Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sterne 2005 Top Ten - Part One

For some weeks now I've been wringing my hands and pulling out my hair and cutting boy's names into my arms with rusty razor blades. At first I thought it was generalised fear of the end of the world as we know it (!), but after a few electrode-intensive counseling sections I realised that I was actually afflicted with doubt over whether I should join in the fun and post my top entertainment picks of the year. As you can see, I've answered that question in the affirmative. The scars are healing nicely, thank you.

First up, the ten best books I've read this year. Well, ten of the best books I've read this year. It's tough to be definite about these things.

10. Light, M. John Harrison (2002)
Just when I was thinking I'd never read another sci-fi novel that wasn't written by Iain Banks, along comes this bizarre, disturbing novel that ignores the self-imposed boundaries of genre in favour of knocking your brain about.

9. The People's Act of Love, James Meek (2005)
This was the first book I read on the Booker longlist. I could have stopped there, because nothing else matched it.

8. Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald (2002)
I read this in January, too long ago to be able to offer much of an opinion of it. I do however remember it being brilliant.

7. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
I don't often use the word "exquisite", but how else can I describe Ishiguro's masterful comedy of manners that slowly, with subtle precision, descends into darkness.

6. Love, Sex & Tragedy, Simon Goldhill (2005)
An excellent look at our debt to classics. Popular synthesis at its best.

5. The Catastrophist, Ronan Bennett (1999)
Historical/political thriller that ticks every box including the one labelled "Graham Greene".

4. A High Wind In Jamaica, Richard Hughes (1929)
See my attempt at a review.

3. Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges (1964)
2005 was the year Borges clicked for me. I had previously - and laboriously - read Ficciones (twice), and I loved the non-fiction collection The Total Library, but having slowly read through Labyrinths and enjoyed every page, I can now add Borges to my immutable list of favourites.

2. 1812, Adam Zamoyski (2004)
One of the best history books I have ever read, 1812 tells the story of Napoleon's march on Moscow and his subsequent disastrous retreat. Every page drips with learning, but Zamoyski is never dry. The action is immediate, the horrors of war unflinchingly described and affecting, and the imperialistic hubris of Napoleon and co. strangely familiar.

1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
There are two bona fide geniuses on this list. One is named Jorge, the other is named Vladimir. This is Vladimir's most famous book. You've probably heard of it already.


JPW said...

I had a peekaboo at 1812 in Reader's Feast yesterday. It's very...long.

Tim said...

When it comes to history books, 500-odd pages is short by my reckoning. But yes, by most standards it is a long book. Good stuff, though, if you're interested in the period, or simply in how things can go horribly wrong in war.

JPW said...

Perhaps I shall give it a whirl! I don't like Napoleon but I'm always up for people getting shot at, dying of frostbite, etc.