The Best Things I Read all Year 2008

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

This book seems to divide people into two camps: a. Amazing, b. Incomprehensible.  I’m in the first camp and I really don’t think it’s that difficult to read.  It’s an incredibly vivid story of forbidden love and contains one of the best evocations of childhood I’ve ever read.  I think it needs to be read quickly, though; I made the mistake of lingering over it too long and had to go back and read the beginning again when I’d finished.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Of course I’d read the famous extracts in English Literature seminars, but it really is worth reading all the way through.  It’s feminism with a sense of humour and while the conclusion is pretty simple (women writers need their own space and economic independence if they are write with integrity), she manages to weave together observations on literature, history and life in the process.

Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I love short stories anyway and Mansfield is an absolute master of the form.  It’s such a shame she died young having worn her body out by taking Oscar Wilde’s advice to give in to temptation a little too literally. It took me over a year to finish the collection because the stories are so intense I couldn’t read more than one or two at a time.  Mansfield is particularly good at representing the inner life of the secret self.  Her characters tend to have failed in their lives and often lack self-awareness.  Some stories, such as ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’ and ‘The Garden Party’ are classics of the genre which turn up all in the ‘best short stories ever’ anthologies.   My favourite is the story ‘Bliss,’ one of the best coded tales of lesbian desire I’ve come across. Others are tragic (‘Miss Brill,’ ‘Life of Ma Parker’) and some are macabre (‘A Married Man’s Story’).  I can see why Virginia Woolf said Mansfield was the only writer who made her feel jealous.

Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen

Ooh, a totally unsentimental biography of Jane Austen.  I think Tomalin does as well as anyone can at getting under the skin of such a spiky, difficult person as Jane Austen.  She does away with the myth that Austen never did anything or went anywhere in her life and while I generally hate biographical criticism, her readings of the novels are also really interesting.

The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women

I loved this. It contained such a wide range of high quality fantasy writing and introduced me to a lot of writers I now want to explore further.

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

In wrote about this my last book post. It’s a masterpiece, one of those must-read books.

I’ve had to re-read a lot of books this year for work, including Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights and Willkie Collins, The Woman in White and Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

The one that struck me most was Wuthering Heights. I’ve read this several times and it only gets more disturbing as I get older. I’ve been meaning to write a longer post about it, but in brief, I think it remains one of the best allegories about the madness and death that results from the splitting of female subjectivity and the “fall” into civilised “femininity.”

 

The find the year may well be one I haven’t finished reading yet

Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry

I almost didn’t buy this because it was £7.00 in Oxfam but my friend persuaded me to it and I’m very thankful.  It’s organised in both historical events and themes, this anthology tells the story of the twentieth century on poetry and it’s just fantastic. Poetry anthologies can be hit and miss affairs but this is really intelligently put together with a very wide range of poets included.

Most challenging read:

Robert Browning, The Selected Poems of Robert Browning

Long Victorian dramatic monologues are not my thing, but I got through it and I’m sure I learned something.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Best Things I Read all Year 2008

  1. Some excellent titles there. Roy and Satrapi are on my reading list for this year, so I look forward to them. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is truly excellent and certainly impacted on me when I read it about five years ago. Are there any must-reads you’ll be tackling in the next 12 months?

  2. Some more American lit. I really want to read Truman Capote and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Also Alan Ginsberg.

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