This week’s topic is all about new authors. Not new as in debut authors but authors that are new to me (and the other readers participating in Top Te Tuesday this week). And this is a fascinating topic. I have never before noticed how many new authors I read during a year. I have a goal for myself to read a book by each of my (five) favorite authors every year so they are not new but I have never counted how many new authors I try out. I am actually very pleased with my result. I have given 23 authors a chance this year. So far! I like that! To me, it says that I’m willing to take a chance and I’m not stuck in reading the same few authors over and over again. And it’s also interesting because the 23 authors are very different. There’s both debuts, classics, non-fiction and more. So what you’ll find below is my list of the Top Ten Authors that I have read this year and that I expect to explore further in the coming years; the best of the 23.
As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
Toni Morrison. I read Beloved this year and it was an incredible read. I was so blown away by this book. It was such an incredible powerful and heartbreaking book about a mother doing everything, everything, to protect her children. I will definitely read more by Morrison and I’m a bit sad that I have waited this long to read her for the first time.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have postponed reading The Great Gatsbybecause I watched the movie edition of it starring Robert Redford many years ago and didn’t get it. Not at all. But now I’m apparently the right age for Gatsby because I loved this book too. It was just so good and, again, heartbreaking in all the right ways. Poor Gatsby!
Jennifer Egan. Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goon Squad was the first novel I read this year and it definitely started the year right. I really enjoyed this, all of this, including the powerpoint chapter!
Félix J. Palma.The Map of Time was a mad, mad ride. H.G. Wells, Jack the Ripper, time traveling, love, automatons and so much more. It was wonderful and I loved it. I really want to read the next book in this series! and I hope it is just as much fun.
Carol Birch. Let’s be honest, Jamrach’s Menagerie is definitely outside my normal comfort zone. But I loved it. The first part when they were chasing the ‘dragon’ and finally caught it, was amazing and the second part with the shipwreck was even better. Really a good book!
Ben Marcus.The Flame Alphabet was a strange book indeed. I’m not sure I got all of it but it was so very different and so very fascinating. A very different book to most dystopian literature. I’m still wondering about those weird listening holes… and all the rest of it. As well as how it must be not to be able to be close to your children because their speech makes you sick…
Karen Thompson Walker.The Age of Miracles was the second book I read this year and it was really different and very good. I liked the different take on a dystopian novel and how it also had focus on the fact that life goes on, especially when you’re a teenager.
Colm Tóibín. I was so impressed with not only Tóibín’s courage to take on the story of the mother of Jesus and her lack of belief in her son being the Son of God but also with the way he did it. The Testament of Mary is a wonderful novella, highly recommended. And I plan on reading more by Tóibín!
Alan Bennett. I absolutely adored The Uncommon Reader and I was so well entertained by it. It had it’s flaws, sure, but it was so very good at the same time. And the ending absolutely blew me away! If this one is typical of the way Bennett writes, I definitely want to explore him further in the future.*
Jim Butcher. When I needed something light and entertaining to help me deal with too much work and too little sleep, Jim Butcher was the man to deliver it. I’ve read the two first of The Dresden Files (Storm Front and Fool Moon) and while they are not amazing fantasy, they were good enough to keep me entertained and awake, no easy feat!
* Okay, this is rather embarrassing. Apparently, I read The Clothes They Stood Up In back in 2008 and liked it somewhat … So he’s not a new author. Or is he, when I had completely forgotten having ever read anything by him?
This book was definitely outside my comfort zone. Hunters, whalers, sailors, animal suffering, gore, sweat … These are not things I enjoy reading about. So it’s really not a book I normally would have picked up but I heard about it on the Guardian Books podcast and it sounded so interesting that I had to give it a go. And I’m glad I did.
Jaffy is a young boy who is intrigued by animals. One day he meets a tiger on the streets of London – and walks right up to it. The tiger takes him in it’s mouth and walks away with him but it doesn’t hurt him. He is saved by Jamrach, whose cage the tiger has escaped from. Jamrach has a menagerie from which he sells animals to rich people who is looking for something exotic and he offers Jaffy a job and eventually, this leads to Jaffy going on an expedition to catch a dragon.
He sets sail together with his best friend Tim and a group of sailors as well as a man whose job it is to catch animals for Jamrach. Along the way, they hunt whales. But finally they get to the islands where the dragons live and start hunting. But maybe they catch more than they bargained for – or maybe the sailors are just so superstitious that that is the cause of all the trouble which follows. ‘/…/ the time before the dragon and the time after are not the same.’ (p. 179)
The novel is split in two parts. The first details Jaffy’s interest and love for animals as well as the hunt for the dragon. The other is about a ship wreck. The novel is based in part on reality – there was a man named Jamrach, there was a tiger loose in London and there was a ship, the Essex, which sank and caused the sailors to try and survive in every which way they could. This incident also inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (which I have yet to read). I read the book because of the tiger and the hunt for the dragon – which is what we know as the Komodo dragon. But the part of the book that I really, really loved was the part after the ship wreck. It was so exciting and I almost missed my stop while reading on the train.
What really makes this book work is the language. The language is colorful and unsentimental: ‘I loved my ma. To me, she would ever and always be a warm armpit in the night.‘ (p. 68) It’s so evocative that I at times tried to read with my eyes closed to avoid the bloody and brutal images of the whale hunting, the dragons feasting on one of their own, the sailors struggling to survive. Everything is so salty, sweaty, grimy, harsh and even cruel, at some points. It’s definitely not for the squeamish! And yet Jaffy shines through. He’s an amazing boy whose luck it is that he meets a tiger because this leads to the adventure of his life.
The nineteeth-century London as well as the challenges sailors faced in this period, really comes to life in this novel. The London which Jaffy, Tim and Tim’s sister Ishbel grows up in, is so vividly described, you can almost smell it. And the hardships sailors faced in this period of time with no way of signaling for help or any chance of survival except facing the toughest decisions any person has to face – you’re right there with them when they make these decisions.
Birch has written a very good novel in a way that really makes it’s subject and characters come to life. It’s a hard book to read in some ways because of all the grime and gore but it is a wonderful book about the strength of humans, human conviction and ideals and the importance of going after the impossible.
I hardly ever get books from the library even though I go to the library once a week. Every Friday, when I pick up the girls, we go to the public library to wait for their father. They play, pick out books and they just love it. However, so far, I haven’t gotten any books for myself. Mostly, I buy books, borrow them from friends, get them as ebooks – or sometimes, I get them from the university library. But I’ve been thinking that maybe it would be a good thing to show them that I too pick up books at the library so when we went the last time, I asked my 4-year-old if she wanted to go with me to pick out books for me and she was thrilled to. So we went upstairs and picked out two books for me.
I’m really excited about these two books! Everyone seem to have read The Snow Child and loving it so I’m really looking forward to it. And Jamrach’s Menagerie sounds so fascinating even though it also sounds like something completely out of my comfort zone. It is inspired by a real event where a young boy walks up to an escaped tiger in London and the tiger takes him in his mouth and carries him away, without hurting him. When the boy grows older, he goes out into the world, looking for exciting animals.