Verrry difficult this year, as it is every year, but the more I looked at my list of books read in 2006 the more clear it became. Though I read a lot of really great books, the ones that stood out as stellar were really pretty obvious choices.
The books I chose as my “best of” were the ones that most likely blind-sided me by their sheer brilliance. A book that turns me inside-out, then rips out my heart for good measure, is very likely to make my Top 10 List. Also, a book that has deep, never-ending empathy, forcing me to look at things in my own life I may or may not be comfortable with thinking about but which I need to address, is a strong contender. Then there are the classics, those books that set the standard for what a good story is, or should be. These stand the test of time, and often multiple readings, and every time I read them I find something entirely different within the very same pages (often the same edition) I’ve held in my hands before.
So, without further ado, here is:
Bluestalking Reader’s Top 10 Books Read in 2006:
(Not necessarily in order, mind…)
10. The Barracks by John McGahern
I’d never read any McGahern before, and he completely blindsided me with his brilliance. His prose is so quiet, in some ways, yet so full of often very torturous emotion. Just a gorgeous, gorgeous book.
9. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
This was a re-read several times over for me, and every time I read it I think it more brilliant. It’s funny, frightening and wonderfully tender. Though not one of his masterpieces, it’s nevertheless a great book.
8. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson
All the Booker-nominated reads impressed me, but this one has stayed with me the longest of all of them. Tales influenced by the Cain and Abel story tend to interest me, and this is one that’s beautifully done. Mary Lawson’s an author to watch.
7. A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard
Books that force you to look at things in a different light, and force you out of your comfort zone, do what fiction was meant to do. No light or easy read, not to mention not a comfortable one, A Lifetime Burning addresses some very controversial subject matter. Yet, Gillard finds the absolute perfect line to tread, not condoning the actions of the characters but still presenting them as fallible yet worthy human beings. A truly skillful novel, and one that deserves a much wider audience.
6. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
Amazing what a writer can do with sparing prose. Hrabal touched so many chords in my book-loving heart with this one.
5. The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb
Ah, Amelie! Without Dovegreyreader would I ever have found you?? Very likely not, and huge thanks go out to her for that. I loved all the Nothombs I read this year (and I read several), but this one really stood out for me. It was so grotesque and engrossing, at the same time.
4. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
Speaking of grotesque, this is quite possibly the most disturbingly brilliant book I’ve ever read. I’ve read it twice to date, and may not ever have the emotional wherewithall to read it again. It’s astonishing, and very, very dark, but the power of the prose is impressive. Definitely a modern classic.
3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Another Booker-nominated work that I just loved. These sorts of coming-of-age tales can either be very, very good, or very, very trite and overdone. This one is in the former category.
2. TIE: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan by Claire Tomalin, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams
I love Charles Dickens, and though I’d heard the vague story of Nelly Ternan in the past I didn’t know the whole story. Tomalin took care of that quite neatly. Kate Williams likewise covers her subject with skill, and in a way so accessible and interesting I felt I was reading a novel. These two are among the very best biographies I’ve read, ever.
1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Another re-read made my Top 10 List, but I’ll defend that by saying this is another book destined for future classic status. There’s so incredibly much in it, and like the classics I could read it endlessly and not come to the end of all of it. Brilliant stuff, and very emotionally complex.
Honorable Mention Status:
1. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
3. Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn
4. Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
N.B.: For the record, everything I read by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine remains in its own special, separate category of books I read selfishly and with utter abandon, but which didn’t quite make the cut for the hallowed list. To her I tip my bonnet with humility and respect, and I’ll give her the title of the Writer Least Likely to Disappoint Me When I Need a Really Good Creepy Read. Without Rendell/Vine I don’t know how I’d fill this very vital (to me) void.
Last, but certainly not least, heartfelt thanks go out to everyone I’ve chatted with on all matters bookish, or whose blog I’ve read over the year, and to all who’ve given me such outstanding recommendations for books I simply MUST READ. You’re all completely invaluable to me, and I only wish there were some way I could mention all of you to repay your incredible kindnesses. Humble thanks to all of you, and long may we all continue to enjoy this free, open community of like-minded souls communing and sharing our thoughts and feelings on the subject nearest to our hearts…
Here’s to more of the same in 2007. Onward and upward, don’t spare the horses!