Books of the Year, 2014

The major discovery for me this year has been the work of the American writer Paul Hendrickson: having started with Hemingway’s Boat, his most recent book – a brilliant, spiralling accumulation of stories about Hemingway and, yes, his boat, but, more importantly, his family, friends and acquaintances – I read through his other work with equal enjoyment and fascination.

This was part of a tendency, unusual in my past reading history, to get more pleasure from non-fiction rather than fiction. David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers, for instance, an account of being embedded with a battalion of American military personnel in Baghdad, I found utterly compelling, humane and, where individual soldiers were concerned, non-judgemental. Thank You For Your Service, in which Finkel follows some of those same people back into civilian life, is high on my list of books to read in the New Year.

Finally, to note that this list doesn’t include books I’ve re-read during the year and which, since they include such as Middlemarch, Portrait of a Lady, Colm Toibin’s The Master, Mrs Dalloway, and a pile of Hemingway short stories, would have just about taken over.

The list is organised in order of reading.

  • Tenth of December : George Saunders
  • Benediction : Kent Haruf
  • Fourth of July Creek : Smith Henderson
  • The Blazing World : Siri Hustvedt
  • Dare Me : Megan Abbott
  • Another Great Day at Sea : Geoff Dyer
  • Hemingway’s Boat : Paul Hendrickson
  • The Good Soldiers : David Finkel
  • The Living & the Dead : Paul Hendrickson
  • Lila : Marilynne Robinson
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Book of the Year !

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Always a bit of a lottery, it seems to me, whether your book ends up in one of these end-of-year lists or not; and quite often the columns you had down as stone bankers seem to forget that rave review they gave you back in May and places where you doubted you’d flourish come through with guns blazing. And that’s quite enough mixed metaphors for the present.

So, hats off to Mike Ripley in Shots, to the Mail on Sunday, and to Felicity Gerry, QC – barrister, media commentator and author – in The Times

Finally, if the festive season is a time to remember old friends, this year is a bit tough for me reading “Darkness, Darkness”, as my late father’s friend John Harvey has decided it’s time to say goodbye to Inspector Charlie Resnick. This one is not dedicated to my Dad as “Cold in Hand” was. But it still triggers memories brilliantly capturing the evocative sounds, sights and smells of Nottingham in all its fascinating contradictions, against the background of Miles Davis and Polish food. I’m told John Harvey thought of bumping Resnick off; I’m not giving too much away to say he doesn’t.

There are standard strategies – old copper brought out to help young female fast-track, tertiary-educated detective – but the twists and turns through domestic violence and tortuous relationships, against the background of a cold case – a murder at the time of the miners’ strike – is an impossibly perfect way to capture a city that is hard to know and hard to leave. The detail of strike funding and divided communities means that, if you take the time to read it, you will wish the pits were still open, Resnick was real, Thelonious Monk was still alive and like me you’ll probably make a New Year’s resolution to read something more jolly.

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