Let's be honest it was a pretty ordinary year for books last year but the three that stood out for me were:
Room by Emma Donoghue
Reading Room reminded me of when I read We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. That book and its confronting subject matter was something I avoided for months but once commenced I was unable to put it down until I was finished. Similarly many people fear this book due to its uncomfortable themes but I urge you to read it. The fact that the author can produce such a captivating story of the love between mother and child when they are being held captive for years in a tiny space is the mark of a truly fine writer. Worthy of all the accolades it received, I look forward to her next book with great anticipation.
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
I love quality teen fiction and not just because I am in denial about my age! For me last year this was the stand out, a debut by an Australian author.
It is the story of 14 year old Dan whose parents have just split up, the family business has gone bust, they have lost their home, his private school fees can no longer be afforded and to cap all this drama off his Dad announces he is gay.Dan develops a deep fascination for the girl next door and he is such a rich lovable character you can't help but cheer him on as he struggles with his teenage life. So good I read it twice.
Half a Life by Darin Strauss
I am a sucker for a book with recommendations from authors I admire so this book with quotes from Gary Shteyngart and Joyce Carol Oates was always going to make its way to my overcrowded bookshelves. It begins with the line Half my life ago, I killed a girl.
This memoir was staggering not only for his honesty and depth of emotion but because of the truly exceptional writing. Sometimes in a book a line or a passage hits you with such ferocity that you think, that is exactly how I feel and you continue reading to the exclusion of all other aspects of your life. This accident that opens this story happens as a teenager and is going to be with him for the rest of his life, I feel grateful that he had the courage to share it with us.
#3 Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom
Where the God of Love Hangs Out begins with two short novellas, followed by four short stories, all about the different incarnations of love between two people. My favourite story sees a widowed woman and her stepson's complicated but loving relationship through a very awkward event. Blooms writing is masterful, reminiscent of Alice Munro's unique skill of describing seemingly insignificant events and charging them with meaning.
#2 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
Wonderful first novel. Tells of the relationship between four friends from high school through to middle age. Cowell has a very honest, original voice that is at times shocking, but also challenging and thought provoking. Describes the juxtaposition of growing up in suburban Sydney perfectly.
#1 Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
This collection of comic strips tells the story of Jimmy Corrigan, an unloved child and lonely man. Told from the perspective of Jimmy, it tells the story of four generations of Corrigans through non-linear narrative flashbacks. Ware's illustrations are sparse but beautiful. It is a surprisingly emotional read that will stay with you long after you finish it.
#3 Solar by Ian McEwan
McEwan has had an impressive 35 year career as an author, and his latest offering, Solar, keeps him on track as one of the most important novelists of our time. Solar's destructive, self-obsessed, womanising anti-hero, Michael Beard, is a Nobel-prize winning scientist. With his fledgling career and deteriorating marriage, Beard is suddenly offered an opportunity to give his career an almighty boost, and a chance to save the world no less. In this book, McEwan takes a very topical and serious subject matter - global warming - and makes it funny. And rather sexy.
#2 Just Kids by Patti Smith
"Just Kids" is Patti Smith's memoir, and tribute to renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe - her friend, lover, and artistic collaborator. Smith writes of a time when they were "just kids" hanging out in the vibrant New York City of the late 60s/early 70s, living in near-poverty, but determined to realise their artistic ambitions - his for photography, hers for songwriting. Also recounting curious meetings with such musical icons as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and author Allen Ginsberg, "Just Kids" is a beautifully-written memoir.
#1 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngardt
Touted as the best new American satirist of our time, Gary Shteyngardt doesn't disappoint with SSTLS. Largely comical but often times elegant and moving, it is the love story between a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck, Russian-American man and a young, ultra-cool Korean girl. Against the backdrop of a near-future America, frightening in its seemingly impending accuracy, we're taken on the tumultuous ride that is the relationship of this unlikely couple.
#3 Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
The third and final installment in Patrick Ness' fantastic Chaos Walking series. As the three sides prepare for the impending war, Todd & Viola are once again separated and become pawns in a conflict they didn't initiate. The possibility of peace is slipping through their fingers as Mayor Prentis and Mistress Coyles true intents become clear. Monster of Men is full of heart racing suspense and examines the perils of war from multiple sides and the value of redemption. A great read for young adults and slightly older adults like me.
#2 Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley
The perfect ending to a phenomenal series. Scott Pilgrim, loveable slacker and bass player of garage band Sex Bohomb, faces his greatest challenge yet: Gideon Graves, Ramona's seventh and final evil ex-boyfriend. O'Malley effortlessly blends punk rock, video games, pop culture and and a beautiful love story full of dry humour and superb illustrations. If you haven't yet discovered Scott Pilgrim don't walk but run to your local Oscar & Friends and grab your copy. You won't be disappointed.
#1 Windup Girl by Paola Bacigalupi
Set in post-apocalyptic Bangkok, where life is threatened on one side by the rising sea levels and on the other, rapidly mutating diseases and virus' created by genetic engineering. The Windup Girl follows a cast of complex and authentic characters as they battle to carve out their own place in a constantly shifting and ever shrinking world.
Bacigalupi weaves a rich tale of power, corruption and greed with an original plot and a fantastic sense of place. My Favourite read of 2010!
#3 How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Charles Yu is a time machine repairman, in a somewhat faulty 'science fictional' universe. With his imaginary dog Ed, and his TM-31 time machine's lovely Operating System "Tammy", for 10 years he's been helping clients who have become stranded while futilely trying to change their own past. He's stuck in a rut, and it only gets worse when he shoots his future self in the stomach, and gets thrown into a time loop.
It's wildly geeky premise makes this book absolutely charming. A must read for those who suspect they're caught in a time-loop.
#2 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The eagerly anticipated conclusion to the series which depicts a post-war future where a tyrannical regime cleverly plays its people against each other with an annual Hunger Games spectacular, where sacrificial youths fight to the death in booby trapped arenas whilst broadcast to the nation. Tough and savvy teen Katniss Everdeen is the central character, who continually outwits the 'Capitol' and wins the hearts and allegiance of a nation. Combining reality TV, love, and terrifying dictatorships into thrilling and moving reading, I recommend this to anyone who loves books with a little action and a lot of heart.
#1 Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Aside from highly staged displays of military and nuclear strength, little is known about life in North Korea, the last bastion of soviet style socialism. Through the stories of six defectors, Barbara Demick gives us an uncompromising and stark look at the lives of ordinary North Koreans, a people that revere their leaders as omnipotent, but are repaid with poverty, persecution and starvation. Full of fascinating insights into state propaganda, and absolute censorship. Academically intriguing whilst emotionally heartbreaking, this is a must read for news and political junkies.
#3 X'ed Out by Charles Burns
Charles Burns' follow up to his Harvey Award winning collection Black Hole, X'ed Out, is a hallucinatory dreamscape punctuated by flashbacks and medication. This first of three colour volumes centers on a seemingly traumatised protagonist, slipping in and out of consciousness. Memories are interwoven with passage through a surreal metropolis and waking lull. Placed in the late 70's Bay area punk scene, X'ed out is a mix of Tin Tin like adventurism, latent teen angst and medicated displacement; combined with Burns' meticulous art and crafted storytelling makes X'ed out a compelling and intriguing read.
#2 Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
The ongoing search for the ever suffering Manhog's humanity/divinity is continued in Jim Woodring's Weathercraft. How does this half man-half hog get himself into these situations? Well there is only Whim and the unpredictable nature of the Unifactor to blame! A journey of self discovery and enlightenment with just a dash of Sisyphus like tragedy - this pictorial escapade, with the familiar cast of Frank comics, is a testament to both Woodring's psychedelic vision and fable/folkloric tale telling.
#1 Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray's second novel, is the tragicomic tale of Daniel 'Skippy' Juster whose fourteen years of life come to an end during a doughnut eating competition within the opening pages. Set in a Dublin boarding school, the story traces the events and relationships leading up to and following Skippy's death. The strength of this novel comes in Murray's ability to evoke the compounding affects of joy and humour (of the laugh out loud variety) with heartbreak and despair, and engage such familiarity with both the main as well as periphery characters that one becomes entirely immersed in the emotional state of the story. A fantastic read that traverses from hilarity to tragedy and, ultimately, hope.