I set myself a minimum target of reading a book a week, and as I've just finished my 26th book of 2010, I thought I'd write some brief reviews of this year's choices. I've bolded my favourites. I define a "favourite" as something I'd lend to or buy for others, and that I would re-read. I don't tend to re-read entire works of non-fiction so if you can't tell whether or not I'd recommend one of those works to others based on my review, let me know.
Margaret Atwood Negotiating with the Dead:A Writer on Writing (non-fiction): The contents of this book drifted into my head like snow and melted away just as quickly in the heat of its successor.
Emile Zola The Debacle (fiction): Fictionalized footsoldier's stories from botched nineteenth century battles. By turns gruesome and uplifting. Features many scenes of manly compassion and devotion. I had to struggle quite hard not to slash them constantly in order to maintain my appreciation for the futility and horror of their situation.
Noel Coward The Vortex (play): Spoiled rich people behave badly. A satisfying indulgence in schadenfreude that would have left me feeling guilty were it not so short.
Kamila Shamsie Burnt Shadows (fiction): Portrays moderate Muslim life in a beautifully understated manner, which I found quite refreshing. The heroine emigrates from Japan to India to Pakistan to New York over the course of her life, blithely breaking taboos and bending cultural norms without trying particularly hard.
Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm (fiction, re-read): The heroine strides about putting messy lives in order, gently but firmly attracting attention to herself and then deflecting it away to the places it belongs. Permeated with quite humour. About as believable as a PG Wodehouse story, and equally enjoyable.
Kamila Shamsie Salt & Saffron (fiction): Focused on the internal romantic monologue of the characters, it lacks the lush settings that made Burnt Shadows so captivating. Still an absorbing read, but only just.
Wislawa Szymborska View With A Grain of Sand (poetry): A collection of poems I picked up in Budapest. Piercing observation and graceful allegory on every page.
Kyle Kurpinski & Terry D Johnson How To Defeat Your Own Clone (non-fiction): I demand that every Hollywood filmmaker who wishes use genetic manipulation as a key plot point be required to read Chapter 3 of this book, in which nearly every misconception about it is neatly exploded.
Ivan Turgenev First Love and Other Stories (fiction): Heady, tragic romances. Love happens (mostly chastely) and is thwarted.
C. S. Forester Flying Colours (fiction)
C. S. Forester The Commodore (fiction)
C. S. Foreseter Lord Hornblower (fiction): It's easy to get caught up in, and unthinkingly admire, the bad-tempered anti-heroics of Captain Hornblower. But not enough to stop me from hoping that his wife got to play away while he was busy gallivanting around and bedding various other ladies.
Emile Zola Nana (fiction): The rise of a gutterling to courtesan and her indulgence in excess of every kind. Ruinous and glorious, she stands mildly bemused and disgusted at the centre and watches everyone fall for - and because of, according to them - her.
John Le Carre Tinker Tailer Solder Spy (fiction): Ugly grumpy little man uncovers a good deal of corruption in government, is powerless to do much about it, becomes even grumpier. This provokes an inordinate degree of sympathy in the reader.
Wells Tower Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (fiction): Explorations of humiliation and unhappiness at various stages of life in short story form, with varying degrees of completeness. Inconsistent. Also, suspect this guy really hates funfairs.
Chris Yates On Fishing at Sea (non-fiction): This chap sits on rocks, admires scenery, catches fish and releases them. Rinse and repeat at least 20 times. A very soothing read.
Chris Mullin A View from the Foothills (non-fiction): The Blair years from an inside-outsider's perspective. The advantage of not being important enough to attract undue attention appears to be the freedom to observe with scathing wit much that might otherwise have been concealed.
Toby Barlow Sharp Teeth (fiction): Disparate threads of free verse concerning rival gangs of shapeshifters in Los Angeles snap together in a gratifying conclusion. Tight, sexy and memorable.
Chris Mullin A Very British Coup (fiction): England, having surprised everyone by voting for radical change, discovers it can't actually cope with it. Revert! Revert!
Dara O'Briain Tickling The English (non-fiction): Not particularly original observations about the foibles and quirks of English culture expressed through the vehicle of a stand-up comedy tour. Kate Fox was far more thorough, though not as overtly funny.
Alexander Pushkin The Queen of Spades and other stories (fiction): Mistakes are made. Prices are paid. Primarily through loss of sanity.
George Eliot Silas Marner (fiction): Escapes being cloyingly moral by virtue of the alienation and loneliness of the protagonist. When he wins his happiness at long last, the sheer arrogance of the good people trying to take it from him is infuriating.
Elizabeth Gaskell Cranford (fiction): Even the narrator's insightful perspectives on ordinary Victorian life can't overcome the stifling setting. I found myself repeatedly wanting to tear off the lace on my collar and run into the streets screaming while reading this, and I don't have any lace on my collar.
Emile Zola L'Assommoir (fiction): This heroine - who comes to a sticky end, of course, as do all of Zola's characters - is probably his most multi-faceted and believable. She tries so hard to pull herself out of poverty and her repeated failures, some due to her flaws but mostly due to others', are heart-wrenchingly realistic.
Michael Brooks 13 Things That Don't Make Sense (non-fiction): I wanted this book to be better than it was. It began by seeming relatively unbiased in its presentation of some of "big questions" in science, but after a few too many instances of a lack of critical analysis of singular perspectives, I was put off. Finished, barely.
China Mieville Un Lun Dun (fiction): Young heroine is charged with saving both London and alt-London using brains and determination. Lots of points for race!win and gender!win. Minus a few for the setting being clearly derivative of previous versions of alt-universe London.