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Photographer Phillip Buehler, who has made a career of exploring 20th-century ruins, first climbed into Greystone through a window. A particular quote from Woody's son Arlo stayed with me — a patient tells Woody that he loved his book Bound for Glory. I love surprise finds, so I'll recommend two debut novels that swept me away. I had no intention of going where they took me. That's the thrill of fiction. Well-informed, highly readable, slightly prickly, often opinionated — not least about the seriously flawed Scottish establishment — this feels like something that needed to be written.


Ian Nairn: Words in Place Five Leaves by Gillian Darley and David McKie — I am far from alone in having the awkward, melancholic architectural writer and broadcaster as one of my heroes: partly for his deep conviction that the built environment mattered, partly for his insistence — in defiance of modernist orthodoxy — that people mattered more. Nina Stibbe's Love, Nina , a collection of letters to her sister from the period in the mids when she was working as a nanny, is funny and sharp and has a distinctive streak of wildness: no book this year made me laugh more.

Bookends: Episode 14 - Crime Fiction

The odd thing is that Lee's book has had more influence on my reading than anything else this year, even though I'm not going to read the biography itself until I've finished the novels. That's because I don't want prematurely to spoil the mystery of how Fitzgerald could have known so much about so many worlds, from pre-revolutionary Moscow to 60s theatre-school London to German Romanticism. I think I can guess how she knew so much about houseboats and bookshops.

Drawing on a lifetime of learning, and defying several life-threatening conditions, Clive James translated Dante: The Divine Comedy Picador into punchy, theologically serious and frequently funny verse. Julian Barnes reformed the conventional autobiography in Levels of Life Jonathan Cape , combining essay, fiction and memoir in reflecting on the death of love, while Hermione Lee rethought the conventions of biography in a compelling account of the life and work and overlaps between of the until now underrated writer Penelope Fitzgerald.

Canongate : an astonishing interactive project that encloses secret books and secret readers within what seems to be a library book. Hermione Lee's Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life is literary biography at its best — a masterly discussion of the work of that fine novelist and an illuminating account of the life of a complex and elusive person.

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I thought I knew both the work and the writer pretty well but have learned much — new insights into the novels, aspects of her life of which I knew nothing. Nobody does elderly men better than Jane Gardam. Throughout the series Jane Gardam has switched viewpoints with extraordinary dexterity. Elegant, funny, unexpected — Last Friends ties things up.

I am a long-time fan of Adam Thorpe. His versatility is remarkable — historical novels, shrewd forays into contemporary life. And now a thriller, Flight Vintage.

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It zips from the Middle East to the Outer Hebrides — brilliant plotting, a mesmerising read. Never a man to take a straight line where a diversion was possible, Patrick Leigh Fermor spent almost 50 years not-quite-finishing the final book of his trilogy describing his walk across Europe in the s. I opened it expecting disappointment — how could it be as good as its sibling volumes? I read Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries Granta three times in my capacity as Man Booker judge, and each time round it yielded new riches.

It is a vastly complex novel about investment and return, gift and theft, value and worth, which — in performance of its own ethics — gives far more than it appears to possess.

source Finally, in minimalist contrast to Catton's maximalist novel, I loved Wolfhou by Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton, another exquisitely produced pamphlet of place-poetry from Corbel Stone Press, who work out of a cottage in the western Lake District. But perhaps a book of the year should be a mirror of the times? Bankrupt of morals and bankrupt of style, it is a nonpareil of peevishness, and self-delusion shines from it like a Christmas star. Adelle Waldman's first novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P William Heinemann is memorable for its Austen-like wit, humour, social astuteness and scarily accurate insights into men.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett adopts a similar strategy in her terrific biography of the poet, seducer and fascist Gabriele D'Annunzio, The Pike. Inside the Rainbow Redstone Press , edited by Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya, is a survey of Russian children's literature from , and the subtitle tells us what to expect: "Beautiful books, terrible times". But brilliantly clever, seditious, amusing, brave and delightful books as well; their illustrations and jackets are all reproduced here to wonderful effect.

And a reminder that Morgan is one of the most original poets around. It is one of the most satisfying biographies I have ever read. Sylvia Plath: Drawings Faber , lovingly compiled by her daughter Frieda Hughes, shows Plath's observation of everyday things — a thistle, a horse chestnut, the willows near Grantchester. Alan Rusbridger's Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible is a wonderful account of trying to learn a complex piano piece while running the Guardian at the time of WikiLeaks and phone hacking.

A parallel story of how newspapers can move forward in the digital age runs along the narrative. I am always curious about people's daily lives and their curiosities. This book gives both in abundance. A woman has the chance to live life over and over again in often surprising ways. No Booker listing: no justice. Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard Faber is ostensibly a courtroom drama that asks how its sensible, intelligent middle-class heroine ended up in the dock in a murder case — beguilingly written, steely and plausible and occasionally shocking.

Let the Games Begin Canongate is a wild ride with the fevered quality of Pynchon and Vonnegut as a party to end all parties sees the various characters vying to survive a grotesque uprising. It's a satire on contemporary culture, Italian politics and the writing profession itself. Funny, sharp, and really quite rude. In a similar vein, John Niven's Straight White Male William Heinemann is the story of a hugely successful Irish screenwriter and his gloriously incorrect behaviour. There are laughs aplenty, but Niven adds growing poignancy as his hero becomes self-aware.

My choice isn't a new book, but it was reissued this year. I was stunned by it, it's so good. And yet very little happens in it except joy and pain and sorrow in the American midwest, love and passion and the mistakes everyone makes.

Great writing, great setting, beautifully rendered characters. Totally engrossing. It's a great study as well in the possibly? You keep puzzling over whether this woman is completely off her head. Hermione Lee's fascinating biography of Penelope Fitzgerald charts a life that travelled the full degrees on the wheel of fortune — from early promise and privilege down to dramatic middle-aged doldrums then back up to a late-blooming two decades of literary productivity and success. I'm now reading Fitzgerald's last four novels, which are every bit as breathtaking as Lee's concluding chapters describe.

Admired by Chekhov, Gorky and Tolstoy, these stories seethe with picaresque unpredictability, outlandish but touching monologues and recklessly impulsive characters like the country girl turned femme fatale in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. This is the time of year when I try in vain to remember what I was reading up to 12 months ago, and end up choosing three books I've enjoyed in the last 12 weeks.

Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale HarperPress manages an intimate and careful study of Titian's body of work, plus an intricate knowledge of politics and art in 16th-century Venice and in the Europe from which Titian received his commissions.


I've read Tai-Pan and some of Pearl Buck's novels a long, long time ago. You made me add quite a few books to my wish list which is always a good thing! This is quite a comprehensive post! As a major in modern China studies, I haven't read a lot of classics. I learned so much from them. It was very interesting for me to read these books and learn about Chinese culture and history. Thank you so much for this great list!

What a fantastic resource this is, thanks for taking the time to write this post. I've read a few of the modern historical novels so was very pleased to get more recommendations. I've been meaning to read The Painted Veil for a long time. An impressive post and a good list of books.

  • Parent topics.
  • Robert Hans Van Gulik.
  • Encyclopedia of law enforcement?
  • Robert Hans Van Gulik - AbeBooks.
  • Adams, Harrison?
  • The Russian Reading Revolution: Print Culture in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras;
  • Environmental Politics in Southern Europe - Actors, Institutions and Discourses in a Europeanizing Society (Environment & Policy, Volume 29).

I'd like to add a book to the list though by indie author Edward C. Patterson who has impressive academic credentials and is an excellent author. Wow, what a great post, thank you! This is great! I have read a few and heard of a few others, but there are many others I will have to look into! Very flattered to see myself quoted in the review for Lloyd Lofthouse's "Concubine Saga. Thank you for this Post.

I have subscribers for my BLog of China that are always interested in books about China. If this were a Wordpress Blog, I'd Reblog this post for sure. An excellent well-researched list, thank you so much for putting it together. I enjoy discovering other historical novels set in China and hope to read some of these.

If you have an interest in the early Ming Dynasty, my historical novel, The Ming Storytellers was only just published this year.