A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

The Books That Built The Blogger with Susan from A Life in Books

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I‘m delighted to have Susan from A Life in Books on the blog today to chat about the books that have made her the blogger and reader she is today. Susan’s blog is fantastic, I love the books she chooses and her reviews are always so insightful. Susan is also the source of my greatest temptation with her fantastic monthly posts about great new books to look out for. As anticipated, she has chosen three great books here.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (translated by Carol Brown Janeway)

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It took me some time to catch on to the idea that the translator was as important as the author in translated fiction although it’s obvious when you think about it. All the more crucial in poetry, I’m sure. Appropriately enough, The Reader was the first book I read that was translated by Carol Brown Janeway. It’s the story of Michael Berg who begins a passionate affair with Hanna, a thirty-six-year-old woman. At first the affair is purely physical but when Michael starts to read to Hanna, it becomes an essential part of their lovemaking ritual. One day Hanna disappears from Michael’s life. When he next sees her, he’s a law student and she is on trial as an SS camp guard. Michael becomes obsessed by the trial, convinced that in loving Hanna he is also guilty. I liked the clean, crisp prose of Janeway’s translation which let this striking story speak for itself. It seemed to me that she had paid attention to both sense and style, staying as close as she could to the spirit of the book. Sadly, Janeway died last year but I have a few more translators that I look out for, in particular Jaime Bulloch and Charlotte Collins. I’d love to hear of any others that bloggers can recommend.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

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My taste in writing runs to the spare, elegant and pared back: less really is more in for me. Whenever I need an example to illustrate this I turn to Kent Haruf. As with all his novels, Plainsong is set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. It’s not the first in the Holt series but I’ve chosen it because it’s the first Haruf novel I read. It’s about a mere handful of characters: Tom Guthrie bringing up his two young sons alone, a pregnant teenager kicked out by her mother and taken in by the elderly Macpheron twins, and Maggie Jones who introduces the twins to her. These are ordinary people living in a small American town coping with whatever life lobs at them but Haruf’s writing is so quietly compassionate, his characters so simply yet sharply drawn that Holt comes vividly to life, entirely convincing in its prosaic sometimes heroic daily life. Haruf wrote only a handful of novels – his first, The Tie That Binds, was published in 1984 and his sixth, Our Souls at Night, came out in 2015, the year after he died. For me, he sits alongside William Maxwell, Colm Tóibin. Mary Costello, Alice McDermott and John McGahern as an example of how to make every word count.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

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I’m a very recent convert to short stories; A Manual for Cleaning Women played a large part in that conversion. Lucia Berlin died in 2004 having written intermittently over a long period stretching back to the ‘60s, fitting her stories around a multitude of jobs from teaching English to cleaning houses. She drew heavily on her own life when writing her stories and what a rackety life it was: several marriages, four children and alcoholism followed a peripatetic childhood spent in mining towns with a brief glamorous teenage period in Chile. Her stories are richly diverse, from a young girl helping her dentist grandfather extract all his teeth, replacing them with his masterpiece, to the titular story in which a cleaner mentally runs through her clients on the bus home, tossing in helpfully bracketed tips to her colleagues. There’s a wonderful immediacy in her short, crisp, carefully constructed sentences. Her material is often raw but there’s always a wry humour in her delivery. I’m not going to claim that I now snap up every short story collection that comes my way but I’m certainly reading more, rather than simply dismissing them as not for me.

I love these choices from Susan and her rationale for picking them. Plainsong also had a very profound effect on me and I loved the simple beauty in Haruf’s tale of quiet lives.

Are any of your favourites here?

As it is Reading Ireland Month this month, I also asked my victims contributers what their favourite Irish book is and Susan has gone for John MacGahern’s That They May Face The Rising Sun.

I haven’t read it yet – possibly one for next years Reading Ireland Month!

No 694 Eventide by Kent Haruf

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My Reading Roulette for December was a tie and on the day that the last vote was cast, I learned that Kent Haruf had died aged 71 and as the obituaries and plaudits flowed in for his Plainsong trilogy, I was glad of the serendipitous nature of the voting.

Eventide is the second in the Plainsong trilogy which centres on a number of families living in Holt, Colorado. At the heart of the novel we return to the aging McPheron brothers, who are learning to live without Victoria Roubideaux, the lost single mother they took in, who is now leaving for college. Circling around these central characters are a lonely young boy taking care of his aging grandfather; a disabled couple desperately trying to get their lives on an even keel with the help of their social worker and an abandoned mother of two girls, trying to come to terms with the breakdown of her marriage. The lives unfold in simple, unadorned language and as they intersect and change, Haruf explores larger truths about family, resilience, cruelty and love.

There is an instance in the book where Tom Guthrie – who featured prominently in Plainsong – discusses the weaning of cattle with his son Ike;

They never do like it, he said. I can’t imagine anything or anybody would like it. But every living thing in this world gets weaned eventually

All characters in this beautiful novel are being weaned from some relationship or another, wives from husbands, brother from brother, children from parent. Eventide is the story of families, be they coming together or falling apart. Within the understated description of everyday life, Haruf shows us the acts of violence and desperation that change those lives, for better or worse. He explores human relationships and love through sparse direct storytelling, the lack of embellishment that only adds to the authenticity of the tale. There is little inner monologue in Eventide, little descriptive prose but Haruf tells us what we need to know, his quiet restrained voice asking us to stop, take our time and pay attention to these lives, so that we can in turn, pay attention to our own.

Haruf writes with great skill and confidence from the point of view of children, whose stories are always of equal importance to the adults in his books. In Plainsong, we heard from Bobby and Ike Guthrie and in Eventide the harshness and pain of this world is explored through the experiences of DJ Kephart, a young orphan looking after his elderly grandfather and Joy Rae and Richie Wallace, abused by their uncle and under the watch of Social Services. These children do not have it easy, shouldering responsibilities and wisdoms beyond their years and looking for affection and an alternative family wherever they can, be it in the smile of a kind barmaid or a shed dressed up with found objects to look like a home.

So, for a while the two sisters and the boy lay on the floor under the blankets, reading books in the dim candlelight, with the sun falling down outside in the alley, the three of them softly talking a little, drinking coffee from a thermos, and what was happening in the houses they’d come from seemed, for that short time, of little importance

Haruf has been accused of being sentimental but, Eventide presents a darker side of family life. The hope and warmth of home life is eked away by the sheer economics of trying to survive, from the Wallace’s counting their food stamps, to Mary Wells having to move to find work. There is little sentimentality in the relentless hardships of illness, cruelty or accident, the kick of a bull or the whip of a belt. Instead of sentimentality, Haruf gives us a counterpoint of small moments of comfort, routine and kindness, a very ordinary kind of love.

At ten o’clock they turned on the old console television to catch whatever news there might be showing from somewhere else in the world before they climbed up the stairs and lay down tired in their beds, each in his own room across the hall from the other, consoled or not, discouraged or not, by his own familiar time-worn memories and thoughts.

 

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What is most striking about the book is the prose. I can’t think of another author who writes this way. Haruf crafts his story in such an unadorned deceptively simple way that you are slowed and read with intensity, savouring every carefully chosen word.

He studied the menu printed on the pasteboard above the counter while the McPheron brothers leaned forward over their plates and began to eat. He reached in the hip pocket of his pants and withdrew a blue handkerchief and blew his nose, shutting his eyes all the while then folded the handkerchief and put it away

The spare language perfectly evokes this place, these people. It is confident writing, with no posturing; only clarity and insight, restrained and moving like an old gospel hymn. It is as if without the frills, he manages to get to the heart of what we experience when we love someone, be it a child, a partner or a brother.

Victoria was still seated in the chair beside Raymond’s bed. Since they left two hours earlier she had not moved. It was as if she would not even consider the possibility of moving, as if she thought by sitting by his bed, refusing to move, she might prevent anything else from happening to him, or to anyone else she loved in this world.

This is spare, heartbreaking writing, brave writing, that is always humane. Haruf doesn’t need metaphor or authorial comment; he is giving us the story of the people of Holt as they struggle to live with dignity and some kind of hope. He doesn’t give is any easy answers, because life doesn’t and because of that, his story shines bright with truth.

At the end there is no dramatic action, no emotional climax, instead, what we are left with a sense of acceptance;

And still in the room they sat together quietly, the old man with his arm around this kind woman, waiting for what would come.

It’s all any of us can do and while we are waiting, the simple moments in life nourish us. This beautiful book is a reminder that it is these simple moments that we will miss the most when they are gone.

 

Read on: iBooks

Number Read: 53

Number Remaining: 693

And the winner(s) is (are)….!

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It was a tight race last month for Reading Roulette, with no clear winner all week and due to one last minute vote (thanks to Sue at Whispering Gums!) I have ended up with a draw between The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Eventide by Kent Haruf.

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As my poll closed and Eventide drew with The Art of Fielding, I heard the news that Kent Haruf had passed away at the age of 71 on 30 November, so I think it’s timely that I read his book this month.

 

 

Thanks again to everyone who voted, it’s such fun to hear your thoughts on books I’m going to read!