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!

An interview with Martina Devlin, author of About Sisterland

 

Irish author and journalist Martina Devlin was born in Omagh and her new novel About Sisterland imagines a 22nd century world run by women, following the decimation of the male species in a world-altering war. Men are the inferior sex in Sisterland controlled through the use of testosterone-regulating drugs, denied education, segregated from women and used only for menial tasks and the purpose of conception. Boy children and separated from their mothers at birth and girl children are prized.

 

Sisterland

Women are carefully controlled in Sisterland too. Emotions (‘moes’) are seen as something that holds women back and so are rationed. Natural moes have become extinct and the world women have created is almost overbearingly ‘nice’. On the surface life seems perfect, yet their flowers are sprayed with a chemical scent, birds no longer exist in the wild and women wear a youthful mask, or ‘skin’ ostensibly to protect them from environmental damage. Women must live according to the rules of Sisterland’s founder, Beloved, handed down by a mysterious group called The Nine and the utopia of a world run by women has given way to a restrictive, monitored existence – a Big Sister if you will, rather than a Big Brother.

The novel follows Constance, who is recovering from the suicide of her friend and ‘other’ Silence, as she forms a risky relationship with her designated male mate Harper and becomes embroiled in a Resistance movement who are beginning to question the values of Sisterland and champion the need for fellow inhabitants to think and act for themselves. About Sisterland is a powerful and thought-provoking insight into the old adage that power corrupts, regardless of the intentions behind it and of how we always need to question what we are being told.

Martina Devlin

 

I recently asked Martina a few questions about her new novel.

You’ve written two historical novels, The House Where it Happened and Ship of Dreams. Was it your intention to set a book in the future, or did the themes you wanted to explore require it?

Initially I thought I’d set it in the present. But once the writing was under way, I realised I had no choice but to relocate the novel to the near future because I wanted to show what this society would be like after women held power for a century. However, I made a deliberate decision not to have too much by way of futuristic trappings because the book may have a 22nd century dateline but it deals with the present. For example, by making Sisterland cloistered, with citizens forbidden to travel within the state or to leave it, I’m exploring isolationism and its dangers. We have too many barricades keeping one another apart. The mental walls are the most frightening.

You’ve said in interviews that About Sisterland is a book about extremism. I also grew up in Northern Ireland through the Troubles and was interested in how you explored both the distrust of and the fascination with the ‘other’. How influential was the history of Northern Ireland to About Sisterland?

It was the pivotal inspiration for the novel. I’m acutely conscious of what happens when communities are kept apart because of growing up during the Troubles. Segregating people, or to allow them to self-segregate, is a recipe for disaster because the other side becomes reduced to stereotypes at best and demonised at worst. I was also thinking about Palestine/Israel and what happens when the oppressed become the oppressors.

A matriarchal society is often discussed as something to strive for. You’ve taken the traits of femininity that are often seen as nurturing and positive and turned them into something almost overbearing. Would you agree that once a behaviour becomes a rule rather than a natural instinct, it is changed somewhat?

A narrow, rigid set of rules doesn’t allow for flexibility or individuality or self-determination. Of course, laws are needed to give society its structure – otherwise there’d be anarchy. But too many regulations are authoritarian, even if represented as being for the best. And rules become particularly tyrannical when they follow individuals into the privacy of their homes. When I was considering this society, I was referencing countries such as North Korea, to some extent. It will be extremely difficult for its population to transition to a democracy because people are no longer conditioned to make decisions about their own destinies.

There are echoes of Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, which you quote at the start of your book, but About Sisterland also brought George Orwell’s 1984 to my mind. The constant monitoring, the rationing of emotion and the manipulation of memory being some of the more frightening aspects of the Sisterland world. Was this something you had in mind?

Not to begin with. The only element I was clear on from the outset was the totalitarianism, because power always corrupts. I’m amazed when I hear people say, as they sometimes do, that a benign dictatorship or unelected group of public servants would be the most effective way to rule a country. It was suggested by some commentators at the height of the Irish financial collapse, for example. No dictator, irrespective of how benign, ever surrendered power voluntarily.

 
 

The role of men in Sisterland is similar to the role of women in many countries around the world – they are the subjugated ‘other’, doing menial work; being unable to participate fully in society; even wearing hoods to hide their faces. Was this something you wanted to draw out?

Yes, the lack of educational opportunities for girls in many countries worldwide is extraordinary in 2015. I wondered how it might be if the male sex was denied schooling, was conditioned to believe it had to cover up in public, and so on. Gender/sexual politics weren’t the only thing on my mind in this context, though. At various stages I was also thinking about apartheid, the male-centric foundation of the Irish state, the Magdalen laundries and religious cults. As the book went on, I was reflecting, too, on the importance of forgiveness for past wrongs.

The use of language in About Sisterland is fascinating and you have created an entire lexicon to tell your story. Himtime, babyfusion, silkenspeak are all very evocative words. Did you create the language of Sisterland before you started writing or did it evolve as the story grew?

The language evolved. Initially I only had a few terms –such as babyfusion and moes for emotion – and others occurred to me over the course of rewrites. With matingplace, where men and women attempted to reproduce (since artificial insemination has a low success rate in Sisterland) I was hoping to convey how sanitised and utilitarian it was. My moe themes are intended to highlight the sterility that develops when emotions are suppressed. I guess because Sisterland is such an unusual world, I decided it needed its own language. Besides, language is contantly evolving. It would have been counter-intuitive to leave it untouched in the novel.

The book leaves the reader asking more questions about your protagonists, do you feel you could return to the story of Constance and Harper in the future?

I’m uncertain about that, because I don’t know what happens to Constance and Harper. I don’t know if they get away from Sisterland or if they are caught. Even if they do escape, I don’t know if they can make a success of life in Outsideland. I’ve never written a sequel to any of my novels, although it was suggested that I do one for Ship of Dreams about my Titanic survivors. Sequels rarely live up to expectations. But I like the speculative fiction format so who knows? And there are some people in Sisterland whose story continues to interest me – the Shaper Mother, for example. I was never entirely sure if she had Constance’s best interests at heart. What would Sisterland be like if she got her hands on the controls.

Can you tell us anything about what you are working on for your next book?

History again, the 1500s, and it might just be a little bit spooky. But it’s early days. I’m still feeling my way.

 

I’d like to thank Martina for taking the time to answer my questions about her thought-provoking and challenging book. About Sisterland is out now, published by Ward River Press.

You can find out more about Martina’s work at www.martinadevlin.com, or follow her on Twitter @DevlinMartina or on Facebook.  

 

 

Look what I won!

Pendant

The fantastic Naomi over at The Writes of Women hosted a giveaway on her blog last month and I won!

My prize was this beautiful pendant from Scribbelicious jewellery, featuring a quote from 746 Books favourite Margaret Atwood.

In 2012, Scribbelicious’ founder and designer, Nicola Andrew, came across a waterlogged copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works. Unable to throw the book away, she decided to turn it into a pendant and Scribbelicious was born. The company’s expanded rapidly and now creates ranges for the Globe Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Brontë Parsonage, amongst others. Their page fragments and quotations can be made into pendants, bangles, charm bracelets, brooches, keyrings, earrings, rings, cufflinks and tie pins. They’re happy to create custom designs for special occasions too, or simply because you’d like something they haven’t made yet.

Do check out their website at http://www.scribbelicious.com or follow them on Facebook and if you’re not following Naomi’s fantastic blog already, it’s time you were!

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Owned Authors

Top Ten Tuesdays

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is the top ten authors I own the most books from.

Now, if I was being really honest, the top two would probably be Enid Blyton and Francine Pascal (I was OBSESSED with Sweet Valley High when I was young!) but since those books are all packed up somewhere safe and cannot be counted, I thought I’d go for the more grown up options! I’m not sure this list is indicative of my favourite authors of all time, but they have all been my favourite at some point in my life!

I’m also glad that the title for this week says ‘own’ and not ‘read’ because, as we all know, I have quite a few unread books in my collection!

So here goes.

 

1 - 5

1. David Mamet – 28
He’s in at the top spot with a grand total of 28 books/ plays read. I adore Mamet’s work, including his essays and novels, and although his latest plays haven’t been just so exciting, I will forgive all for the wonders of Speed The Plow, Oleanna and American Buffalo
Favourite Mamet? Glengarry Glen Ross

 

2. Joyce Carol Oates – 24
I’m actually surprised that Joyce here was pipped to the post for the Number 1 slot as she is my favourite author ever and incredibly underrated in my opinion. A wonderful, accessible and incredibly prolific writer.
Favourite JCO? Blonde

 

3. Don DeLillo – 17
I first read Underworld 15 years ago and it totally changed what I felt fiction could be. From the epic to the intimate, DeLillo explores the American way of life like no other author.
Favourite DeLillo? Underworld

 

4. Martin Amis – 14
I was surprised to see Martin Amis in my top five, as it has been a long time since he has written anything I have enjoyed, however I studied his work at University and his early novels are astonishingly clever. Lionel Asbo is waiting in the 746 so we’ll see if he can have a return to form.
Favourite Amis? London Fields

 

5. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 13
The wondrous, magical world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez has enthralled and astounded me since reading Love in the Time of Cholera as a romantically inclined twenty year old. His was a true loss this year.
Favourite Marquez? One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

6 - 10

6. Chuck Palahniuk – 13
I know I posted a rather scathing review of the last Chuck Palahniuk I read, but his earlier books really are unique. And scary. And hilarious. And often disgusting. But I’ve read 13 of them, so he didn’t manage to put me off!
Favourite Palahniuk? Survivor

 

7. Margaret Atwood – 13
A joint entry with Chuck, I actually thought Margaret Atwood would have been higher on my list. While I’ve read most of her novels, I’ve yet to try her short stories and poetry. From science fiction to historical, Atwood never misses.
Favourite Atwood? Alias Grace

 

8. Henning Mankell – 12
Forget Steig Larsson, for me the Master of Scandi Crime has always been Henning Mankell with his Wallander series. Never just straight crime novels, his books examine issues of immigration, international politics and economics and feature one of the most interesting lead characters in Kurt Wallander.
Favourite Mankell? One Step Behind

 

9. William Faulkner – 11
In my final year at University, I took a course in the Literature of the American South on a complete whim and my love affair with William Faulkner began. The use of form in books like The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay dying has been often imitated but never bettered.
Favourite Faulkner? Light in August

 
10. Paul Auster – 11
Joint last place goes to that magician of reality Paul Auster, with his beautiful cover jacket photograph and his tales that mingle existentialism, detective stories, magic realism and coincidence. Always questioning the nature of identity and always hitting the spot.
Favourite Auster? The Music of Chance

 

So there we have it, my top ten. Special mention should also go to John Irving and Armistead Maupin, both with a score of 10 who nearly made the cut.
Do any of these authors appear on your lists? Who is your number one?

No: 745 The Circle by Dave Eggers

ImageIn September of this year, some of the world’s most famous writers signed an open appeal against the National Security Agency stating that the U.S. government’s mass surveillance impedes freedom of thought. Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass, Margaret Atwood and Don DeLillo are among hundreds of “writers against mass surveillance” worldwide who have signed the open appeal, which calls on governments and corporations to respect citizens’ privacy rights.

The appeal states that:

‘Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.’

Dave Eggers has also signed the appeal, which is unsurprising given his latest offering, The Circle.

The Circle is the story of Mae Holland, a callow woman in her early 20s, who secures a sought after position at the Circle, an all-encompassing, hip social media and technology company. Imagine a mix of Google, Facebook, PayPal, Amazon and all the other large companies to whom we deliver and trust with streams of data on a daily basis. Run by the “Three Wise Men”, the Circle’s main aim is to create “one button for the rest of your life online.” Their goal is transparency in all things, the creation of a world where surveillance is not only seen as a good thing, but a gift.

A gift that we, the users, willingly receive and partake in.

So far, so 1984.

s are urged to sefrom a programme that restocks your kitchen cupboards based on previous purchases to a chip imbedded in all children to eliminate child abduction.  Some of which, I imagine are being developed right now.

Image

One of Eggers serious points in all this is to ask the reader to look at our own online presence and participation and to ask ourselves how blithely we are following this Yellow Brick Road to loss of privacy. Echoing the age old question of the tree in the forest, are we getting to a point where something doesn’t really ‘happen’ to us until it has been documented, shared and liked by as large an audience as possible? How culpable are we in the situation we find ourselves in? How much personal information have we given away without a second thought, to companies for whom no data is bad data? Maybe this vision of the future is all the more frightening because, we have in some ways, brought it upon ourselves.

In a recent online interview, Brett Easton Ellis said, ‘Some people still live in this shadow world of non-transparency and inauthenticity. I think that world is leaving us, because of – yawn! – technology, social media and the overabundance of sharing. You really can’t lie anymore.’

If we really couldn’t lie, if someone was watching, or could watch at all times, what would that do to human behavior? Authenticity and transparency are the heart of the second part of the novel as Mae goes ‘transparent’ wearing a camera at all times (with breaks for sleep and toilet use!), living in the 24 hour glare of the world and becoming a celebrity and spokesperson for the ‘closing of the circle’ when all people will be required by law to have a Circle account and conduct all business through it. One can’t help but think of the quote attributed to Mark Zuckerberg, ‘we are pushing the world in the direction of making it a more open and transparent place’ and be chilled to think of it in the context of this story where the mantra of the Circle is ‘All the Happens Must Be Known’.

Mae’s ex-boyfriend Mercer, less a character and more a mouth piece for Egger’s evident distrust of this technological future, is the lone voice of dissent, railing against this public life as he says, ‘I think you think that sitting at your desk, frowning and smiling somehow makes you think you’re actually living some fascinating life. You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them.’ Given his fate, it’s clear to see where the book is headed. I’m not going to reveal any spoilers but the ending, when it comes, is an anti-climax, but a believable one given the thrust of Mae’s narrative.

There are some great set pieces; the shark scene, an awkward family dinner, the discovery of an unknown family history and while nuance and character development have been sacrificed for plot demands and ideas, I can’t really take issue with Eggers. When the ideas are this good, and the read is this enjoyable, it seems churlish to complain.

And I’m going to think twice before I click another of those ‘Sign in With Facebook Account?’ buttons……

Read on: iPad

Number Read: 2

Number Remaining: 744