The unmissable book of the year for me is The Garden Of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng. I came to it without any clear idea of whether I was going to love it or hate it and I was continually surprised by how it could take what ought to be situations of utter despair and make them uplifting, funny, and heartening. I love that. I also found it believable; several of the people I have met who have lived through nightmares – former prisoners of the Khmer Rouge and former Gitmo and death row inmates alike – possess the same faculty.
Following on from that thought: the late Tom Bingham’s book on what the law means and where it comes from – The Rule of Law – is basically indispensable if you consider yourself an active and engaged citizen of a democratic nation. Cogent, elegant, clear, and simple – and short, which is a wonder – it’s absolutely required reading. Trust me: just pick it up and look at a little bit. Then tell me you don’t care about what he’s saying. (You won’t. You’ll buy the book and follow his lucid discussion to the end.)
At the opposite end of the scale, Huysmans’s remarkable Against Nature is a portrait of a man who is apparently completely pointless, or at least entirely disconnected – and yet it is also absolutely compelling. The exacting way in which Des Esseintes organizes his life to reflect himself and his isolated way of being has a kind of black hole attraction. It would take me about ten days to go nuts in his place, but I find the relentless pursuit of solitude and a controllable, obedient environment just gripping.
On a lighter note, John Scalzi’s Redshirts is little bit of genius. It starts out as a very funny Star Trek in-joke and then crosses the rubicon to become a somewhat disturbing examination of that joke before diving into the dark and delivering a strange, bittersweet literary ending which isn’t so much a punchline as it is the moment when you realize you’ve been paying for your drinks all night with $100 bills instead of $10s but that at the bottom of your plate of peanuts there’s a diamond.
And I just bought myself a copy of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, in defiance of my new rule that I don’t buy paper books unless the edition is utterly gorgeous and keepable, because I’ve never read it and I want to.
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