2011 Favorites

So I’ve read 41 books this year. Some good, some bad. Here’s a list of my favorites. I haven’t written reviews of all of them (yet) but for each book, I’ve written a reason for why it’s one of this year’s favorites. And I’ve linked to the review I have written. So in no particular order, my best reads of 2011.

Fiction

  • A.S. Byatt: The Children’s Book: This was the first book I read this year and it was a good start to the year. It was my first Byatt and I loved it. Byatt might make it onto the favorite author list one day! Especially since this is apparently isn’t one of her best books if I am to trust other reviewers and bloggers. For me, the best part and the part I keep on remembering is what gave the book it’s name. How the mother in the family wrote a story for each child and each child had it’s special notebook, decorated so it fitted the child and the story. Loved it!
  • Charles Dickens: David Copperfield: I have a weakness for Dickens. At least I think I do. I loved this, I loved A Christmas Carol, and I loved Nicholas Nickleby when I saw it in it’s entirety in a theater some years ago. David Copperfield is an amazing book, apparently kind of self-biographical. This is the story of David Copperfield’s life, starting with his birth, and it’s good.
  • Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections: Not only did I love this book and added Franzen to my list of potential favorite authors, my review of this also made it to the Fresh Pressed page here on WordPress which makes me remember it even more fondly. What can I say? It’s an amazing book. Franzen writes so so so good and everything in the book is just perfect (almost).
  • Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin: This one surprised me. It involves a lot of different stories, most of which cleverly connect over the marvelous feat performed by a tightrope walker, walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The various stories gives the impression of a huge city, where a lot of it’s inhabitants get to share an experience that in some ways can be said to define the uniqueness that is New York.
  • Orhan Pamuk: Snow: The language in this one, the way he uses snow as an image and a metaphor … This is so good. Even though he reveals parts of the story, Pamuk still keeps you hooked. This is an amazing book and it has made Pamuk one of my potential favorite authors.
  • Marcel Proust: Swans Verden 1 (På sporet af den tabte tid 1)/Swann’s Way 1 (In Search of Lost Time 1): Proust is Proust. He’s in a league of his own. I don’t know yet if it’s a league above everyone else but I know he has his own league. Some of his thoughts are so interesting. And it’s weird that an entire book about a man who has just woken up but hasn’t gotten out of bed yet, can be so interesting. I need to read on to really figure out what my thoughts on Proust exactly are.
  • Jack Vance: The Complete Lyonesse: If you like a fairytales, this is a book for you. This is a beautiful and well-written and wonderfully long fairytale with princesses, princes, magicians, kings and queens, fairies and everything else, that makes a fairytale. This is good!

Non-fiction

  • Melanie Joy: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The argumentation in this is simple: We’ve all ben indoctrinated to think that it’s all right  to eat our fellow animals but it really isn’t. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian but I hope to one day have the guts to take the step. Books like this are preaching to the choir – still, I think the argumentation in this was more sound than in lots of other books. And I loved it.

So out of 41 books, 8 got 5 stars. So close to 20% of the books I read, I gave 5 stars. Looking back now, the only one I might regret giving 5 stars, is the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past/In Search of Lost Time. But I had a hard time figuring out what to rate it. And it’s Proust. I’ve had him on a pedestal forever so I couldn’t rate it anything else. Maybe I’ll change my thoughts about Proust as I read on.

When I look back, 2011 has felt like a really lousy year with regard to reading (and health). Still, I’m sitting here pain free, I got engaged this year (something I never thought I would be) and I did actually read some darn good books this year! So thanks for everything 2011 and see you in 2012! (Oh, and maybe I need to read a bit more non-fiction next year!)

Happy New Year!

Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin

New York Times has started a new book club – the Big City Book Club. Ginia Bellafonte is in charge and every six weeks or so, she decides which book to read and then people can comment on her blog. All the books chosen will be about New York City in some way or other. The first book chosen was Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and since I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, I jumped on the bandwagon and read it – and loved it. The next book club will be on October 18 – the book as the second read is Helen Schulman This Beautiful Life – another novel I’ve been looking forward to.

Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin (Random House, 2009).

Sometimes something happen that brings a lot of people together. Things happen that we will always remember. We will ask each other where where you when … and we all know and remember. This book takes place in NYC and of course, if you talk about an event that has brought NYC together, you immediately think about 9-11. But this book is not about 9-11 – well, not explicitly at least. Even though it’s written after 2001 and even though it involves the Twin Towers, this is not about their destruction but rather a celebration of the towers. A reminder of that these towers stood and they inspired greatness.
The one event that connects a lot of these people one way or another is a guy walking on a tightrope between the towers. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the two still unfinished towers for 45 minutes. This event is the starting point for McCann’s novel.
“He had made himself into a statue, but a perfect New York one, a temporary one, up in the air, high above the city. A statue that had no regard for the past. He had gone to the World Trade Center and had strung his rope across the biggest towers in the world. The Twin Towers. Of all places. So brash. So glassy. So forward-looking.”
For me, this is a masterpiece. I so enjoyed reading this book. Each chapter focus on a new character and slowly, the characters connect with each other and with the tightrope walk in more and more ways. I was so intrigued by this idea of how people exist side by side in a city but is drawn into each other’s lives in so many different ways, sometimes connected by daily occurrences and at other times connected by something extraordinary. “One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of going that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.” (at 69 %).
This is a story of two Irish brothers, one of whom (Corrigan) is a kind of priest, who is helping out a group of hookers. Chief among the hookers are Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn. It’s about Claire and Gloria and the rest of their group of mothers who meet to talk about the sons they lost in Vietnam. It’s about a artist couple, trying to recreate NYC in the 20s. It’s a group of hackers, it’s a graffiti fan. It’s a judge. After Corrigan and Jazzlyn is in an accident, the scope of the novel slowly unfolds and more and more people are involved and connected.
It’s hard to detail what it’s about since it’s about the lives of a lot of very different people but the beauty of it all is that these people are connected and connecting in many different ways as their lives unfold. It offers a glimpse of all the lives coming together and then separating again, because of one event. And the tightrope walker becomes a catalyst while at the same time being just one life among many. But still, this is not entirely true because not all stories are connected to other stories or even to the tightrope walker.
It’s about lives in a city. One summer in NYC in 1974 – and then with a epilogue in 2006 – people’s lives were touched by this one man’s feat.
I felt for a lot of these people, not the least for Claire who has lost a son in Vietnam. And I was constantly thrilled with the way it’s written. The author uses repetitions, not only in the stories where you see the same thing from different points of view but also to emphasize certain points. He also changes his writing style to accommodate some of the characters very different way of speaking and thinking – for instance Tillie.
But even though this is not a 9-11 novel per se, it still mentions 9-11 – and in a very beautiful way: “A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart.”.
This is exactly what this book is about – points, where stories collide. Points where lives collide. And it’s magical even though the stories are so real, so painful. Not many happy endings here. But the books ends on a happy note still and it left me feeling sorry that it was over but happy that I had read it.
This is a story of how one man’s obsession, one man’s feeling that when you put up two towers like these, he just had to put a line between them and walk it, one man’s dream can unite a city and like a stone thrown in water, create circles that grow and grow and touch more and more.