I am joining John Wiswell from The Bathroom Monologues
in a blog hop about our favourite reads of 2013. Not necessarily
published in 2013, just books we first read this year which for one
reason or another we loved.
Regular visitors here will know that I read a lot. And, as my side-bar will attest, I read quite a wide variety of things. Some of the books I have read this year have been gems which will stay in my head and heart. Others? Suffice it to say they went to the recycle bin - that is, I gave them to Lifeline to sell to someone else.
I read for entertainment, to educate myself, for distraction, to escape and for comfort. And there is probably a book for any occasion lurking somewhere in this house. Which doesn't stop me succumbing to temptation and getting more.
I had difficulties in choosing books for this post. And there were many more I could have included.
In no particular order some of my best reads for the year are listed below. ( Clicking on the photos will embiggen them, and give you more detail about the titles and authors.)
Biographies, memoirs and autobiographies are always on my go to list.
Jane Digby lived a complicated (to say the least) life. She was born into an aristocratic family in 1807, and married at seventeen. In the years between her marriage and her death in Damascus in 1881, she lurched from crisis to crisis. All in the name of love. Or lust, though I suspect she would always have said love.
She was divorced at a time when it was 'not done', eloped with an Austrian prince, had affairs with (among others) the King of Bavaria, a Corfiot count and an Albanian brigand. At nearly fifty she married a Bedouin nobleman, and spent the rest of her life with him.
Complicated, and not a life I could even contemplate. I suspect she was always in ecstasy or despair. Her choices would not (could not) have been mine, but she lived life to the full. How she lived life to the full. And the insights into a culture, time and place that are alien to me was fascinating. The biography is largely drawn from her diaries (another passion of mine).
Elisabeth Baily contracted an illness which forced her to spend long periods of time bed ridden, and diminished her world dramatically.
She spent hours watching, listening to, and marvelling at a wild snail which had been brought into her bedroom with some violets in a flower plot.
Initially she could see no purpose to bring the snail in, and she had no interest in it either. Little by little, watching the snail, she became engrossed in it, and her interest expanded her own world. ' Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is
starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory,
no trace at all.'
If asked, I would say that I don't read from the 'self-help genre, but this book tells me I am wrong. I find inspiration and assistance in so much of my reading.
This book encapsulates resilience, and a fascination with the natural world, which struck a chord with me. The prose is polished, simple and elegant. Like the snail...
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Rupert Bear was a part of my early childhood. He is an enchanting, quintessentially English Bear - I suspect his village is in the Cotswolds. He, and the other inhabitants of Nutwood have improbable adventures - and a heap of fun. Rupert Bear, Bill Badger, Ottoline Otter and more.
The smaller portion picked up not only this, but several other Rupert Bear annuals and I devoured them all. A meander down a memory lane in pleasant countryside.
A children's book. One I am sorry I didn't discover as a child.
Barnaby Brocket's family make a virtue out of respectability. And take it to boring extremes. And are proud to do so.
When their first child is born to their horror and shame gravity has no effect on him. None. He was not normal - in a family which exalted normalacy beyond anything else. They struggled to not only cope (after a fashion) but to conceal the abberation from everyone else. And had two more 'normal' children.
Mrs Brocket decided enough was enough - and took action to rid the family of its problem child. To permanently rid the family of its problem child. Roald Dahl would have loved this book.
I was introduced to Ben Aaronovitch by librarygirl
, last year or the year before and am very, very grateful. Murder, mythology, mystery, mayhem and magic. All of which I have major weaknesses for. The plots are original, and the characters varied.
A blurb describes them as 'the perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter' which is a serious underestimate of their charm. There are now four books in the series, I have them all, and will assuredly purchase the next. One of the series major strengths is that the characters develop in consistent and entirely feasible directions. And are, on the whole, neither entirely black nor entirely white.
Another children's book.
In this slim book (less than 150 pages) we follow Jack, an eight year
old boy, as his teacher Miss Stretchberry continues to introduce him to
the delights of poetry - reading it and writing it.
With Jack, we learn about alliteration, onomatopoeia and we practise
with him too. We are exposed to poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, and T.S
Eliot among others and see the poems that they inspire Jack to write. I
came to dislike Uncle Bill who insists that poetry has to rhyme. And
we discover that Jack's mother is deaf, and sit in awe while Jack reads
her a poem he has written, tapping his fingers to the rhythm of the
'She drew a circle with her finger
which means again
so I read it over, tapping.
and then she put her hand up:
and I watched while she tapped
the same rhythm'
Which made me weep.
I have reread it twice, and will read it again. Deceptively simple,
and rich in not only the joy of language but in the magic of
relationships. Every child should have a Miss Stretchberry in their
An alcohol-fuelled car crash left John Callahan a partial quadriplegic. He is now a recovering alcoholic who writes/pens/draws cartoons which make the blackest night seem bright. I don't think there is any subject which he would consider 'off limits'. One cartoon which I particularly enjoy shows a man begging, with a sign around his neck saying 'Please help. I am black, blind and not musical.'
It would be charitable to describe his sense of humour as sick. And I often find his cartoons very funny and laugh - wincing. And I don't need to be disturbed any further...
And the last addition was a Christmas gift. Which I knew would be one of my best reads as it emerged from its Christmas wrapping. It has been out of print for over 40 years, and was translated into English and released again this year.
Tove Jansson's Moomintroll series are books I reread each year. And, (cue happy dances) the very first Moomin book she wrote 'The Moomins and the Great Flood' has apparently been published in English for the first time. I will hunt it down. Her children's books can be read with an adult's philosophical eye - or simply enjoyed. She started writing novels for adults in her fifties - and I understand that more of them will be translated and released in English soon. Bliss.
Sculptor's Daugher is a series of stories which capture Tove Jansson's Helsinki childhood - with some fictional elements. The memoir you have when you are not having a memoir.
It is subtle, powerful and beautiful. As I expected.