Most other book bloggers or book-related websites do some kind of feature on their best reads of the year in December or January, which is the traditional period to neatly tuck away what’s been achieved in order to move on to the year ahead. I love reading this type of list myself, but I find their number is growing exponentially and it’s easy to lose yourself in a deluge of interesting titles. I toyed with the idea of doing it myself over the holidays, but instead I decided to release a list of my years reading now, in the Spring, because it’s during the Spring, last year, that I began Book’s End with a post about book titles. That’s right, Book’s End is one year old.
And what a year it’s been! To be fair, I spent most of it reading for school—although there were pleasant discoveries in that domain as well. For example, I’ve been spending a lot of my time pouring over the short stories of three Irish writers for my undergraduate thesis: Elizabeth Bowen, Frank O’Connor, and Sean O’Faolain. I’m lucky to have chosen writers of such undeniable talent because I can honestly say that not once did I NOT feel like picking up one of their collections to read or reread a certain story. These writers are three masters of the short story form, and their works reveal many truths about human nature. I also very much enjoyed Bowen’s The House in Paris, which I studied in a class on the Uncanny last year. It’s a wonderful between-the-wars novel about displacement and inheritance.
Other school-related discoveries include Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian (a stunning, extremely well-wrought reinterpretation of a historical figure), Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley (a Canadian masterpiece I had never heard of before), Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers (you’ll hear more about these last two modernist novels very soon), Jean-Paul Sartre Les Mots (I thought this book would be dreadful but it turned out to be a bibliomemoir, a genre I’m very fond of), and Toni Morrison’s pitch-perfect Jazz, about Harlem in the 1920s.
My reading this year was also enriched by my membership to Mr. B’s Year of Reading Delights, which means I got a new handpicked book in the mail every month until February. Because of my otherwise busy reading schedule, I didn’t get a chance to read all of them yet, but among those I did take the time to open, I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish, a hilarious, rambunctious Australian novel about a 19th century Tanzanian prisoner on a mission to paint and catalogue specimens of fish from the surrounding waters. This strange novel, which develops level after level of forgery, is also an exhilarating exploration of language. I look forward to checking out the rest of the novels my bibliotherapist at Mr. B’s sent me, such as Robin Jenkins’ The Cone Gatherers and Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers.
In the last twelve months also went from living in Bristol, England (where I’d gone to study abroad for two semesters) to moving back home to Montreal, Canada. I made the dreaded voyage at the end of June, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch provided the transition between my life there and my life here. As I’ve said elsewhere, I planned to finish the novel in Bristol but ended up using it over there as a kind of manual to explore the British countryside, and finished it in Quebec as a way of easing myself into my old, normal life… It was my first time reading Eliot, and as these things go I read it mostly for the interweaving of plot and the descriptions of quaint English country life. It demands rereading in the future.
As for other books I picked up myself (or that were recommended by G.) during the year, the ones I enjoyed the most tended to be a little bit ludicrous (escapism, anybody?). There was Jocelyne Saucier’s award winning Il pleuvait des oiseaux (It rained birds, as yet untranslated), which I got as a gift at Christmas, about old people falling in love in the woods of Northern Ontario. There was Bulgakov’s thrilling The Master and Margarita, which I read in the train over a trip in Italy that contained way too many hours of transportation. There was Umberto Eco’s brilliant The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, about an amnesiac who remembers only everything he’s ever read. These are very different novels, but they are united by their originality and distinctive voices. Here are books that come blazing into your life with their own aesthetics, their own logic. You must accept them on their own terms: that’s what makes for a remarkable reading experience.
One regret I have about my reading year is that I didn’t get a chance to check out any new publications. Reading books that have been out for a while is a safer choice, but it’s also fun to be able to take part in what everyone’s talking about, like Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning The Sense of and Ending, or Murakami’s 1Q84 or (more recently), Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision. There are some books I’m really excited about that will be coming out in the next months, such as Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (the sequel to Wolf Hall) and a new novel by Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth; hopefully I’ll be more inclined to pick up some reading material from the “hot off the press” pile at my local bookstore.
School’s almost out, now, and there’s a daunting, exciting (and growing) pile of books on my bedside shelf (I realize I just said I was also looking forward to buying new books that will come out this year—it’s the paradox of my existence). Hopefully I’ll be able to spend the upcoming months with my nose between their pages.