A good read

When my man and I went down the coast just before Christmas a year ago, he was astonished at the speed which I could rip through a book. (This year he spent a week down the coast with my extended family and learned where my serious reading habit comes from.) So he suggested that I make a list of all the books I read in 2010 to see how many I got through. It’s turned out to be a very good idea, largely because I have periods of reading such dross that I often forget exactly what I’ve read. Sometimes you can ask me what I had my nose in last week and I cannot for the life of me remember — but it usually was a decent read.

So yesterday, as the year that is 2011 first started unfurling its petals, I looked back through my list and saw that among all that trash I had actually read a few books that I thought were damn good. So here they are, in chronological order of reading. (And, for the record, the final number of books read in 2010 was 66.)

Scoop — Evelyn Waugh
I searched for this book for a good eight months before finally locating it in Kinokunyia (since then I’ve noticed it’s in the Penguin orange and yellow paperbacks). As promised, it was an interesting indictment of herd journalism. I actually saw a lot of parallels in Waugh’s pack of foreign correspondents and those who were covering our very own election in August. However, I could also understand the pressure from the editors and how it leads to that pack mentality.

Under the Dome — Stephen King
This was my first ever King book (picked up for a work book club in one of our publications) and it took me a while to get into. Then it turned into a gripping read with interesting characters, an ever-intricate web of relationships and petty small town politics on top of that. And then it ended in kind of a lame way. But everything up to the last 50 pages was fantastic.

Shades of Grey — Jasper Fforde
One of the things I love about Fforde’s books is the way he obviously has an entire world fully formed in his head but he generally doesn’t bother explaining it all to the reader, instead plunging you in the middle of it and leaving it to you to work out. Shades of Grey is a whole new world to the one he’s worked in previously and its political overtones were interesting, even though I’m not totally familiar with Britain’s class systems. I’m looking to the further adventures of Eddie Russett.

So Greek — Niki Savva
The past year has been a bit of a bonanza for political books (maybe because of that little election?) and this was one of my favourites. Savva is an engaging writer, with her journalism background and all, and I found it fascinating to get into the offices of our two top politicians of the past 20 years. Plus it’s interesting to see the conservative side of politics, one that doesn’t seem to get written about as much.

The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
I came to read Rachman’s debut novel after ABC headman Mark Scott tweeted about how incredible it was. He was right. I’ve read rather a lot of books about journalism along the way and this has been one of the best. Rachman captures the characters of a newsroom lovingly while telling the story of a newspaper from birth to death. It was beautiful.

A Thousand Splendid Suns — Khaled Hosseini
This was a truly powerful book which for me told a story of a place I know little about but feel I should. Hosseini’s depiction of two very different women growing up in Afghanistan from the 1970s through the Taliban’s takeover and beyond was so very fascinating. I was amazed at how well a man captured the spirits of these women living in a regime where the two sexes were kept so very separate. Their world was so real to me, especially since I read it at a time when there were several Australian casualties in Afghanistan so the places I was reading about were on the news every night.

Campaign Ruby — Jessica Rudd
Ruby was
without doubt the best of the trashy, chick litty books I read in 2010 (and I read rather a lot of them). I picked it up at the airport two weeks before the election and had finished it by the time we touched down in Perth later that day. As I explained to a male acquaintance, it was not a political book but a book set against a backdrop of politics and there’s quite a difference. Anyone looking for insights into Rudd’s father would have been disappointed, but for those looking for an intelligent boy-meets-girl read, this was it. I look forward to Rudd’s next book; she writes well and is a smart addition to the genre.

Jasper Jones — Craig Silvey
I picked up Silvey’s book in a bookshop in Margaret River and the guy at the counter, who actually knew the author, had a bit of a rave about it. He was right too. It’s like a cross between Tom Sawyer and To Kill A Mockingbird, and Silvey pays homage to the American literature greats while creating an Australian legend. Through 13-year-old Charlie’s eyes, the reader sees a snapshot of rural Australia in the 1960s complete with all the ugliness of attitudes of the time (which, I suspect, still exist today in many similar towns). It really is a compelling read, as evidenced by the way it was passed around and devoured by my family in the week following the recent Christmas.

Meltdown — Ben Elton
I’m a big fan of Elton (likewise Carl Hiaasen, whom I find quite similar) and thought this offering of his managed to walk the line between funny and serious very well. Just as Silvey captured a slice of Australia, Elton has taken the upper echelons (in the sense of moneyed, rather than nobility) of London and put them through the wringer that was the global financial crisis. Again, it was very real to me because this was something that’s been in the news for the past few years and I found it interesting to put faces to the stories (even if some of them weren’t very nice faces).

Gentlemen and Players — Joanne Harris
I wrote extensively about this book previously, so I shall merely say it rated highly on this list of my favourites of the year.

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