Well, my two big novel reads this year were The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (which I wrote about here and here; Stephen Mitchelmore's review is magnificent) and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (Spurious on 2666: wonderful!). Both books have been written about widely; both reminded me that more sometimes really is more; both deserve all the plaudits they've received. Neither were new in 2010: sorry 'bout that!

Jacques Bonnet's Phantoms on the Bookshelves (published by my employers, Quercus) charmed and informed; a lovely book that any bibliophile would surely fall for. Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands was the most beautiful book object I clasped all year. Milan Kundera's Encounter was an effortless, provocative delight. How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Carl Cederstrom's book of interviews with Simon Critchley, reminded me that I was not the only tinnitus-blighted Scouser to be fighting the good fight for "Continental" philosophy!

Fans of Gabriel Josipovici were blessed with three books this year: What Ever Happened to Modernism? (by a mile, my book of the year; I wrote about it here); and two fiction titles - Heart's Wings and Only Joking. I loved them each; regular readers will have already gathered that.

John Lanchester's Whoops! is matchless at explaining the immediate causes of the credit crunch and subsequent banking crises: angry and funny, and yet not that great on the deeper, embedded structural causes. For those, David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital is your best place to start, and probably your best place to start with the excellent Harvey too...

Normally, the end of year lists in the broadsheets bring to my attention a few books that I've missed, but this year nada -- so please let me know what you've loved (and loathed) in the comments box...

Readers Comments

  1. Hiya, Mark. /My favorite books this year were mostly not written this year except for one (Saramago's THE NOTEBOOK) and I loved writing some essays (at the Quarterly Conversation), which taught me how important Saramago and (two other authors) were to me. Saramago's THE NOTEBOOK, stirred up all sorts of new feelings and ideas for me, I was particularly moved by how differently Saramago saw blogging and the "Internet Revolution"...he viewed it as a social revolution which would allow outsiders to participate at last through an egalitarian mode with the world of literature, culture, and politics -- the world of ideas--While so many writers painted the Internet as the devil who was going to take away their exclusivity and guarded privileges as definitive culture "shapers", Saramago saw it as a kind of people's revolution, the silent outsiders finally able to get a word in amid all the "experts" and establishment authors. It was exciting to read this, Saramago kept his own blog towards the end of his life...also fascinating were his ideas on theology and philosophy and just about everything else.

    Helene Cixous was essential for me and I wrote on one of her books, "So Close" and her life in general over at the Quarterly Conversation too, but I was also entranced by the work of Herta Muller, another essay I wrote just to explore--two amazing women and writers, Though Muller won the Nobel Prize recently, no one in the States had much interest in her work which was disappointing for me, though not a new feeling at all.

    Right now I'm reading Appolinaire's "The Poet Assasinated" which resembles Barthelme so much I could scream. ne if the first "modernists" the work led me into the realization of hiow much writers before the 1980's, particularly Donald Barthlme were influenced by modernists in Europe at the turn of the century and in many ways continuing the sensibility...

    I loved Phoebe Hoban's non-fiction biography "The Art of Not
    Sitting Pretty" which with great precision followed the American painter, Alice Neel--a valuable, really important documentation of a America's own bohemia throughout the century, and so worthwhile!

  2. Nicholas Murray Tuesday 21 December 2010

    Ismail Kadare's "The Accident" was a memorable read in a year, frankly, not very rich on the novel front. I know I shouldn't, but I liked Michel Houllebecq's "La carte et le territoire" irrespective of whether it won the Goncourt. And I agree about "Whatever Happened to Modernism?", full of stimulus and interest, and surely right about the jejeune state of the contemporary English novel. My only cavil was that it didn't really answer its own question.

  3. If we taken the three Josipovici books as given (Nicholas, I said in my review of WEHTM? that his fiction is the answer to the question), my books of the year are, in the order I read them:

    Blanchot – Political Writings
    Saul Bellow's Letters
    Schalansky – Atlas of Remote Islands
    Mathias Enard – Zone
    Thomas Bernhard – My Prizes

    What they have in common is surprise. They all surprised me.

  4. Charlotte Mandell Tuesday 21 December 2010

    Hello Mark -- nice to see The Kindly Ones on your list! My books of the year were Fire Exit by Robert Kelly (Robert calls it "Dante Lite" since it's written in 3-line stanzas but it's really a book-length poem that takes the reader on a Proust-like journey through the mind); The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann, translated by Anthea Bell; The Lore of Scotland, a wonderful guide to Scottish legends edited by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill (my mother is Scottish, so it felt a bit as if I were reading about my distant roots); an unpublished book called The History of the White Mountains: Twelve Improvisations, by a recent Bard graduate named Elizabeth Crawford, who wrote it as her senior project -- an intensely inventive foray into psychogeography; and, after years of putting it off, I'm finally reading Finnegans Wake -- I recently heard a recording of Joyce reading an excerpt and something clicked, and made me think now was the time. And it definitely is. --Oh, and I'm ashamed to say that I'd never read Alcofribas Nasier (aka François Rabelais) before, so I'm halfway through the Gargantua series and am really enjoying it -- somehow it makes a lot of sense to read it along with Finnegans Wake! I'm reading Gargantua on my new Droid...

  5. Best English-language of 2010 is FSG's repackaging of Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey.
    Best Englishing of 2010 is Bellos' rendering of Romain Gary's (or Emile Ajar's, if you prefer) Hocus Bogus.

  6. Hullo Mark,

    That's a great list of books you have posted (and great follow-on comments, too).

    I have one book of the year:

    'Quilt', by Nicholas Royle.

    It's brave, maddening, beautiful and moving.

    Lee Rourke.

  7. Thanks for all the comments...

    Very nice round-up of the year from John Self here:

  8. I'm a sucker for melancholic novels (I think I must have Finnish blood in me somewhere) but only managed to get round to reading Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" this year. Another thoroughly enjoyable, miserable, and belated read was Philippe Claudel's Les Ames Grises (Grey Souls). Apparently this title was too depressing for an English audience so the book's second translated edition was published under the title "By a Slow River" - his 2010 follow-up was "Brodeck's Report" which I've just started. If I had to pick one word to describe his writing style it would be "haunting".

    Non-fiction: I re-read Peter Hallward's "Damning the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment" (there is a new edition coming out in Jan 11) as a well-meaning white middle-class person it makes for a chastening read as to what Western powers are prepared to do to others whilst still managing to herald their own "democractic" status. Hallward's book led me on to C. L. R. James's classic critique of Haiti's colonial history "The Black Jacobins". If you read both these books, you will probably be put off Simon Schama's smug bowdlerizations of history for ever - so they are very good value for money.

    Finally, I absolutely loved Mark Fisher's "Capitalist Realism". Given the difficulty of the material he engages with, he does an amazingly good job of making it accessible. My only criticism was of the publisher who obviously didn't allow him to include proper references or a bibliography - here, I think they confused accessibility with a phobia of the tried and trusted value of properly acknowledged sources. Some online reviewers still criticized Fisher for being too esoteric, so I am guessing that if they went mountain climbing they would complain about the steepness of the slopes ...

    Best to all for the New Year!

    Paul Taylor.

  9. Well, I'm with Paul, to the extent that any recommendation for reading more C.L.R. James is a good recommendation!

    Meanwhile, I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm for Littell; & was ultimately disappointed by Bolaño - this, despite an almost page-by-page demonstration of just how good a writer he is, & how brilliantly he has been served by his translator.

    But, in the context of such facile nit-pickery, I would insist on one thing above all others - Schalansky's book is indeed lovely, but it is a mere morsel in comparison with the magnificent work done by Canongate for Alasdair Gray's "A Life in Pictures".

    For all his struggles & hardships, Gray has been well served by his publishers - how many authors would have been able to get away with the hilarious typographical intensities of 1982 Janine? - but this latest volume (taken alongside his Book of Prefaces, possibly the only book to make a genuine case for being included alongside Shakespeare & the King James) is a magnificent testament to everything that makes Gray more than a "mere" writer, or a "mere" artist", or any of the other taglines you might try to apply to & of itself, it is a stunning collection of wonderful beauty...&, more than that, & moving reminder of Alasdair Gray's decisive role in the Scottish renaissance of the last 30 years.

    And newly published work by Jim Kelman, Alan Warner, John Burnisde, amongst so many others, only goes to embellish this renaissance!

  10. ps - 2 absolutely essential books published in 2010, which tell as more about our times than any number of "academic" articles or treatises, are Wilkinson & Pickett's "The Spirit Level"; and Oreskes & Conway's "Merchants of Doubt".

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