The one thing that is as certain as one year bleeding into another, is that it will be accompanied by a profusion of lists. You know the kind I mean, don’t you? The kind that crop up in every newspaper and magazine, on every news and gossip website, or even on TV entertainment shows, as everyone tries to sum up the year that has gone by in short, sweet listicles.
So, you’ll have Top Ten Business Personalities jostling for space with The Best Hip-Hop Albums of the year. There will be a list of natural calamities fighting for attention alongside one that cites the political disasters of the year. And so on and on and on. But for me, this is a time to take stock of what I read over the last one year, which new authors I discovered, which old favourites made a comeback, and which ones made the cut for the list of My Favourite Books of the Year. So, here they are, in no particular order of importance.
* Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult: As is always the case with Picoult, this book has at its heart a very human story. A white supremacist couple has a baby at a hospital where African-American nurse, Ruby Jefferson, has worked for 20 hours. They insist that she is not to touch their baby, and the hospital puts that instruction on the file. But when the baby suffers a medical emergency, the only person in the room is Ruby. How she reacts in that moment and the chain of events that follow give us an insight into race relations in America, a ringside view of the legal system, and how lives can turn in an instant.
* Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz: The author has already paid homage at the shrine of Sherlock Holmes, with A House of Silk. With Magpie Murders, he worships at the altar of Agatha Christie, the queen of the whodunnit genre. But the conceit with Magpie Murders is that it comes in the form of a book within a book, with each story as enthralling as the other. There is the bucolic setting, the country-house murder, a slew of suspects and a generous supply of red herrings. In other words, classic Christie territory with just a dash of Horowitz. You can’t go wrong with this one.
* Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante: If, like me, you have devoured every word that Ferrante has ever written and are hungry for more, delve deep into this book that compiles all her letters, interviews and emails to give us a deeper perspective into what makes Ferrante the brilliant writer that she is. Best read alongside the books she refers to so that you can actually see how a writer’s mind works its magic on the page. And no, it doesn’t tell you who Elena Ferrante ‘really’ is; because all you need to know is that she ‘is’ Elena Ferrante.
* Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: If The Boss’ songs have been the soundtrack to your life, you will love this book, which gives you the backstory and context to so many of his greatest hits. But the bits that resonated the most with me from this excellent autobiography are the parts where Springsteen deals with his depression, his complicated relationship with his father and growing up working class in America.
* I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh: The beauty of this book resides in the mother of all plot twists. It opens with a hit-and-run accident that kills a five-year-old child, whose mother let go of his hand for only a second, and everything follows from that tragedy. I am not going to post any spoilers but suffice it to say that when things turn on their head, you will ask yourself how you could have got hoodwinked so completely. Well, that’s because Mackintosh is a master at her game, even though this is only her debut novel.
* Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz: If you love the Jack Reacher or the Jason Bourne series, like I do, then you will enjoy this fast-paced thriller. The hero, Orphan X – so called because he was the 24th person to be inducted into The Orphan programme (after the 24th letter of the alphabet, X) that turned boys like him into killers for the government – has travelled the world executing people on behalf of his country. But what happens now that the programme has been shut down, and he has been cut loose? Well, I’ll leave that for you to find out, but you can be sure that there won’t be many dull moments.
* Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder: This one is a bit of cheat, because I first read it when the first English translation came out in 1994. But I went back to it this year, plucking it out of my bookshelves on an impulse, and before I knew it, I was down that rabbit-hole again. This is described as a novel about the history of philosophy but it is so much more than that. It is a guided tour through the mysteries of the human mind. And even after all these years, there hasn’t been another book quite like this one. If you still haven’t read it, clear a couple of days on your calendar and dive in.
From HT Brunch, December 18, 2016
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