Emily has inspired me. And the gods know that in these days of NaBloPoMo one accepts inspiration with both hands.
Despite not reading very much, I read some damn good stuff last year. Rosamund Lehmann has established herself as a favourite and I don’t know how I kept my hands off Dusty Answers in Blackwells earlier today, but I was rather distracted by the enormous table of Maugham; Ruby’s Spoon, by Anna Lawrence Pietroni, was a wonderful feat of imagination and how nice to see my native dialect on the page;Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar, was an excellent early birthday present from Emily, and a great delineation of a gradual descent into madness, in which the inner world takes over. The Persephones delivered, as they always do. I may not have loved Mrs Memmary but I didn’t hate it, and Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music more than compensated. Finally, because I can’t pull out every single title, Julian McLaren-Ross (himself the model for X Trapnel in A Dance to the Music of Time, fyi) served up a treat with Of Love and Hunger.
In general, I am seemingly firmly in favour of inter-war and post-war fiction. And I think this is true. There is a certain robustness, clarity of language and agility with words that I thoroughly enjoy. My reading is fairly undirected, and I believe I’ll keep it that way.
Books read this year: 109. I am vastly relieved I scraped past the 100 mark, but that’s pretty poor going. On the other hand, there was a shitload of other stuff going down in 2010, all of which took time and left me with all the attention span of a biscuit. A stale biscuit.
Books by female authors: 54. By complete happenstance, I seem to have achieved a fairly even split, then.
Books by male authors: 55. That adds up to 109, right?
Overall favourite: Simon Raven. I was so, so pleased when the Relay Bookhouse in Bethel, CT, tracked down the missing Alms for Oblivion titles for me. I know I’ve burbled on about them at length, but it was just a terrific sequence. Horrible, louche, manipulative characters, scheming and back biting their way through their lives. Raven writes like a dream.
Best non-fiction: Nicholas Ostler, A Biography of Latin. Ok, so not that I read much non-fiction this year anyway (two books?) but in any year I think Ostler would have been the one to beat.
Best Historical: A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel. The French Revolution always devastates me because it’s so horrible and tragic. Mantel pulled off the trick of making me care about the characters, and then pity them when the monster they created turned against them.
Best adventures: Bulldog Drummond, Sapper. A quartet from Mr W and I still have one of the stories left, but these are so satisfactory. Particularly because the bad guys get their comeuppance.
Best book read on holiday in Dublin: Molly Fox’s Birthday, Deirdre Madden. Really, I wasn’t expecting this to be quite as good as it was. Very cleverly constructed.
Best, erm, only autobiography: Corduroy and Silver Ley, Adrian Bell (I have the trilogy in one volume so I’ve read two out of three so far). In the 1920s, Bell decides he can’t face an office job, and his father thinks he can’t be a writer. So instead, he heads to the country to learn farming. A lovely bit of writing about farming in the transition to a mechanized age, the rural year, the state of the country in the inter-war period.
Best (and only) erotica: In Praise of Older Women, Stephen Vizinczey. The author whose name I have the most trouble spelling.