I haven't read quite as much as usual this year - mainly because I've been writing quite a lot myself. Had a couple of articles published this year, and co-authored a book about a distant ancestor, who was a rather better writer than I am...However I've still managed to read 98 books, two of which were books of short stories. Most were fiction, although 15 were non-fiction; and there were 38 re-reads.
As I prophesied last year it's not been a good year for libraries in the UK. Many have closed, and those that have remained open have almost all had their opening hours curtailed. Meanwhile while the poor financial situation continues, readers need to turn to libraries more than ever before. Despite the drop in the number of books I read, I still read 41 from libraries, so just under half of all the books I read. And I'm just one lone reader....
Seventeen of the books I read were originally written in languages other than English. Russian literature continued to be a favourite making contributions both in fiction and non-fiction, there were also French classics, and detective stories originally in Swedish, German and Icelandic. It was a bit of a Russian year really, I re-read and fell in love all over again with Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and went to a fabulous talk given by Andrei Kurkov, the Russian-Ukranian author of Death and the penguin, which gave new insight into twentieth/twenty-first century Russian reads.
So on to the Bookhound awards. There are eight awards this year : Book of the year, New read of the year, Re-read of the year, Top crime/thriller, Best non-fiction, Surprise of the year, Disappointment of the year, and A sense of place.
So in no particular order...
I think I've probably read slightly less than usual straight detective stories this year, but I have read a fair number of thrillers, hence the combined category this year. The nominees are : Strong poison / Dorothy L. Sayers - an old favourite, brilliantly well written, and a great read even if you know who the murderer is in advance; Cause for alarm / Eric Ambler - I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one, and was swept away by Ambler's writing; Call for the dead / John le Carre's look at the early years of super-spy George Smiley. I loved this, a great one to read if you're already a fan of Tinker Tailor. Beautifully written; Berlin / Pierre Frei's stylish debut novel about a serial killer stalking post-war Berlin. Clever writing, and wonderful sense of place.
And the winner is : Call for the dead / John le Carre. For a little book, it sure packs a punch.
Like last year this has been one of the hardest categories even to shortlist. There've been some great non-fiction reads this year. The nominees are : Gulag Archipelago / Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Bleak, often unbearably sad, but also sometimes very funny, this was a real insight into the dark underbelly of the Soviet Union; Homage to Catalonia / George Orwell's stunningly readable account of the sadness that was the Spanish Civil War; On Hitler's mountain / Irmgard Hunt. This blew me away, an unexpected gem. A view of Nazism from an ordinary German; Travels with myself and another / Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn's best "horror" journeys, written beautifully with great humour.
And the winner is: My favourite remains Homage to Catalonia, but the winner is Gulag Archipelago. Not only is it a towering monument to the dark world of the gulag, but it explained a lot about Russian life and literature that had been a closed book to me before.
A sense of place
This is for those writers who have a gift for placing their readers in a specific location, and for evoking that location effortlessly. Nominees are: City and the city / China Mieville. Not only did Mieville evoke one place, he evoked 3 places in one. Sounds confusing? It was, but brilliantly and cleverly written; Berlin / Pierre Frei. Brings post-war Berlin and wartime Germany exuberantly to life; Troy: Lord of the silver bow / This book engrossed me quite effortlessly in the life of ancient Troy and Greece; Nana / Emile Zola. Marvellous evocation of the smart set of fin-de-siecle Paris.
And the winner is : The city and the city / China Mieville. Clever writing, the location sounds impossible, that Mieville makes you completely believe in it says a lot for his craft.
Surprise of the year
A few surprises. Grimms' complete fairy stories proved to be an unexpected delight. More wide-ranging than I'd expected, and every bit as perceptive as ever when looking at the preoccupations of your average person. Another delight was Eric Ambler's Cause for alarm, I finally understood why Ambler is revered as such a great thriller writer. Just about every inch of Martha Gellhorn's Travels with myself and another was a surprise. Hilarious writing.
And the winner is : Grimms' fairy tales - fantastic, surreal, and as relevant today as ever.
Disappointment of the year
Sadly there were quite a few of these this year. There were some seriously dreadful reads including a few by some very good writers, that I know other readers think are wonderful. Sadly they didn't do it for me...
Nominees are: Grands Meaulnes / Alain-Fournier. I know loads of people adore this, but I just didn't get it; Three men in a boat / Jerome K. Jerome. Another favourite with many - not my cup of Darjeeling, I'm afraid; Paul Temple and the Kelby Affair / Francis Durbridge. As detective stories go they don't get much worse than this. Oh dear; But they do....my final nomination is the truly dreadful Sheiks and adders / Michael Innes. Unbelievably awful - I'm surprised it ever made it to press. Such a shame as Innes can be a great writer.
And the winner is - you've probably guessed it already, it's Michael Innes' Sheiks and adders.
And now for the top 3 awards. Best new read, best re-read and book of the year.
Best new read
Nominees are: Gulag Archipelago / Alexander Solzhenitsyn, City and the city / China Mieville, Call for the dead / John le Carre, The handmaid's tale / Margaret Atwood - a scary yet worryingly realistic dystopian fantasy.
And the winner is City and the city - an astonishing inventive tale.
This has been one of the toughest categories. I re-read so many favourites this year. Nominees are: Master and Margarita / Mikhail Bulgakov, Homage to Catalonia / George Orwell, A month in the country / J.L. Carr, Moll Flanders / Daniel Defoe.
And the winner is Bulgakov's surreal fantasy The Master and Margarita - currently my favourite book.
And now for the big one.
Book of the year
Nominees : The Master and Margarita, Gulag Archipelago, The city and the city, Homage to Catalonia.
Joint winners this year, as I really couldn't decide between them. The one has become a favourite, the other couldn't be overlooked not least because it contributed so much insight when reading other books. They are Bulgakov's Master and Margarita and Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.
And that's it for 2012. Happy reading in 2013. Best wishes to all of you out there, I hope you have a fullfilling, healthy and happy 2013.