My Books of the Year for 2014

I was reading a lot about landscape again this year, and walking. And landscape and walking, preparing to walk in the Lake District and in Scotland, especially in Skye. I wasn’t disappointed.

Non-Fiction

0099541378

Winner – Four Fields by Tim Dee

Four Fields is an exploration four different landscapes, from the fens of England to the wind-swept aridity of the African veldt. It’s what my daughter would disparingly call ‘landscape memoir’ or I might call topographical writing. It’s beautifully written, more like poetry than prose often, and in touch with the human and the natural and with a recurring them of birds (Dee is a birder after all) My favourite landscape of the four explored was the fens, mainly because I finally got to see that landscape earlier this year, but it is all beautifully handled.

You can read a review from the Guardian HERE They called it ‘enthralling and unexpected and one from The Independent HERE

Highly Recommended

Swimming to heaven: the lost rivers of London by Iain Sinclair

This began as a monologue delivered as a speech, a pocketbook about the rivers that used to run through London, where they are now, and why they matter still. Sinclair is a poet and walker, I read London Orbital, a while ago, which describes his circular walking journey of London tracing the M1?, and loved it. This is lesser, but any lover of river literature: I’m calling them river

Amsterdam: A history of the world’s most liberal city by Russell Shorto

Travelling to Amsterdam for the first time I’m glad I read this. It’s a kind of sweeping social history of Amsterdam from its earliest founding to modern times, always with an emphasis on what it was that made this city somehow different from everywhere else in Europe, sometimes radically so.

And, I can’t leave the list-making without mentioning Walking with Wordsworth by Norman Buckley, our trusty guide to the Lake District and the only physical book I took on that trip. The walks featured all follow the Wordsworth trails and travels, and are all easily done in a day.

Fiction

1402448717169.jpg-300x0

Winner – A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane

Gerald Murnane is difficult. Or I find him so. A beautiful purist who pretends to be exploring the writing of fiction while he’s really exploring his old themes: love, landscape, our place, that place just at the edge of the fields with the road and the sun flashing off the windscreen of a car driving somewhere. However, whereas I found his most recent A History of Books almost unreadable, I found this also strangely moving as perhaps one of our best writers, struggles to capture the uncapturable past.

Highly Recommended

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I would never have picked this up to read: ‘Meet Balram Halwal, the ‘White Tiger’: servant, philosopher, entrepeneur, murderer … See. I read it because I was writing something about it for a publisher as it is coming on the Year 12 English course next year. And it was better than I thought. A first person narrative that is part thriller but mostly expose of the modern India; a place in the fulcrum of a great change: or this is what the novel says. I’ve never been to India. And there are places described here that I definitely dont’ want to visit. But, after reading this book I also feel that there’s something happening across the Indian Ocean that’s pretty interesting

Poetry

2014-12-13_14-29-16

Winner – Bluewren Cantos by Mark Tredinnick

I like Mark’s Tredinnic’s poetry, an Australian poet based in NSW. He won my poetry award two years ago with Fire Diary, and this is just as good, a lovely looking and sounding collection of poems roughly connected with the ideas of birds. There’s a bit of a theme emerging here perhaps.

Highly Recommended

Swamp by Nadi Chinna

Topographical poetry is the NBT (next big thing) says I. Or is it pyschogeography? Hopefully. This series of poems is based on an imagine walking of the old, built over lakes and swamps of Fremantle, WA.

 

Advertisements

Fiction Book of the Year

I thought I’d post the notes about my book of the year here as well as my web site, for your reading pleasure!

FICTION

I was struggling where to place Gerald Murnane’s first book in years: fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, memoir, fantasy? All of the above. And none of course. Murnan is a unique voice in Australian literature, a previous winner of my book of the year with A Lifetime on Clouds. He’s one of those ‘love him or hate him’ kind of distinctive voices that you’re either going to throw down at the end of Chapter 1 or be in raptures as this suburban Calvino. I’m obviously in the latter camp. Murnane is obsessed and obsessive. Nothing much happens. I don’t even know if this is fiction, and that’s what half the book is about. The other half is what’s in that grove of trees just beyond the fence line, beyond the wheat field at the edge of the imagination.

OTHER FICTION

I thought the anti-narrative Paul Auster made a pretty good comeback with Invisible I often often think that Auster’s work seems so effortless somehow, he’s a kind of natural story-teller, would have been better living in the time of Dickens or Trollope but he’s a bit too immersed in the post-modern for any of it to somehow … matter? Sometimes he does pull it off. This isn’t as good as his book Brooklyn Follies, but hey, that doesn’t come around every year! I accidentally read Spies by Michael Frayn this year too, as part of my reading for the Year 12 English course. It’s a kid of poor man’s L.P. Hartley (the past is a foreign country…) but surprisingly enjoyable in that English novelist kind of way like I find Ian McEwan is. Finally, if you like good atmospheric southern gothic crime writing it’s hard to go pass James Lee Burke’s latest The Glass Rainbow. What began ages ago as a kind of guilty pleasure on holidays, the Robicheaux series about a New Orleans detective working and living in the faded Southern landscape of grand old houses, slave cottages, Civil War remnants, a Nazi submarine sunk during World War II that drifts up and down the coast under the water and repressed and ancient racism and violence, became a new kind of landscape writing for me.