I read The Children’s Book, and I sort of didn’t like it that much. But I’m putting at the top of my Year in Reading because it disturbed me profoundly, and that has to count for something. I finished it late at night while my beloved was sleeping, and when I turned off the light I clutched him, feeling terrified.
I liked its Arts and Crafts conceit, but sometimes it seemed a conceit alone, an excuse for a nifty Morris-esque cover design. Occasionally I found myself wanting to glaze a bowl, but I also found myself thinking: “This is no Possession.”
Then everyone started dying, and I thought, “Wow, A.S. Byatt is mean.” And A.S. Byatt is probably not mean, but I was overwhelmed by the union of war’s indiscriminate horror with the steely moral judgment of her universe. It’s a serious business, the kind that keeps you up at night.
Freedom, to echo Garth and Stephen and Dan. Freedom was a book that I read pretty much straight through, and when it was over I started again, only to find, for the nth time, that it doesn’t work that way. You can’t have it again, there being no time like the first time and all that. I also felt that way about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Museum of Innocence, as I’ve said before.
I unwittingly read wonderful books that turned out to be part of trilogies: The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish) and Independence Day (Bascombe) and The Persian Boy (Alexander). So that turned into six more books to read, and to date I’ve only finished Mary Renault’s Alexandriad. But I’m all about Richard Ford for 2011. And Robertson Davies–he’s kind of like a male Iris Murdoch.
I read non-fiction now, which has been an adjustment. Non-fiction does not often leave me clutching my beloved in the night, although it probably should. I liked Rebel Land, about eastern Turkey, Armenians, and Kurds, because it made more meaningful gestures toward readability than many works aiming to inform; in fact, in the end I think it turned out to be more enjoyable than informative.
It helps that Christopher de Bellaigue, in addition to having a life that generates maximum personal envy (speaking fluent Turkish and Persian; writing things in the NYRB), knows a thing or two about a well-placed vignette. He might not be a bona fide historian, but there’s a story about a cardoon seed and a cuckoo that almost had me turning to the adjacent bus-rider to say “Lemme read you this part.”
A good year, all told.
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