Tag: Books of the Decade

Books of the Decade – Rebecca Carter

Rebecca CarterRebecca Carter is an editor of fiction and non-fiction at the Random House imprint Harvill Secker, a list that aims to continue the tradition, once announced in an advertisement for Secker, of publishing “international quality literature with a wayward streak”. She has a particular love of unusual narrative history, and novels that explore hidden corners of the past (or present). Of her ‘books of the decade’ only Némirovsky’s Suite Française is published by her.

Other books she has edited include Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Atiq Rahimi’s Earth and Ashes, Gerard Woodward’s August trilogy, Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, Javier Marías’s Your Face Tomorrow, Diana Evans’s 26a, Tom Reiss’s The Orientalist, Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow, Tim Butcher’s Blood River and Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese–English Dictionary for Lovers.

Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter: one woman’s return to her lost homeland (2003)

Saira Shah Storyteller's DaughterEarly on in the decade, post 9/11, there was a scramble among publishers to find books that would illuminate for readers the situation in Afghanistan. One of the first, and a book that taught me so much I didn’t know but should have done, was journalist Saira Shah’s intelligent and moving memoir, which intertwined the story of her own adventures in Afghanistan (familial, personal and journalistic) with a heart-felt history of the region.

Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (2006)

Nemirovsky Suite FrancaiseWhen the French publisher of this remarkable, previously undiscovered novel about occupied France sent me a copy, I had no idea that I was about to embark on an extraordinary journey of discovery into the life and work of Irène Némirovsky. Through reading her novels, most of them published in France during the thirties and early forties, I have come to understand so much more about the Russian pogroms of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, and what it was like to sink or swim in the high capitalist society of early twentieth-century Europe. Many lessons for our own era. And such wonderful storytelling too.

Kamila Shamsie – Burnt Shadows (2009)

Shamsie Burnt ShadowsTowards the end of the decade, Kamila Shamsie’s supremely accomplished and gripping fifth novel reveals what a different place the Afghan/Pakistan border is post 9/11 to that crossed by Saira Shah in the eighties and nineties. Through Shamsie’s clever, interlocking narratives, which follow characters from India, just pre-partition, to Nagasaki in 1945 and contemporary New York, she shows how the past is always embroiled in the present.

Books of the Decade – Luke Brown

Luke BrownAlthough we are now in a new decade, we haven’t yet reached Chinese new year. I am taking comfort from this fact, since  I am still putting up Books of the (past) Decade choices. And of course the books that were worth reading in 2009 are still worth reading in 2010.

Enough self-exculpation. I promise that if you contributed to the series, your contribution is greatly appreciated and will appear on the site before long. Today’s guest chooser is Luke Brown.

Luke Brown is an editor at Tindal Street Press, where he’s worked since 2002, publishing such authors as Catherine O’Flynn and Anthony Cartwright. He was born in Fleetwood, Lancashire, and has lived in Birmingham for over a decade.

Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley (2002)

Gwendoline Riley“This is a dive-bar in the American style.” Carmel narrates a barmaid’s life of “wild disingenuousness” in some of the most beautiful, poetic prose I’ve read. Surrounded by romantics and fantasists, afflicted by a painful childhood and endless Manchester drizzle, she keeps herself together with superbly poised wit and her openness to the magic of friendships and love.

Short, melancholy and with descriptions that make you want to stand up and applaud, this is as perfect a novel as I’ve read.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (1998 in Spanish, translated by Natasha Wimmer 2007)

Bolano Savage DetectivesEveryone talks about 2666, but my favourite is The Savage Detectives. It’s a long, polyphonic novel bookended by a virtuoso first-person from Madero, a cocky, seventeen-year-old student poet, who challenges his teacher with questions like “what is a rispetto?” in between describing multi-orgasmic sex with various girlfriends. The first section’s very funny.

Between his two sections, the novel tells the story of Madero’s two poet-heroes, the fathers of ‘visceral realism’, from something like fifty different characters’ voices, over thirty years in Mexico City and in their wanderings of the globe. It’s frequently absurd and often as sad as can be, with superb set-pieces; the overall effect is exhilarating.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow (2008)

Barlow Sharp TeethA novel about warring werewolf gangs in LA written in blank verse? I was suspicious, but it’s incredible. The verse works perfectly – quick to read, imagistic and hard-boiled, it flicks quickly between the perspectives of Barlow’s ensemble cast. There’s a noirish comic-book feel to it, but it’s serious too – about power, belonging, love and death. I didn’t think twice about the verse or the fact that many of its characters were werewolves – it’s very moving. I read it at a whacking great pace, completely enthralled by the plot. The novel that most surprised me this decade.

Books of the Decade – Michael Bywater

Michael BywaterMichael Bywater is an author and broadcaster whose recent books include Lost Worlds (Granta, 2004), Big Babies (Granta, 2006), and – with Kathleen Burk – Is This Bottle Corked?: The Secret Life of Wine. He writes regularly for the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and numerous other publications. He is a regular broadcaster for the BBC.

Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y (2007)

Thomas: End of Mr YThe Noughties produced a series of fine and strange novels on the strange relationship between the living and the dead, starting with Will Self’s How The Dead Live (2000) and including Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black (2005), The Brief History of the Dead (Kevin Brockmeier 2007). But the star of the show was, for me, Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr Y (2007), an astounding, hypnotic compendium of computer-game, urban fantasy, dreamscape and sheer magic, incorporating a discourse on homoeopathy, a meditation on Heidegger and Derrida, a love stronger than death, and the sexiest, stroppiest, most wilful and clever heroine of the last decade, her first-person narrator Ariel Manto. I can’t tell whether I’m in love with Manto, with the book, or with Scarlett Thomas for creating them. Probably all three.

Howard Jacobson – Kalooki Nights (2007)

Jacobson: Kalooki NightsThe narrative of the Jew as the brilliant edition of a universal fact (as Walter Bagehot said of a princely marriage) has been a staple of fiction since Shakespeare, but never done better than in Howard Jacobson’s Kalooki Nights. Ostensibly the story of a Mancunian Jewish family in the late 20th century, it is by turns chaotic, melancholy, penetrating and hilariously grotesque. But above all Jacobson’s virtuoso writing and unique ear for the vast diversity of the human voice makes this an entirely original masterpiece.

Adam Nicolson – Power and Glory (2003)

Nicolson: Power and GloryWhen the socially unpolished King James VI of Scotland came to the throne of England, he commissioned what has become arguably the most powerful influence on the English (and English-speaking) mind and tongue: the “Authorized Version” of the Bible. Adam Nicolson’s Power and Glory (2003) account of how a committee produced such a work of art is simultaneously humane, scholarly and moving, simultaneously illuminating the inward lives of the Translators and the wider context of their work, in beautifully-measured prose of which they themselves would have approved.

Books of the Decade – Andrew Kahn

Andrew KahnAndrew Kahn is University Lecturer in Russian at the University of Oxford and Tutor and Fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford in Russian and Classics. His scholarly research draws on his wide-ranging interests in European literature, most especially Greek, Latin and French.

In addition to writing about Pushkin, whom he talked about on Podularity in programme 21, “In Pushkin’s Library”, he works on Enlightenment literature in Russia and Europe, on the history of ideas, the comparative reception of European culture in Russia, travel writing, the history of translation, and twentieth-century poetry.

Here are Andrew’s three favourite books from the last decade:

Zbigniew Herbert, The Collected Poems 1956-1998 (2009)

Herbert Collected PoemsThe contemporary of Milosz, and somewhat overshadowed by him in the West, Herbert seen in the unity of his poetic creation is one of the most biting and elegant ironists of the twentieth century.  His alter ego, Pan Cogito, ranks with Kafka’s K. as a haunting witness to oppressive systems.  Yet many poems convey Herbert’s acute visual imagination and his flair for dramatic monologue.  A great classic of modern poetry.

Edward Said,  Music at the Limits (2008)

Edward Said Music at the LimitsThis collection of Said’s essays on music and performance shows him at his lucid, elegant best.  A masterful close reader of texts, he is also a close listener who has the rare gift of explaining the ideas of music and music of ideas in words.  The essay comparing Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s Magic Flute is a particular revelation, but every page here has fine observations on classical music from the classical period to the post-modern age.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, In the First Circle  (2009)

Solzhenitsyn In the First CircleThe publication in English for the first time of this complete, restored version of Solzhenitsyn’s literary masterpiece is an event.  A novel in the grand tradition of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, packed with ideas and an epic cast of characters, it is also a political thriller.  The chapters on Stalin must rank as one of the greatest and most chilling studies in the mentality of tyranny.

Books of the Decade – Andrew Kelly

Andrew KellyAndrew Kelly is the Director of the Bristol Festival of Ideas and other projects. He is the author and editor of 12 books including Filming All Quiet on the Western Front, Cinema and the Great War, Queen Square: biography of a place, Brunel: in love with the impossible.

Of the many hundreds of books I have read in the past decade, three stand out. But could I mention too the series of letters by T E Lawrence that Jeremy and Nicole Wilson at Castle Hill Press are producing. They are defenders of the Lawrence flame, and have already published the definitive and most elegant edition of Lawrence’s classic work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But the letters are something different and new. A painfully slow process – given the high standards of research and editorial work demanded – this is turning into one of the finest series ever published, bringing to life a complex and brave man. And can I thank the (mostly small) publishers of the works of Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Hans Fallada for bringing these authors to me over the past ten years.

To see Andrew’s book choices, click below. Read More

Books of the Decade – Roland Chambers

Roland ChmabersRoland Chambers studied film and literature in Poland and at New York University before returning to England in 1998. His first biography, The Last Englishman, won a Jerwood award from the Royal Society of Literature, and draws on his experience both as a children’s author and as a private investigator specializing in Russian politics and business. He currently divides his time between London and Connecticut.

You can hear my audio interview with Roland by clicking here.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Oscar WaoA fat, fantasy and science fiction nerd spread-eagled between New Jersey, his grandma in the Dominican Republic, and the voodoo of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Messiah-cum-sacrificial cow, Oscar is devastating, as is his author, Junot Diaz: brilliance on every level.

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi: PersepolisA so-called graphic novel (it’s an autobiography) which gives Iran since the Revolution through the childhood, adolescence and coming of age of Marji, author of perhaps the most influential comic since Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Pollan: Omnivore's DilemmaPollan shows how far we are from what we eat, how much of it either is or relies upon a single crop, how consuming that crop is like drinking petrol, and why American rednecks call their arseholes cornholes. The trick is understanding what’s for lunch.

Books of the Decade – Roger Luckhurst

Roger LuckhurstRoger Luckhurst is professor of modern and contemporary literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. His many publications include a study of J.G. Ballard’s fiction, editions of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for Oxford World’s Classics, and many works on Victorian and genre fiction. He is currently working on The Mummy’s Curse and other Dastardly Tales of Egyptian London, of which he says:

“This book will explore the true story of the curse of the British Museum mummy, first brought to prominence in about 1904 with the death of the journalist Fletcher Robinson, and which haunted the Edwardian imagination, preparing the way for the later frenzy around the tomb of Tutankhamen.”

To see which books Roger has chosen as his books of the decade, click below:
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Books of the Decade – Keith Kahn-Harris

Keith Kahn-HarrisKeith Kahn-Harris works as a sociologist, researcher, writer and music critic. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, an associate lecturer for the Open University and the convenor of New Jewish Thought.

He has written on a variety of topics, including Judaism, music scenes, heavy metal, transgression, Israel, communities, dialogue, religion, ethnicity, political discourse, and denial. You can find his contributions to the Guardian’s Comment is Free here.

Tove Jansson, The Summer Book (2003)

Jansson: The Summer BookOkay, this was first published in 1972, but the English translation appeared in 2003. If she is heard of at all, the Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Jansson is known in the English-speaking world for the Moomin books. The Summer Book shows her to have been (she died in 2001) an author of mature works of extraordinary subtlety and power.

The Summer Book recounts the conversations and “adventures” of an old women and her six-year-old granddaughter spending the summer together on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. It is a beautiful and profound meditation on age, love and life itself.

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)

Diamond: CollapseIn a decade in which climate change finally became an issue that no one could ignore (despite the Bush administration’s best attempts), Jared Diamond provided a powerful reminder that the survival of any civilization is never guaranteed. Diamond displays an extraordinary range and depth of research in his historical account of societies that have collapsed.

Although he takes due account of specific circumstances, his discussion of civilizations as various as that of Easter Island, the Maya and Angkor Wat show with admirable clarity and force the importance of questions of environmental sustainability. Unlike the societies Diamond studied, we have the historical and scientific knowledge to adapt to the limits of our environment – but it is far from clear that we have the will to do so.

John Harris, The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock (2003)

Harris: The Last PartyIt’s been a pleasure to watch John Harris’s transformation from NME hack to one of Britain’s best political journalists. The Last Party catches Harris on the cusp of that transformation as he merges political history with rock history and criticism.

The story is a cautionary one of how enormous ambition and tremendous talent can be subverted into pomposity and hubris. Harris’s parallels the youthful promise of Blair and of the Britpop bands, together with the subsequent descent into love of riches and power (Blair) and cocaine-fueled excess (Britpop). A salutary tale, brilliantly told.

Books of the Decade – Mark Vernon

Mark VernonMark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster and journalist.  His academic interests led him from physics to philosophy via theology (he began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England). He went freelance ten years ago and now writes regularly for the Guardian, The Philosophers’ Magazine, TLS, Financial Times and New Statesman, alongside a range of business titles, including Management Today. He also broadcasts, notably on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.

Plato's Podcasts coverMark’s most recent book is Plato’s Podcasts: The Ancients’ Guide to Modern Living. You can hear a podcast about that book by clicking here. His other publications include: Wellbeing, After Atheism, The Philosophy of Friendship, and Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life.

On Religion, John Caputo (2001)

Caputo: On ReligionThis book appeared in 2001. Had those folk who waged battle in the God wars of the decade read it first, we might have had a more informed debate.

Caputo aims to do a difficult thing: define religion. He does so with great verve, seeing that at heart, religion is a form of love – for good or ill.

The Athenian Murders, José Carlos Somoza (2001)

Somoza: Athenian MurdersIt is rare for a novel to combine the excitement of the thriller with the insight of great philosophy.

Umberto Eco manages it, and Somoza does too, in a plot that starts with an apparently minor conundrum and ends up engaging nothing less than the secret of knowledge itself. Brilliant.

The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head, Raymond Tallis (2008)

Tallis: Kingdom of Infinite SpaceI read this book whilst taking a long train trip, and it was so engaging that when I got off, I’d swear I saw the world in brighter colours.

Tallis combines the science of the body with the philosophy of consciousness and, pulling no punches, produces a truly remarkable exploration of what goes on with our heads.

Books of the Decade – Andy Beckett

Andy BeckettAndy Beckett studied modern history at Oxford University and journalism at the University of California in Berkeley. For his first, widely praised book, Pinochet in Piccadilly: Britain and Chile’s Hidden History (2002), he was nominated as Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

When the Lights Went Out CoverIn 2009 he published a major new history of the political landscape of Britain in the 1970s: When the Lights Went Out. Reviewing the book, Hanif Kureishi praised Beckett for his “avid eye and novelistic flair for detail” and concluded “Beckett’s excellent account of the 1970s is a necessity if we want to understand now as well as then”. You can hear an interview with Andy Beckett in which he discusses the book here.

Since 1993, he has written for the New York Times, the Economist, the Independent on Sunday and the London Review of Books. For the last twelve years, he has been a feature writer at the Guardian. He lives in London.

Click below to see which titles Andy has chosen as his Books of the Decade.
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