    Happy Holidays.

  10. Daniel said,

    no doubt, my best reading this year was Coetzee’s “Disgrace”. i had already read it in a translation. but taking the original was terrific!

    Camus’ “La chute” and “´L’étranger” also are to re-read always.

  11. Kirsty said,

    I’m still standing by Old Men in Love by Alasdair Gray as my Read of the Year (not counting re-reads, when Bleak House and Jane Eyre would be above it).

    Am intrigued by the Jill Dawson though. Might be one for the wishlist.

  12. John Self said,

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions everyone.

    William: I suppose in some ways Exit Ghost is there as much as a representation of Roth’s output (I’ve read three this year) as it is as a standalone work. The same goes for Brian Moore: The Emperor of Ice-Cream is terrific, but The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and The Luck of Ginger Coffey are pretty much its equal, and those two are more widely available too.

  13. slowthinker said,

    A great pity you don’t include any YA/children’s literature. And I reckon it would be too much to hope you’d consider online writers as real writers.

  14. John Self said,

    Thanks for visiting, slowthinker. It is a great pity I didn’t include any children or young adult’s literature, but that’s because I didn’t read any this year! I think the last CYA books I read were Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, terrific of course, and the first of which is now showing at a cinema near you.

    As for online writers… I don’t know what to say really! On this site I simply write about the books I read, which are invariably printed and bound books. I don’t pretend to be comprehensive or objective: I’m just a reader with his own tastes, like anyone. I have read occasional online fiction, and would recommend the Carfilhiot saga.

  15. slowthinker said,

    Thanks, Will, for the Carfilhiot suggestion, since I’m always on the lookout for good online reading, for myself and to pass on from my blog. I happen to be one of those odd indie writers committed to making good, original fiction freely available – especially to those who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) buy books published conventionally. Just this morning, for example, I noticed new readers from Uzbekistan, the Emirates, and Uganda.

    As to Pullman … one of these days I’m coming to have to write a long blog post about what I don’t like about HDM – and not on religious grounds!

  16. Nick said,

    One book I really liked John was The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. A very ingenious and very subtle exploration of two possible relationship scenarios, with shrewd insights into so many aspects of coupledom – love, sex, obsession, loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness, disillusion. She also says a lot about the fatal flaws in our characters that lead us into bad decisions and long-lasting regrets.

  17. John Self said,

    Thanks for the recommendation Nick – and I believe it has snooker in it too, a feature sadly lacking in much contemporary fiction. I have her renowned previous novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin on loan from a friend and will see how I find that first…

  18. herschelian said,

    My books of the year have been (in no particular order):
    Arthur & George by Julian Barnes; When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin; The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones, Animal’s People by Indra Sinha; Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton; Restless by William Boyd, Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
    My worst book of the year was
    Maggie’s Tree by Julie Walters – yes, she is THAT Julie Walters. I suppose I assumed that because she is an excellent actress/comedienne who has been involved in writing for television, that she would be able to write a half decent book, more fool me. This book was really awful…she should stick to her theatrical life and leave literature alone.

  19. Nick said,

    Ah, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Loved that one too, excellent exploration of a subject very seldom talked about – a mother who simply can’t love her wayward and unreachable child.

  20. John Self said,

    An interesting selection, herschelian – Arthur & George certainly would have been in mine when I read it a year or two ago, and Mister Pip narrowly missed mine – and there are some older Lloyd Jones novels being reissued in the UK next year apparently. On that basis I will have to check out Peter Godwin, whom I’ve never heard of! Shame about the Julie Walters, not that I was planning to read it – she’s so likeable you’d want everything she does to be good (but Asda ads too… hmm, maybe she’s trying to narrow her appeal).

  21. Stewart said,

    I’ve read four of your list, John. Animal’s People, The Welsh Girl, Watch Me Disappear, and Gents. Have to agree there. Others, from my reading, that I’d add are I Could Read The Sky by Timothy O’Grady and Steve Pyke, The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, The Redemption Of Elsdon Bird by Noel Virtue, and Gold by Blaise Cendrars. But, all in all, it’s been a bit of a lean year in terms of sifting out good stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

    In the non-fiction stakes I gave five stars to Best And Edwards by Gordon Burn and A Tragic Honesty: The Life And Work Of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey.

  22. Daniel said,

    hey, Jon! the post is in the air, take a look – http://www.danielslopes.com

    pass the link to your readers, you all can comment in English, no problem.

    and, once more, my special thanks to you (hope count with your collaboration again next year ;-p )

  23. steffee said,

    I’ve only read one of your list – Dawson’s Watch Me Disappear (which I would also include as one of this year’s best reads). Although I have several, and Sinha’s Animal’s People is sitting waiting for me to finish my current read.

    I read Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin early last year and still find it to be one of the most thought-provoking, well-written, awe-inspiring books I have ever read. The whole story has stayed with me. I have two more of Shriver’s books but dare not pick any up, for fear of them not living up to their predecessor, which I feel they couldn’t possibly do (my loss, I imagine).

    Others, I guess I would include in this year’s best: Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Ryo Murakami’s In the Miso Soup and Lansen’s The Girls. Not really a very good year, bookwise.

    I’m going to look out for some of your titles: Salter’s Light Years, particularly.

  24. [...] Book Sets’) – or else doing their ‘Best of 2007′ lists (for instance here, here and here). Most people will probably have bought and wrapped their presents already, but in case [...]

  25. lizzysiddal said,

    As you have promised (you have, haven’t you? ) to read my #1 (The Lizard Cage) in 2008, I promise to read yours. Looking forward to swapping notes ……

  26. John Self said,

    Ooh exciting! Definitely will be reading The Lizard Cage, oh yes.

  27. And Merry Festive Do-Da’s back to your good self…

    Of those 12, I think only the Winterson, perhaps the Rushdie, would catch my eye in a bookshop. But that’s the strange thing about books: only about one percent of them in any bookshop will be for you and your one percent be different to the next person.

    Yours, currently lost in the glory of Akhatmova’s prose,

    TBB

  28. [...] Asylum: Twelve From The Shelves: My Books Of 2007 [...]

  29. anaamica said,

    I overheard the conversation about ‘We need to talk about Kevin’. Though I haven’t read more than 20 books in the year gone by, Kevin happens to be the best.


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