Is it really December 24th already? Unbelievable. And accidentally well-timed, too, since there are only two top 5s left in our bag full of recommendations. So, without further ado, here are Hayley and my favorites of the past year. We hope you enjoyed reading about what everyone at ABC loved this past year – and maybe we gave you some tips to check out, too!
Which still reminds me: we would love to know what your 5 favorite reads of the past year were (they don’t have to be books published in 2009). Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org (it’s still not too late!)(really!), and please include your mailing address so we can send you an ABC gift voucher as our thank you.
Finally, happy holidays from all of us here at ABC! Wherever you’re spending them, we hope they will be days filled with love, warmth and books.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
I can take or leave Atwood‘s essays, I’m fairly indifferent to her poetry, not that fussed about her short stories, but when she treats us to a full-length novel, I squee with pleasure when I get hold of a copy. This is a companion volume to Oryx and Crake, more speculative post-apocalyptic fiction. One of her most accessible and enjoyable novels to date.
My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Anne of Cleves – the wife Henry VIII called a ‘Flanders mare’ – is, in my opinion, by far the most badass of Harry’s six wives. Unassuming, quiet, but very shrewd, she not only managed to keep her head and outlive his other wives, she also got herself a fantastic divorce settlement. This is the first fictionalized account of her marriage and divorce I’ve read that portrays her as she probably really was, suggesting that Holbein’s famous painting did her more justice than many eminent historians.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Chun-Won Kan
Imprisoned at the infamous Yodok camp as a nine year old boy, Kang Chol-Hwan spent ten years in the sort of inhumane conditions we associate with Nazi concentration camps. He was released in 1987 and vowed to tell his story, giving a rare glimpse into the dark underbelly of the most closed and totalitarian state in the world.
Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern
As a parent of an autistic five year old, I’ll devour any fiction that features autistic characters. This quiet little murder mystery was so believable, it crept up on me and left me discombobulated for days after I finished it.
The Book Of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
Food, intrigue, conspiracy atheism, religion, and orphans in fifteenth century Venice. Delicious!
In chronological reading order:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Only got around to reading this modern-day classic this year, oddly enough because the cover did me in completely (don’t know if that edition is still available, but the picture below is the cover I mean). I found it a chilling tale of an altogether imaginable future. It had me jumping out of bed after finishing a paragraph to run over to my daughter’s room to kiss her while she was sleeping, simply because I could, and maybe to let the handmaid kiss her daughter by proxy that way. The only other book ever to have me holding on to my loved ones while thanking the stars I live in a peaceful place was The Road.
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
This book just blew me away. A bit unbalanced in parts, but that was easily forgiven, as overall the book is full of action, Heroes, Stuff, mutants, mimes and a great plot-twist that turns everything upside down (even if you see it coming from a little way ahead). I can’t wait for his next book (he just blogged that he finished the first draft for it, yay!)!
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
If you ever need a pick-me-up, or are simply in the mood for an unashamedly romantic ode to love, read this book. It covers love in many forms: between men and women, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. A waitress meets a Cary Grant look-a-like as well as a lost little girl, and she is changed forever. A heartwarming read.
The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich
I bought the little paperback version last year, and sort-of regretted it, because the art reproductions were so smallish. But then I got started in earnest on it this year, and found that that little paperback was made for my handbag. I read that thing everywhere: on the bus, in the train, at home, at work (during lunch break, of course…), practically while biking. The tone of the book sometimes made my hackles rise (it can get the wrong side of pedantic now and again), but he presents so much art history in such a clear way that it’s very worthy of your time. I’m a novice when it comes to art, and I am by no means an expert now that I’ve read it, but this book has made me much more aware of viewing art as a product of its time, and that makes for a new perspective. And it’s always a joy to read a book written by someone who is so clearly head over heels in love with his subject. 🙂
Custom Knits by Wendy Bernard
This book sadly never made it to the Crafts shelf for customers to buy, the first time I ordered it. No, my greedy little hands saw it and insisted on opening it up, and I was lost to its fabulous designs. It’s full of great sweaters to make, and vests, and cardigans – all of them modern and sassy and, if you’re a knitter, with an extremely high Must-Make-NOW! factor. I finished one sweater already and am working on a cardigan now. Oh, and it’s full of tips on how to adapt a design to your own body type – and even shows you how to make your own dress dummy (thank you duct tape).
No Biggest Waste of Time this year – although I would nominate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button if writing my thoughts down about it took less time than actually reading this silly fluff of nothing (with an interesting idea at the core of it, granted).