3 Memorable Reads of 2012

Happy New Year Everyone!

Over the past year, I’ve read more than thirty five books, but as you’ve doubtless read a plethora of  year end book lists, I’ll keep mine simple.  Here are three of my Memorable Reads of 2012

 The Long Song   

by  Andrea Levy

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

                                                             

It was hard to know if Levy could match ‘Small Island‘, winner of the 2004  Orange Award,  but The Long Song  is an incredible tour de force  and was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning: You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed.

I was relieved to know right from the beginning that July, the main character, survives. The novel centers around July’s own story on a Jamaican sugar cane plantation, as a house slave. She is there during the Baptist war of 1831 and she is still there when slavery is eventually declared illegal. So her journey through slavery’s last turbulent years, as well as the upheaval that followed, as you can imagine, is fraught with difficulties.

But Levy’s rich prose is the heart of the book, and shows how much she’s grown as a writer. While she manages to covey the horrors of slavery, she uses particularly awful occurrences sparingly, concentrating more on the characters and their relationships. We see the division of the house slaves and the plantation workers, as well as the derision in which the owners themselves are held by July and her fellow house slaves. They take what freedoms they can within their limited abilities. In showing this, Andrea Levy gives her readers a picture that  muddies the waters of  the preconception that slaves are all good, owners are all bad. They are individuals, and Levy’s beautiful prose carries us through the story with such a range of emotion, including joy and humor, that we feel left with a balanced account of a truly terrible part of British Colonial history, despite the fact July is in truth an unreliable narrator.

Revolutionary Road  

by  Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yatesphoto: A.K.Andrew

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
photo: A.K.Andrew

I saw the film of Revolutionary Road before I read the book, and as usual I preferred the book. Not only is the characterization more developed, but the events and sentiment that lead up to the ending are a little different.

The novel encapsulates the hope of the 1950’s in a young couple, Frank and April Wheeler, who move from Manhattan, with two young children, to a starter home in the suburbs. Suburban bliss is not something either expected, and very quickly it’s not what either want; particularly April, who is artistic, and feels her husband has the potential to be anything he wants. The fact that Frank is unsure of what that is does not deter April. But claustophobia and boredom soon set in and the certainty of what they thought their life was going to be, starts to fall apart.

Here’s an excerpt : Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing,always, was to remember who you were.

Richard Yates style is very much of the era – straight forward, no flowery prose needed to convey the basics of the situation. But in being forthright, he subtly displays with compassion and no mistake, that  April and Frank have sacrificed their own potential in being seduced by the promise of the American Dream of the 1950’s.

 Snake Ropes 

by  Jess Richards

Snake Ropes by Jess Richardsphoto A.K.Andrew

Jess Richards Snake Ropes was short listed for the 2012 Costa First Novel Award and is also on the long list for the Green Carnation Prize.  Here is a short extract:

“No-one here goes to the main land, and no-one wants to. Our boats aren’t strong enough, we dun know the way, them can’t understand us, we’re fine as we are. We have so many reasons; them stretch as wide as the distance to cross to take us there.”

Snake Ropes takes place on an island that is “just off the edge of the map”. The people who  live there trade with the Tall Men who come from the mainland in their boats and exchange supplies. After such a visit, Mary’s young brother goes missing and she needs  to find him. The fact that it ostensibly starts as a relatively “simple tale of simple folk”, and  then turns out to be anything but, makes the reveal of its brutal events have a particularly strong impact.

It’s an exceptional novel, both in its stylistic uniqueness, but also in managing to successfully combine narrative and myth – real or imagined – while at the same time dealing with intense issues. I was impressed how the author managed to subtly, but consistently, maintain the tension throughout. It intensifies in the second half  of the novel which also gives the reader  lots of fantastic plot twists towards the end. Truly a stunning debut novel.

What were your memorable reads over the past year?

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Comments

  1. I hardly ever read fiction, because I am too often disappointed by modern fiction (Jane Austen is always a good read). But maybe I’ll try one of these books. Revolutionary Road looks enticing.

    Thanks for posting these books.
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  2. I thought I like to read. More than 35 books! Good grief. I could not do that in a year if I tried. 🙂
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    • Try harder Cherryl!! -just kidding… When I was working I only read about a dozen books a year. Don’t forget reading and writing is what I “do” now, so I prob.have a lot more time for it than you might.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  3. Hi A.K.: I’m terrible in that I start many books and finish few. I only read non-fiction, so that’s not a problem re plot, etc. Right now, I’m reading Persuasion by Arlene Dickinson. She a marketing guru who is sharing tips on how to make your message more persuasive. Nicely done post.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..a salute to 2012: it’s been a good yearMy Profile

    • It’s very easy to become distracted unless you have a chunk of time or are persistent. I think reading non-fiction makes total sense for you though- reading is often where I get my inspiration, so for your work it seems a good choice.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  4. I can’t imagine reading 35 books a year. Personally I make it through roughly 10 to 12 books a year, and for me it feels like a stretch. Revolutionary Road sounds so familiar to the lives of many people even now.
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    • As I said to Cherryl Jon, around a dozen a year was my total when I worked full-time. It’s hard to fit it in to our lives these days. especially when the internet takes up such a proportion of our creative energy.
      I think you’re right about Revolutionary road in many ways. The isolation of the way we live in society still strikes the same chord today.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  5. A.K. — these sound like books I should read and I will definitely check them out. Thanks for letting us know about them. I love to read because books are a great escape and my late husband was a bibliophile extraordinaire. He always had his nose in a book and he recommended some wonderful titles. But I will admit to also being a mystery thriller junkie. While there is a lot of junk, there are also some very fine mystery writers so I’m not embarrassed to say I read them, even though they aren’t considered great “literature.”
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  6. I enjoyed your selected memorable reads. I haven’t read as much this past year as I usually do. No real good excuses other then I have otherwise been occupied with growing my blog :). I am currently read “The Hare with Amber Eyes”, a very interesting read about the history of an inherited netsuke collection. It is really interesting. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Resolutions, Last Year & This: Story/MusingMy Profile

    • I know what you mean Susan. Organizing one’s time is always a challenge and inevitably some things have to be set aside for a while. Glad you enjoyed the selection. Thanks for introducing me to netsuke -I was not familiar with them. 🙂
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  7. My reading goal for 2012 was 36 books, and I managed to pull it off! Before that, I averaged about 24 books a year when I was teaching full time. My goal is now 50 books a year, and that’s not counting all the side projects for editing that I read. From the past year, I really enjoyed Net Switch by Denise Baer and would consider it my best indie author find. I also just read Gone Girl and can definitely see why it got such strong reactions. I read Revolutionary Road a few years back. It’s one of my all time favorite books, and I’ve been wanting to re-read it.
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    • Looks like we’re on the same page Jeri -ha,ha. I was at 50+ for the past few years but writing and blogging doesn’t leave as much time now for reading. I’ve also decided not to have goals about how much I read as it began to effect what I was reading eg. not dropping a book halfway through if I wasn’t enjoying it. – silly I know. Thanks for the heads up on Denise’s novel. I will have to get it. Funnily enough I’ve just started reading ‘Gone Girl’, as I’d heard it was indeed excellent.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  8. These look like great books, I have added them to my list of books to get to in 2013! I enjoyed quite a few books this year, Beautiful Ruins and The Paris Wife being two that I enjoyed. Feel free to check out my list http://graceyb.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/my-2012-reading-list/
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    • Pleased you have added them to your lists Grace and I will definitely check out your list, Beautiful Ruins in particular. It’s always good to have recommendations, as reviews often over-egg the novel.Thanks for your comment:-)
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  9. A.K. I honestly cannot pick favourite books. Love Cicero for different reasons than say, Georgio Faletti.

    Reading is how I get by in life and you learn something from almost all books. And it’s the variety that’s so beautiful.

    @Leora, the amount of research serious contemporary fiction writers do is amazing. Fredrick Forsyth was a friend of my late godmothers. Writers like him really know what they are writing about when they build up a plot. If you search you will find contemporary writers that are great.
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    • I find it hard to pick favorite books too as they often fall into different categories & I like them for different reasons. I love your phrase “reading is how I get by in life”, and completely agree that you learn something from almost all of them. I think that’s why I’m drawn to both historical novels and those set in a country I’m not familiar with. Learning is lifelong as far as I’m concerned so why not do it with a good yarn thrown in. Thanks so much for your comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile

  10. A.K., I long for the days when I can make time to read fiction again. It’s a luxury I rarely allow myself with the exception of vacation days. Next time that I’m looking for a book, I promise to come back to your blog and follow one of your suggestions!
    Sherryl Perry recently posted..Top 6 SEO and Social Media How-To Posts of 2012My Profile

    • I know what you mean Sherryl. It really is hard to find the time to read when you work fulltime + and to describe it as a luxury is very apt. Trying to settle your mind long enough to read other than on vacation days can also be a problem. Other people I know sometimes use audio books when they have a lengthy commute. Not the same as being curled up in a cosy chair, but a reasonable option. Believe me,I feel for you.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..3 Memorable Reads of 2012My Profile