As I did last year, I’ve been keeping notes on what I’ve been reading this year. It’s not as big a list, as you’ll see when I post it around New Year (only 22 books this year, compared to 38 last year). Less than two a month is pretty poor going for me, and I shall be trying to fix that next year.
Nevertheless, here are my top five reads of the year, not necessarily published in 2008, but read for the first time. As ever, it’s my opinion only, and your mileage may vary. If you still have some Christmas shopping to do though, I would happily give these books to anybody, safe in the knowledge that they will take the reader somewhere special.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Not just among the best five books I read this year, but perhaps the best I’ve read this decade, and a contender for the best book I’ve read in my life. There you go. Who says I’m scared of bold opening statements? The novel is set at some point in the near future. The world is dying, civilisation is a devastated memory, the landscape is blasted. Amidst all this, a father and son travel America in search of a salvation they suspect does not exist, driven only by their own love. It’s a bleak, shocking, ultimately heartbreaking novel about the innate destructiveness of our species, and the ridiculous tenacity and capacity for tenderness that drives us through it. I finished the book on plane from Krakow to Glasgow, in tears, and still can’t fully revisit the book’s ending in my head without welling up uncontrollably. A movie is inevitable. However good that turns out to be, please read the book first. Read it soon. Everything a story should do, this does.
20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill
This book contains what are now some of my favourite short stories in any genre, and it’s because Joe Hill understands particularly well that good stories are not about the things that happen, be they horrific, fantastical, strange, quirky or unsettling (all these things apply to tales in this book). Good stories are about the people they happen to. It shouldn’t be possible that a tale about a boy who wakes up as a six foot grasshopper is uniquely dangerous, or that another about an inflatable boy is among the sweetest, most mournful things I’ve read, yet they are. Special mention goes to My Father’s Mask, which is so surreal and off-key that it left me feeling nauseous and upset for reasons I can’t even put my finger on, the remarkably uplifting Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead (not a genre story at all), and the mind blowing novella that caps the book, Voluntary Committal, which took my breath away. It’s remarkable to find a collection of short fiction so consistently excellent as this.
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
This is a bit of a cheat, as I owned and loved this book several years ago. In a fit of foolish generosity, I loaned it out and never got it back. When I saw it on the shelf this year, I had to have it, and fell in love all over again, having somehow forgotten that it’s one of my favourite novels. You may have seen the movie. Unless you and I are worlds apart, you probably have a special place in you heart for it. The book is the movie, with all the good bits they had to leave out on celluloid. It’s also, inconceivably, better. One of the finest sword fights in cinema history somehow comes even more alive on the page, and that shouldn’t be possible with such a visual creation. Look, just buy it and read it, okay? That it’s taken me so long to replace that lost copy makes me want to kick myself, because I’ll be reading it again, and again, and again. Whether you’re a cynic or a romantic, you’ll be thrilled by this tale of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion and miracles.
Russell T Davies, for those who don’t know is the executive producer and lead writer of Doctor Who, who spearheaded the whole relaunch of the franchise, as well as spin off shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Benjamin Cook is a journalist. This books is a year’s worth of correspondence between them, as Davies tries to catalogue his thoughts, feelings, and writing process while working on season four of Doctor Who(as well as bits of the other two series mentioned). It’s all kinds of book in once, and incredibly frank. Interested in writing? Here it is, in all it’s paranoid, obsessive glory. Want to know about television, and see behind the scenes of one of the UK’s biggest shows? Yep, this is pretty no holds barred on that too. Fan of Doctor Who, or Davies himself? There’s more here for you than you can possibly imagine. It’s probably best to describe this book as one man’s often bleak, frequently funny look at what it is to be creative, and all the things you have to give up to succeed. A daunting read, but a splendid, truthful thing, and utterly unique.
Dominion, Greg F. Gifune
After The Bleeding Season hit my top five reads in 2007, I had high hopes for Dominion, and I wasn’t disappointed. A beautifully rich, complex, character driven novel, with some brain-twisting imagery and concepts underlying it. Gifune likes to challenge his reader, and seems to work most efficiently when playing in the realms of grief and struggle. Dominion illustrates this perfectly, and as with the previous book, it requires you to take a breath and step up to the plate. It’s proves to be worth the effort, making some wonderful statements about humanity and evil along the way. Haunting, hurtful, and quite beautiful.
Bubbling under: The Reapers, Duma Key, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, A Whisper of Southern Lights, Blizzard of Souls…
There you go. If you’re interested in more, here were my top books of 2007 – plenty to check out there too.