In January, I wrote of joining Goodreads and undertaking the 2013 Reading Challenge. Now, just in time, I have finished the final, thirty-fifth book (Graham Joyce's intriguing Some Kind of Fairy Tale), and so I wanted to review a few of this year's most memorable reads.
Best nonfiction: Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest. I found this memoir of mental illness a little meandering, and I would have liked more focus on the therapist character to whom it's dedicated. Having said that, Forrest is a frank, funny and utterly fearless writer, and the book is full of insight and wisdom concerning a subject that, in my opinion, is not talked or written about often enough. For example: Time heals all wounds. And if it doesn't, you name them something other than wounds and agree to let them stay.
Best reread: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As I wrote in a previous post, I was impressed all over again by Atwood's dystopian classic, and the act of rereading it stirred up a lot of emotions about my teenage years, and the closure of my old school.
Most surprisingly enjoyable classic: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I had heard from various people that they hadn't been able to get on with Heller's satirical World War Two novel, but I was giggling away from page one, and had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks by the 'flies in his eyes' discussion. Of course, like all good satire, the clever humour ensures the unfolding tragedy hits harder, making this both one of the funniest and most affecting books I read in 2013. (Runner-up: Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy).
Biggest commitment: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. When I worked at Waterstone's, many moons ago, my colleagues were always raving about Murakami. I'm afraid it's taken me this long to pick up one of his books - or rather, three of them, for the surreal and unique 1Q84 was published as a trilogy. Although I did feel the story was stretched too thinly towards the end, I'm not sure I've ever experienced such a bonkers plot being told in such clear, matter-of-fact prose. It's an irresistable combination.
Most disappointing read: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I try to finish each book I start because I truly believe I can learn something from every story, even those I don't like. Yet I found this novel so incredibly pompous and misogynistic, I'm not sure whether I should have struggled through to the end. Awful. (Runners-up: Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I expected to love these novelised fairy tales, but found neither really had much to add to the stories they were retelling).
Best children's/young adult book: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Having adored the author's Chaos Walking trilogy last year, I had high hopes for his award-winning A Monster Calls, and still the novel completely surpassed my expectations. I've since come to the conclusion that
Ness just gets it: he gets teenagers, he gets stories,
and he gets that the things that really scare us are more complicated and
difficult to confront than any sharp-toothed, long-clawed thing that goes bump
in the night. (Runner-up: Unwind by Neal Shusterman).
Best book: The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht. Recommended by the lovely Elodie Olson-Coons, I took to this novel straight away. I'm a big fan of magical realism, especially when it's used as sparingly and effectively as it is in The Tiger's Wife. I also love how Obreht has structured this ambitious book; the way she has blended the folklore and the fantastical storytelling with a gritty, realist narrative set during the Balkans conflict. Obreht is, I have recently found out, just a few months younger than me. Perhaps I should be envious of her, and the success of her first novel, but I'm not - I'm inspired.