By this time we've probably all seen quite a few of those 'Best of 2011' literary lists published in the press and on internet. At this stage most of them only make us feel guilty and/or lazy for not having read enough during the past twelve months. Or not having read discriminatingly enough. For somehow managing to miss what other - more informed - readers regard as Must Reads.
I'm compiling another kind of list to start the new year. Not the Best Books I've read in 2011 (many of which I've already praised in this blog anyway), but the Best Books I plan to read in 2012. Of course you never know if you're going to love a book, even if your best friend or the most brilliant literary critics or a million other people adored it, so it's quite daring to make a list of best unread books. But then, what the heck. Even readers sometimes want to live dangerously.
The books on my list are either already in my possession (some af them have been lying around the house for months, taunting me with their seductive covers, begging me to make time for them) or have been on my literary shopping list for a while because of great reviews, word of mouth or personal preferences.
Roberto Bolano's 2666: This brick of a book (my copy has nearly 900 pages) is actually 5 books in one, published posthumously after the brilliant Chilean writer's death in 2003 at the age of fifty. The novel revolves around the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa, a place where horrifying crimes are committed, and has become an international sensation. The motto - 'An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom' (Charles Baudelaire) - sets the tone. I've actually read more than 200 pages and arrived at the third 'book' (The Part About Fate) without encountering too much horror, but I'm anticipating it in the next part (The Part About the Crimes)...
José Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis: The Portuguese author is probably best known among English-speaking readers for his more recent novel, Blindness, but I've been drawn to this one (published in Portuguese in 1984 and in English nearly a decade later) because the Ricardo Reis of the title is one of the many heteronyms of the celebrated poet Fernando Pessoa. And because I love the city of Lisbon - which I'll be visiting early in the year - and one of my erudite friends proposed that I take this novel along as a fascinating guide book.
Keith Richards' Life: Because variety is the spice of life, no pun intended, and because a few of my old rock 'n roll friends raved about this entertaining autobiography by a Rolling Stone who did everything in excess and lived to tell the tale. Although he tells it with the help of 'contributor' James Fox, his own voice apparently comes through clearly enough to please his many fans and maybe even earn him some new ones.
Patti Smith's Just Kids: Not just another rocker's memoir, but then, Patti Smith is not just another rocker. Since I couldn't get a ticket for one of her concerts in France last year, I decided that this version of her early life and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, which won a National Book Award in the USA in 2010, would be a perfectly acceptable consolation prize. 'The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the
late 1960s and early 1970s,' as it has been called in the New York Times.
Ewan McEwan's Solar: Because I have yet to encounter a piece of writing by this British author that I don't like. And when I heard that his latest novel, along with all the expected pleasures of McEwan's prose, unexpectedly offered a healthy dose of humour too, I was sold. Unlike The Guardian's critic who wrote: 'I was not expecting to like it. It is billed as his first foray into
comedy, and we can only wonder about a man who waits until his seventh
decade before he cracks his first joke.' Well, yes, I have to admit that's true, but the critic ended up loving it, calling it one of McEwan's 'best achievements'. And he has achieved quite a lot in his seventy jokeless years, hasn't he?
Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies: No, I haven't read any glowing reviews of this novel, nor have I heard trusted friends raving about it, for the simple reason that it hasn't been published yet. But it's the sequel to Mantel's marvellous Wolf Hall - which would be on my list of Best Books read in 2011, had I drawn up such a list - and that, frankly, is reason enough for me to add it to this list. Wolf Hall is a so-called 'genre novel' that managed to seduce people like me who don't usually fall for historical novels, winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize along its triumphant way.
Bring Up the Bodies, with its blood-curdling title, to be published later this year, will focus on Anne Boleyn's downfall, while the third novel in Mantel's Tudor trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, will continue Thomas Cromwell's story up to his execution in 1540. If history could have been taught in such a thrilling way in school, I would probably have been a more enthusiastic reader of historical novels by now. On the other hand, as one reviewer stated, to call this simply a historical novel would be like calling Moby Dick a novel about fishing.
My list goes on, but I'll end here, because I have to leave space for all the books I don't yet know about that are bound to blow me away in 2012. One of the many pleasures of reading, after all, is the surprise factor. Not knowing the end of the story. Not even knowing which stories you'll want to know the end of.
May 2012 be filled with fabulous reading and a few lovely surprises for all of us.