Elf's Diary Entry #3 - Top Books of 2014
One new years resolution for me this year, inspired by Richard Herring, is to blog every day. I love writing, yet am very shy about my abilities. I am hoping that the task of writing in a public forum, (rather than in the usual secret confines of my journal), will not only enhance my writing abilities and vocabulary, but will encourage me to stop hoarding so many ideas in my head, and simply share them with everyone else!
So, last year, 2014, I read approximately 150 books. Yes, you read that right. 150 books. I devour books like Haribo and they nourish my mind and soul like my mum's cooking. There is nothing more fulfilling, intimate and satisfying than sitting up with a novel and simply reading it all the way through. Reading about another world not only stretches time but makes one feel immortal - you have the opportunity to time travel from your universe to someone elses. It's like being a part of a secret society that anyone can be apart of yet is still wrapped up in layers of engimatic mystique. For me, true love is being able to be in the company of someone else, and both be reading novels, the same, different, whatever, but being happy in eachothers calm silence as we travel to seperate places in our heads. When I am reading, it does not matter that it is 4am in the morning in my chilly room in Zone 2, for in my mind it is Week 6 at the Overlook Hotel and I am with Jack Torrance as he slowly becomes manipulated by evil spirits, or with Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel in the seventies as she develops the confidence to sing. Reading is the most selfish unselfish thing you can do.
Thus, here are my top books of 2014 that I'd recommend you read... they are not all Pulitzer Prize winners.. but they all struck a chord in one way or another...
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I devoured this book in one sitting in Normandy in September (yes, that sentence is as pretentious as it sounds) and I recommend this novel to everyone - in particular those who feel limited or doubting about their own future and own intellectual abilities - it definitely is food for thought. My friend Sam Dodgin selected it for our book club and I had no idea what to expect. Written in the sixties and winner of the Nebula Award, Flowers for Algernon is a fantastic science fiction novel following the short period of time that a young man, Charlie Gordon, develops into a genius after a groundbreaking medical operation. The novel is written in a series of first person diary entries, making it very easy to digest and the unique format in which is written makes it highly addictive and difficult to put down. The novel touches upon many moral and ethical issues to do with human behaviour, intelligence, free will, science and our relationshps with one another and caused our book club to have a great debate. If you've never been interested in Science Fiction before I would HIGHLY recommend you let this be your first taste of the genre....
Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau
Again, I read this in one sitting in Normandy in September, (now it's time to pioint out the weather was great, there was tons of beer, I was in the middle of nowhere and I had no Wi-fi), I discovered the book at the back of an old decrepid bookcase. It was an old green, dour penguin paperback and it seemed incredibly mysterious.
This novel is very much a cult book and in my opinion is where the annoying school game 'The Game' came from (Oh dear I lost the Game). It was published in 1929 and is about the perverse and consuming relationship of orphaned siblings Elisabeth and Paul and their isolated and abnormal relationshp with themselves and the outside world as they move from teenagers to young adults.
It's shocking and tragic, but there is something so enigmatic about the way in which Cocteau describes these siblings that you very much want to join them. It feels like you are reading a slow-moving horror.
If you've seen the film Dreamers starring Eva Green or read 'The Holy Innocents' by Gilbert Adair chances are you'll enjoy Les Enfants Terribles.
The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon
For anyone (in particular city dwellers and young art graduates) who feels like they are f*cking-up/ have f*cked-up or are going to f*ck up their lives, relationships and careers, this is the best literary pain relief for you. I read it in November when I hit a real low confidence wise, and it was very fortifying. Fun and brutually honest, Bryony comically reflects on her (sometimes incredibly uncomfortable) experiences in her twenties as a journalist. Her blunt no-holds-barred style is refreshing and I respect her greatly for being honest about so many areas of ones life that we often feel ashamed to talk about - mainly, the mistakes we make - and I'm talking BIG mistakes. It's easy to read and you can consume it comfortably in a weeks worth of tube rides. This novel left me feeling more confident about my own abilities as a young woman. It felt like all the advise your mother would never feel comfortable telling you, but your blunt chain-smoking Aunt would. Grab a copy when you're hungover and feeling like an absolute fool. It's the book equivalent of berocca.
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
I discovered Tampa on the top shelf of the downstairs section of Quinto's on Charing Cross road and it fair to say this is possibly the most shocking novel I have ever read. I am so excited by Alissa Nutting's writing I cannot wait to see what she writes next, but I am also afraid of what possible darkness she'll explore next.
If you enjoyed John Niven's Kill Your Friends or Bret Easton Ellis's work and have had a fetish for age-differences in novels since reading Lolita then you should possibly read this.
I say this in the nicest way possible, this novel made me feel physically sick and uncomfortable the entire way through. Reading it on the tube was made worse by the fact the cover-art distincly is designed to look like a vagina. The novel is about an attractive teacher Celeste and her objective of starting an affair with a 13 year old student. Her fetish is pre-pubescent boys. The language is vividly licentious and blunt, (not at all like the manipulating poetics of Humbert in Lolita despite many comparisons between the two). Celeste is one of the most powerful literary villains I've ever come across, yet Nutting writes in such a way, that despite how horrific and vile the acts Celeste commits on the page are, you don't stop reading.
It's received many mixed reactions and was even banned in Australia, but the memory of reading it has stayed with me and I really do recommend you read it. Mainly also so I can have someone to discuss it with!
Coming Up Trumps - A Memoir by Jean Trumpington
It's fair to say that Jean Trumpington is by far my favourite Tory MP and if I could host a dinner party of the people from history who interest me most, I would absolutely adore to meet her. Not only is she fantastically interesting , but she's damn funny.
Whatever your views are on politics or the Conservative government, do not let this put you off or deter you from what is quite frankly a beautiful memoir about growing-up and independence, told in the clear and vivid voice of a fantastically witty, boisterous and typically tasteful British lady. From her childhood in the twenties up until recently as a Tory Peer at age 92. Jean's reflections on her life, her luck, her griefs and her experiences is empowering.
It's a vivid complimentary memoir to go alongside ones knowledge of London during key periods of history such as WW2 and the Conservative govenrment in the eighties under Thatcher. Even if you know nothing about these areas of history, reading Jean's memoir gives one a strong personal taste of what it must have been like.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
If there is one thing I love more than anything, next to coffee, Law & Order UK and swimming, it is romance. I am a head-over-heals romantic and for those of you who perhaps need to reignite your own inner romantic, this is the perfect novel. I would go so far to say that this is my favourite romantic book of all time and whilst in the throws of falling in love with this book it is easy to see it becoming a future much loved romantic comedy film, with many key moments reading like a teenager girls cinematic fantasy.
Gushing aside, what makes 'The Rosie Project' stand out is that it is bloody funny. Alongside the many tradiaitonal aspects of the romantic genre, the story of Don Tillman, a 39 year old science professor who sets out to create a project to find himself a suitable partner, is beautifully original. The story is conveyed to us in the ridiculously unique, funny and endearing voice of the protagonist, a well-meaning but completely baffling gentlemen, who has undiagonised Ausberges syndrome. The protagonist's reflections on his relationships with others is one of the most poginant elements of the story as well as creating an inherent amount of the comedy.
Just read it.
The Consolations of Economics by Dr Gerard Lyons
Finally, THIS GUY IS A TOTAL BABE. Sure, he may be my father, but if there is one person you should trust when saying whether a book is good, it is the daughter of the person who wrote it. As we all know, our family members are often the most blunt and harsh of critics. I've read this book many times in its journey from an idea, a title, to a full length word document and basically, it is very good, very clear and very clever. Many people are often intimidated by the world of economics, but Big G talks about the subject with so much humble passion, knowledge and enthusiasm it is hard not to understand why he has such a positive outlook about the future of the world. Economics should be a subject we all feel like we can jump into, and the easy chapters laid out in the book make it very easy to dip in and out of.
Basically, it's a great book, my dad is a great guy. I have a feeling that he and Socrates would have got on really well. So buy the goddamn book. Not that sodding Capitol by Pickety (LITERALLY IT IS SO HARD TO READ - IT IS LIKE TRYING TO DIGEST A RAW ONION WHOLE).
So there you have it! My favourite books of 2014! If you have read any of these books, do feel free to contact me and let me know what you thought and whether you agree with my reviews.
Also, I run a book club in London called 'The Book n Booze Club'. We meet on the last Sunday of the month at El Paso in Shoreditch at midday. Our book for January 2015 is 'The Shining' by Stephen King. Read it and join us!