Ramble No 69: 2018 Retrospective – top reading

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This year I read around 65 books. In this post I pick out a few of the best ones. Every book comes highly recommended and I’ve provided some links to older posts where I might have talked about them in more detail.

Here’s a list of the top 5 books I’ve read this year:

  1. Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire
  2. David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks
  3. Lawrence Sutin – Divine Invasions A Life of Philip K. Dick
  4. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
  5. China Mieville – This Census-Taker

The only reason I read Nabokov’s Pale Fire was because of its appearance in the apartment of the main character in my favourite film of last year; the beautiful science-fiction masterpiece Blade Runner 2049. In the film, as well as owning the book in it’s paper form (surely an anachronism in 2049) Officer K, a.k.a. Joe (Ryan Gosling), uses part of the 999-line poem within the book as his Base Line Test – the way his employers (the police) know he’s not straying from his programming after a mission.

The Hollywood connection aside, I though the book was great. So different to anything else I have read. It is a great foray into ‘meta-fiction’ with an unreliable and often mistaken ‘narrator’, which supersedes Nabokov’s more famous and comparatively very straight-forward Lolita.

David Mitchell has climbed his way up inside my head to take a worthy place as one of my all-time favourite authors. The Bone Clocks written in 2016 is Mitchell’s sixth novel.  It is very well-constructed from six short stories giving a cohesive narrative from the point of view of multiple intertwined characters.

It works better than Cloud Atlas with the sections connected by ‘main character’ Holly Sykes. Sykes is unwittingly involved in a war between two groups of immortals – the Horologists, who naturally reincarnate and the Anchorites, who murder others to extend their lives. Fabulous stuff.

Here’s a pretty lengthy Q&A that Mashable set up a while back with Mr Mitchell:

Lawrence Sutin’s biography Divine Invasions A Life of Philip K. Dick is a very interesting and eye-opening read. Being a huge fan of PKD, I already knew some of the revelations within the book about the death of his infant twin sister, his pill-popping and his multiple marriages, but I also learned about how he physically abused some of the women he knew, which pissed me off. It shattered the image of the kind-hearted cat-loving mad-as-a-galactic-teapot hippy writer I had imagined all these years.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman was a joy to read. Gaiman is a master of concise, witty and imagination-stirring prose and revels in his subject matter. The only problem I had was trying to distance my imagination from the characters portrayed in the Marvel Studios films, but it didn’t detract from the fifteen great tales in the book – including a great version of Ragnarok.

Here’s Mr Gaiman reading a story from the book:

China Mieville’s novella This Census-Taker was an enigmatic story presented to the reader through shifting points of view of the narrator, a young boy who lives in a house halfway up a mountain and is convinced his violent father has killed his mother, but who is forced to continue to live with him due to lack of proof. It’s poetical at times and hints at some kind of post-robot cataclysm and possible race-war.

In terms of honourable mentions, although he’s in my bad books for his first bad book Macbeth, Jo Nesbo deserves one for his Harry Hole thriller The Thirst.

I’d also like to give a nod to Lee Child, creator of Jack Reacher. Child was my most-read author of 2018 and he’s consistently entertaining. He’s like the Bohemian Rhapsody of my year’s reading.

Kurt Vonnegut has also kept me fascinated and amused on my Kindle. It has seen a bit more action this year than last, but I still have 50 physical paperbacks on my bookshelf to read so it’s still not going to be my primary mode of reading in 2019.

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