On… my favourite books of 2010

I love reading.

What a painfully obvious thing to say. Never mind, let us continue.

I average two or three books a week, and I’ll read just about anything. I’m anti-book snobbery. (Incidentally, I’m also anti-carb snobbery: I’ll happily eat Doritos or thrice-baked truffle-infused organic baby potatoes. It comes down to the same thing: a pleasure is a pleasure.)

Reading so much is an expensive habit, as I always buy them (I figure it’s author karma). I don’t have a favourite genre: classics, modern literary fiction, magical realism, chicklit (if it is funny; romance/issues alone do not float my boat), sagas, popular fiction (including my secret vice, young adult paranormal romance gothlit, but more about that in a moment)… I am quite the little book slut.

Actually, I don’t read scary books – not because I don’t like them, but because I am a chicken. During The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) I slept with the light on. This is not a lie. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t read misery lit or those crime books that are full of misogynistic sexual violence either, but that’s because they make me feel sick. You know the kind I mean. Oh, and I read things like Dan Brown if I find myself in someone’s house for the weekend and wake up early (I am forever waking up early, it’s so damn tedious) and I’ve forgotten or finished my book. Dan Browny-type books are interesting to read because you can sort of analyze why they’re sucking you in; I read 137 pages of one of his books one Sunday morning at a friend’s house in Dublin, and realized the plot was structured like this: mysterious event – travel – hint – travel – small reveal– travel – hint – travel – small reveal – travel. (I got bored the sixth time the main character travelled on a super-magic-fighter-jet across the world to get told something exciting but baffling by someone important. I skipped to the last page and thought ‘oh well big fucking deal, it’s alien ice’ and went downstairs and made pancakes.)

The only book I really didn’t like – and note, quite a few made me think ‘this isn’t very well-written/good’; I mean book I actively disliked – in the past year was Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Nevwhatevergefeffer. I LOVED The Time Traveller’s Wife, but HFS was just… cold. In every possible way. It made me want to slash my wrists; its view on humanity and its characters were all so lacking in empathy or love or warmth. Now, perhaps that was just my take on it. But there you have it.

Anyway, without further yapping, here are my favourite reads from 2010:

The Observations

This is a photo of me reading The Observations on a train from Dublin to Cork on the weekend. (We were in Ireland for pre-Christmas parties and – frozen airports permitting, oh please please – heading to Hong Kong on Thursday for Christmas with my parents. YAY.) It. Is. Divine. Here’s the cover again.

I bought this book on the recommendation of Anna, Daisy and Violet at Lutyens & Rubinstein (Best Bookshop Evah, TM). Those girls have impeccable taste. I fell in love with Bessy, the narrator. I find myself, even now that I’ve finished it, wanting to look after her and talk to her… She’s brilliant: funny, feisty, warm, caring, vulnerable, smart, strong… it’s perfect in so many ways: story, voice, characters… just great.

By the way, what is with all these books with ribbons around the cover at the moment? And have you counted how many chicklit book covers feature whimsical girls in red coats? It’s laughable. And I say that as someone whose first book cover has a whimsical girl with a red coat (and a spotted blue neckerchief, indeed). Before I start saying anything I shouldn’t, back to the point: The Observations is wonderful.

Torment by Lauren Kate

Young Adult paranormal romance gothlit sometimes really hits the spot. Yes, I read the Twilight series last year, starting with the thought ‘what the hell is everyone on about?’ and then because I couldn’t put the fuckers down, even when I worried that the ‘imprinting’ thing was perhaps a strange Mormon childbride excuse, and when I cringed slightly at the endless love talk (as I said, romance doesn’t really do it for me… in fact, I cringe writing any romancey bits in my own books and always try to make them a bit sharp or surprising, I probably fail but I try). Something about that teenage alienation feeling is addictive, it was compelling and entertaining…. Anyway, back to Torment. It’s about eternal love and damnation, fallen angels and – but of course – a sulky teenage girl. You should probably start with Fallen, but I enjoyed the sequal, Torment, far more.

The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon

I wrote about this earlier in the year, and said it was the reason I learnt to read. It’s still true. If you’ve read it, by the way, and loved it, try The Wonder Boys. It, too, is wonderful.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep is a sort of coming-of-age story – dreadfully overused term, sorry – about a girl at a New England boarding school. Parts reminded me so much of my boarding school – the strangeness and loneliness of it – that I cried real tears, people. Real tears. American Wife, by the same author, is brilliant too, but Prep is just… phenomenal. I loved it so much that I wrote Curtis Sittenfeld an email saying so. (She didn’t reply.) (Hurrumph.) That is the UK cover, by the way, and I have to say, what the fuck? It looks like a photo you’d get free with a cheap photoframe. And what’s with the quote? “The OC?” “Clueless?” Are they seriously comparing a brilliant novel to a terrible TV show and a movie released in 1995 (yes Clueless was fab and the clothes were awesome, but apart from a teenage protagonist, Clueless has NOTHING in common with Prep, though it’s got a lot in common with Emma by Jane Austen, of course). And why “The Secret History?” Because it’s also set in New England? The Secret History is by Donna Tartt, and it’s wonderful, but it’s about a group of college classics students who become obsessed with Baccanalian revelry and go on a excess-fuelled rampage, kill a farmer and then one of their friends, and then are destroyed by guilt. For Pete’s sake.

The Best Of Everything by Rona Jaffe

Yes! God this is a fabulous book. Five young women working in Manhattan in the 50s: their careers, families, love lives and friendships… I loved it so much. If you enjoy this, try The Group by Mary McCarthy, which charts the lives of a group of Vassar graduates in New York in the 30s. It’s fantastic.

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch

I love a saga. I always forget I love a saga, as I look at them and think ‘man, that looks like such a commitment’. But then I start reading and think ‘amazing, amazing, amazing’. This book, and its sequel, Sins Of The Fathers, is about American and English families entwined by love and hate and money over a 50-year period. The books are narrated in chunks by different characters, and it’s an incredibly compelling storytelling technique – it’s seamless and each character is so damn believable. I’ve never read anything like it. By the way, if you like a good saga, try Elizabeth Jane Howard’s wartime saga (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, and Casting Off). After that you’ll probably be in the mood for Mary Wesley’s Chamomile Lawn, which is delicious. Then you might go through a Persephone-ish betwixt-the-wars phase, so start with Mariana by Monica Dickens, read all the Nancy Mitfords if you haven’t already, and dive into Dorothy Whipple. Mmm. Yummy books.

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Yep, it’s YA, yep, it’s the same character that made me want to throw knives at the screen during Sex And The City 2, yep, it’s awesome. Candace Bushnell is a fantastic writer: One Fifth Avenue and Lipstick Jungle are also excellent. Four Blondes I didn’t get along quite so well with and I can’t remember what I thought of Trading Up. Weirdly, I haven’t read the Sex And The City book. I should probably do that.

I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

I don’t know how the hell I missed reading this book for so long: it’s great. You already know that, I expect. Everyone else seems to have read it. Perfect chicklit: smart, funny, fast, surprising and empathetic.

I’ve probably forgotten some other favourites, but shall come back to add them. A Girl Like You is coming out in 15 days, by the way, and my recent blog and Twitter silence is mostly a result of fretting about it. Thinking about other books simultaneously calms me down and makes me more nervous. Isn’t that weird? Hmm. Fret fret fret.

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4 thoughts on “On… my favourite books of 2010

  1. Lucy

    Ahhh, I am SO grateful for that mention of Her Fearful Symmetry! I felt exactly the same response, and wished I hadn't read it…but I loved The Time Traveller's Wife so much! I like your approach to reading, which reminds me a bit of my own, except that I don't read so much these days…newly married and hubby has the TV on a lot and I find it hard to concentrate! Will have to try some of your recommendations, thanks :) I really want to go to Lutyens & Rubinstein after your review!

    Thanks also for your description of your Twilight reading process which is precisely what I went through! I was hooked, embarrassing as it was!

    (Sorry, long comment…) Looking forward to A Girl Like You :)

  2. P

    I absolutely ADORED The Carrie Diaries.

    Give the Sex & The City book a miss by the way. It put me off Bushnell's novels for YEARS! (I also liked One Fifth Avenue though.)

  3. annelise

    Lady, I was bookshopping today and saw Prep. I would never have looked at it twice because its cover was exceptionally shitty (http://www.amazon.com/Prep-Novel-Curtis-Sittenfeld/dp/1400062314) but I remembered the mention here. So I bought it. I also couldn't stop myself from reading Fallen and Torment in a couple of sittings either.

    You do a good book recommendation, so you do. And as one good turn deserves another, I tell anyone who will listen to read your two. Yay!


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