Whether you are planning to curl up on the couch with a cup of cocoa or stretch languidly on a beach, these are some of our suggestions.
The Thousands Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell
Better known for the Booker Prize winner and best-seller “Cloud Atlas”, I fell in love with the follow-up at page 80. “Hang in there”, sofagirl counselled and I am glad I did because, if the going is a bit slow, the book then lived by my side until I devoured the last page. A wondrous and meticulously researched tale of the impenetrable Japanese kingdom in the 1700‘s told through the eyes of a lowly Dutch Indies employee, and an impossible and perilous love story, this book will transport you to a different world for its duration. The precise, lace-like intricate writing will mesmerize you too.
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Predictable, I can hear you saying. At the top of every literary critic’s year end list, you would be right but I couldn’t resist. I am an English history aficionado, with a particular slant for Tudor times and this book, together with its predecessor, “Wolf Hall”, satisfies my Tudor cravings. Even if it’s a story we all know inside out, in these pages, England and the characters that changed the course of its history come alive like never before. Recounted, in third person, from the perspective of Master Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s advisor during the reformation and a number of marriages, it might change your perspective on many of the events and historical characters.
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St.Aubyn
Before you reach for “At Last”, the concluding novel in the Patrick Melrose saga, you should do yourself a favour and read the preceding four ones, combined (in the US only) in one handy-dandy volume. Mr. St. Aubyn, a member of the English upper crust he dissects in these pages, and a not so veiled mirror of Patrick Melrose, deals with child abuse, drug addiction, parental issues and searching for a purpose in that ironic and smooth English manner that is often lacking in American literature. Funny, heart-breaking and all around wonderful read.
Watermark by Joseph Brodsky
A tiny volume, first published in 1993, it’s hard to categorize: partly essay, memoir and poem in prose, it’s about the love affair the Russian poet developed with my favourite city, Venice. A strongly suggested read if you have been and liked the city or if you are planning to go (especially in winter). A little gem.
Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio
I noticed my list was starting to veer too much towards the melancholy so, to lighten it up, I am including a procedural thriller by a beloved Italian author, widely translated in English. Mr. Carofiglio was a prosecutor himself, in Bari, a Southern city where all his tales take place. The protagonist, a 40 odd year old defense attorney, recently divorced and with a penchant for taking on troubled cases, is irresistible. The bonus is a clear explanation of how the Italian judicial system does (not) work and how life in a placid, mid-size Italian city unfolds. Excellent beach read.
Whenever I see what camparigirl is reading – I get book envy. She tends to lose me in history and Russia though – and I am sure my love affairs with entire series leaves her equally bewildered.
Which bring me to Inspector Harry Hole and The Snowman. Harry’s creator Jo Nesbo is a Norwegian ex-pop star – who has gone on to write great, dark, looming novels. Nesbo’s books are set in Oslo and the action is centered around the city and its tortured son who solves gruesome murders working from instinct and his own damaged centre. Whilst Harry is a great policeman, he is a crap boyfriend and colleague. Frustrating everyone around him. But that’s what makes these stories so plausible. And I devoured all nine books this year. My only (mild) criticism is that Harry becomes almost superhuman as the series progresses – managing to walk through freezing Oslo with half of his face hanging off at one point. But that happened with Stieg Larsson – with Mikael Blomkvist becoming more attractive and irresistible to women as the Millennium Trilogy developed. Wishful thinking fellas. Nesbo also writes kids books – about fart powder … next on my list of must-reads.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: A fascinating look at a difficult, brilliant individual. I skipped over all the techie bits – but the insights into how Jobs’ mind worked, how he treated people, how he micro managed his food intake and his refusal to seek treatment for the cancer that eventually killed him are un-missable. An extraordinary man – who changed millions of lives with his refusal to settle.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Enzo believes the Mongolian legend which posits that a dog who is prepared, will be re-incarnated in his next life as a human. So he gets busy – learning as much as he can from watching TV, listening to humans talk and going motor racing with his master Denny. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally, the death of mom Eve from cancer, the huge loss of little Zoe who became the spoils in a custody battle between Eve’s parents and Denny. Enzo is a philosopher, obsessed by having opposable thumbs – who teaches us how to be human. This book is a meditation on humility and hope in the face of despair, narrated by a dog. And I loved every word.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Not so much a self-help book as a “recognise what is stopping you moving forward” book. Duhigg’s belief is that we are all habitual people and our lives are run by a series of mini routines that are triggered by a cue and end with a reward. So, identify the trigger and you can detour to a different, more positive routine. Which still comes backed by a reward. Duhigg reinforces this assertion with scientific proof and fascinating examples of ‘keystone’ habits in sport, music, and business; that have been changed by overwriting the trigger. This is a pragmatic approach to change – which like everything, Duhigg reminds us, takes practice.
A Taste for Death: I make a point of reading at least one Peter O’Donnell novel every year. Modesty Blaise started off as a comic strip character in the mid-sixties, and I read the stories avidly in our local newspaper. Eventually O’Donnell created a series of novels and short story collections (all of which I own and cherish). Modesty used to be head of a criminal organization called The Network and, together with her sidekick – Willie Garvin, had a successful run of high-end crimes across the globe. Her team was skilled, efficient and ruthless – but always had morals. They did not deal in drugs, vice or any human trafficking. We meet Modesty and Willie when they have disbanded the Network and retired (rich and young). Only to find themselves recruited by British intelligence who want covert help in capers where Her Majesty’s Government can’t officially be seen to be involved. The stories are watertight in their plotting, elegant in their execution, smart and amusing. Plus the relationship between Modesty and Willie is one of the most finely drawn friendships in literature.