Permit me an indulgence: this past year gave me some of the greatest reading pleasures of my life--some newly published, others gathering dust for years on the shelf of my "great unread library" and finally given a chance. I'm going to share my top ten.
10. Little Novels of Sicily, translated from Giovanni Verdi by D. H. Lawrence, are peopled by sly, dirt poor peasants and nasty landowners, who covet, scratch, and grab. The landscape is both beautiful and cruel. Sort of like the movie, The Godfather, only darker.
9. Jerzy Kosinski's Steps descends from narcissism to sexual and psychological misadventure to debauchery to cruelty. But I gotta say: the guy can write. Cool, precise, and provocative, he makes voyeurs of readers. No surprise that in real life he was considered a total sh*t.
8. The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis answers the (probably-never-asked) question: how do you make a Nazi camp commandant's P.O.V. funny and horrifying at the same time? This is a tale of megalomania, cruelty, and delusion. (Duh...it's about Nazis.) It's also a love story with an unlikely hero.
7. 2014 Man Booker winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan: Another concentration camp. Another love story. Another rugged hero and beautiful woman. And the oppressors again have their stories. The plot covers the fifty years before, during, and after the war. A page turner, for sure.
6. Boo hoo...reread all of Barbara Pym until there were no more, and then, woo hoo, I discovered Muriel Spark! A Far Cry from Kensington was my first--a wickedly intelligent narrator unravels a domestic tragedy. Also a love story.
5. Loitering with Intent, also by Muriel Spark, is set in post-war London with all the attendant deprivations (ration cards, cramped bed-sits, etc.). No love story here, but a clever inside-out plot about a writer writing about her writing. (Okay, a love story of sorts...)
4. The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins is also set in post-war Britain, but this time it's about ambition and adultery. Reading this was like watching a person slowly drowning. Take heart: it has a happy ending...sort of.
3. Graphic novels rock. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast is a howler, even when things get really bad with her aging parents. And those of us who are the baloney in the sandwich generation certainly deserve a good laugh.
2. Another earlier Man Booker winner, Wolf Hall and the sequel Bring up the Bodies are Hillary Mantel's one-two punches about Thomas Cromwell, part Machiavelli, part conman, and part sentimental sap. On to The Mirror and the Light, the last in the trilogy. I have a feeling this is not going to end well.
1. Finally, because I love reading about gardening almost more than gardening itself, Walter P. Wright's Cassell's ABC of Gardening (no idea who Cassell was). My son and wonderful new daughter-in-law purchased a copy at Bird's Nest Books, a used book store in Missoula, Montana, and had it beautifully rebound at Shaffner's Bindery, also in Missoula. What joy for a book to have a second chance.
That was fun.
Now it’s your turn: what did you read last year that is a must for 2015?