Derek Mahon's poetry continues to astound. His new collection Harbour Lights (Gallery Books, 12.99) shows his effortless expertise in a series of long poems. Discursive, mature musings on life, they satisfy on every emotional, intellectual and technical level (the rhyming skill is astonishing). A modern master. On the other hand, if you want to feel uncomfortable, read The Next Gulf by Andy Rowell, James Marriott and Lorne Stockwell (Constable and Robinson, 8.99). This disturbing book exposes the manoeuvrings and manipulations of multinationals and western governments (US and UK) in their bid to secure Nigeria's oil. There is very little fine writing on photography. Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment (Little, Brown, 20) adds superbly to that tiny canon: clever, provocative, witty and shrewdly on the nail.
Please read the very disturbing Mao: the Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Holliday (Jonathan Cape, 25). We in the West must acknowledge the horror of that regime and stop treating the most depraved man in history as an appropriate subject for souvenirs and T-shirts. You will find something very special if you read the graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth (Jonathan Cape, 18). Chris Ware has created something well beyond the accumulation of comic strips that generated this book. Finally, buy, fondle and enjoy the ravishingly beautiful Penguin By Design, A Cover Story 1935-2005by Phil Baines (Allen Lane, 16.99). The only way to honour the design history of Penguin paperbacks is by producing a work of scholarship and art like this.
The inimitable Paul Auster gave us another gem with Brooklyn Follies (Faber, 16.99), a dense, beautiful and moving meditation on death, destiny and chance, but we've come to take that for granted from this contemporary master. The great find of the year was John Haskell's American Purgatorio (Canongate, 12.99), an extraordinary book which bears comparison with anything out there.
2005 has been a great year for fiction and all three of the novels I read from the Man Booker shortlist impressed me enormously. Ali Smith's The Accidental (Hamish Hamilton, 14.99) reminded me why she has such a growing legion of fans. She is a true original, with stunning powers of observation and, in Astrid, has created one of the most endearing protagonists in recent years. But why the judges passed over James Meek's The People's Act of Love (Canongate, 12.99), I will never understand. It is a masterpiece and an unforgettable story. My favourite non-fiction was Alexander Masters's Stuart: A Life Backwards (Perennial, 12.99), which deserved all the accolades it received. It deserved more and I would defy anyone not to be entranced by the complex, maddening, loveable and tragic figure of Stuart.
I thought Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (Faber, 16.99) was absolutely staggering. I cried right through it.
Freakonomics (Allen Lane, 20) was great fun, and I thought Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (Little, Brown, 14.99) was a great achievement, but much as I admired its research and sense of time and place, I found the concept- chasing Dracula- a bit of a waste of some wonderful writing.
Jonathan Bate's biography of the Northamptonshire "peasant poet" John Clare (Picador, 9.99) is excellent. Clare was born at the end of the 18th century as Britain was being transformed from a parochial, agricultural society into one where celebrity, fashion and personal connections determine if you are "in" or "out". The twists and turns in Clare's fortunes make for a gripping narrative that adds real insight to the tragedy and genius of his poetry.
Bettany Hughes's Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Jonathan Cape, 20) has many parallels with my own research on Boudica. It's good to see another famous female given the attention she deserves - I'll devour women's histories from any age, but there's something extra special about these legendary female icons whose stories can teach us as much about our own culture as theirs.
Maximum City: Bombay Lost & Found (Review, 8.99) by Suketu Mehta is without doubt the best book of non-fiction yet written by an Indian of my generation, and a fabulous achievement: a shocking and beautifully written journey into the heart of Bombay's nightmare. I also loved David Gilmour's elegant and laconic Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj (John Murray, 25) and Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian (Allen Lane, 25), a collection of essays which enjoyably mixes moments of real profundity with flashes of mischievous provocation.
The most unexpected book I read this year, however, was Caroline Finkel's magnificent new historical panorama, Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire: 1300-1923 (John Murray, 30). For perhaps the first time in English, a genuine Ottoman scholar has written a clear narrative account of the great empire based mainly on Turkish rather than hostile western accounts. The result is not only a revelation; it is a vital corrective to the influential but partial and wrong-headed readings of the flagbearers of intellectual Islamophobia, such as VS Naipaul, Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntingdon, all of whom continue to manufacture entirely negative images of one of the most varied empires of history. My best distraction of the year: The Rough Guide Book of Playlists: 500 irresistible Playlist Ideas for your iPod (Rough Guide, 5.99) which led to me wasting hundreds of hours of writing time downloading many forgotten favourites as well as some wonderful new treats, such as Bob Dylan's Blind Willie McTell, now my all-time favourite Dylan track.
First, three exceptional poetry collections. The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie (Picador, 8.99) will make you see the world in a new light: a magnificent collection by a poet at the height of her powers. The newer voice of Jen Hadfield, fresh, original and perceptive, will delight in Almanacs (Bloodaxe, 7.95), while Alan Spence casts his characteristically Clear Light (Canongate, 7.99) in the superb haiku collection of that name. There's more poetry in Kevin MacNeil's wonderful novel The Stornoway Way (Penguin, 10.99), which depicts the life of a Lewis man in language as sharp as the wind off the Atlantic. Another great exploration of character is served up in the thoughtful No Fireworks by Rodge Glass (Faber, 10.99). And if the festivities get too much for you, lose yourself in Kate Mosse's vast and engrossing Labyrinth (Orion, 9.99); set in Carcassonne, it slips between contemporary and medieval adventures.
In Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters does something remarkable. He turns an improbable friendship with a homeless psychopath into a gripping and moving tale, visiting some very dark places that most of us never see or even think about. Masters deftly avoids tub-thumping, his most powerful weapon being his fine, original pen.
Darkness and light of a different kind occupy the pages of Findings by Kathleen Jamie (Sort of Books, 8.99), as she takes us on a journey through the wild parts of Scotland. Her prose is intoxicating and illuminating, and completely in tune with the landscape.
The New York writer Meg Wolitzer deserves to be better known in the UK. Like the best comic writers she knows how to wring your withers too. The Position (Chatto & Windus, 12.99) tracks the lives of the four Mellow children, whose parents wrote a bestselling sex manual (a sort of Joy of Sex) in 1975. It is sitcom stuff, with wisdom and humanity added.
Canadian Joan Barfoot writes very wise, very grown-up fiction. Somehow, within her suburban settings, she can treat the most serious subjects any of us face lightly; by means of wry humour and sprung surprises, she lays bare human (mis)behaviour. But that gimlet eye of hers is finally sympathetic. Magical stuff. Her latest, a bestseller in Canada, is Luck (Weidenfeld, 12.99).
Henry Holt publishes a highly readable series of City Walks. They're the next best thing to being there. 2005 brought a revised and updated Pariswalks (S, A and R. Landes, 9.99), and I lost myself in that for several happy hours. Every page delivers pleasures and discoveries. It's written with on-the-button American savvy. "Entering the Ritz can be daunting. We recommend that you be well dressed and walk with purpose if you wish to see the inside of the hotel. Ask where the shops are. They are always willing to sell."
While most publishers shy away from short stories, Bloomsbury generously offers three previous books in one in David Leavitt's Collected Stories (8.99). He doesn't overwrite, as many young(ish) Americans do; his sojourns on this side of the Atlantic have equipped him not only with assorted backgrounds but with commendable European conciseness.
The final list for the SAC Book of the Year award this year count as must-buys. Rory Stewart's travel book The Places in Between (Picador, 7.99) is a staggering account of the author's journey across Afghanistan during war and during winter, placating the Taleban and relying on the kindness of local people for his survival. Alone save for his uninvited companion, Babur the dog, Stewart was the first on record to make such a trip since 1506 and writes about it in spare, lucid and powerfully moving prose. Exquisite.
James Kelman's You have to be Careful in the Land of the Free (Hamish Hamilton, 12.99) is passionate, playful, candid to the point of pain and arguably his most accessible, funny and ambitious book so far. Lighter fare is this year's Saltire Book of the Year, Kate Atkinson's Case Histories (Black Swan, 6.99), very much her own sideways spin on the detective genre and laugh-out-loud funny with it.
SIR JOHN LISTER-KAYE
2005 has been a hallmark year for me. One of my favourite books of all time has at last been republished after 40 years, and a fellow nature writer, Richard Mabey, has produced a quite splendid rendition of his special art - that complicated business of getting inside the head of a naturalist. But first, JA Baker's The Peregrine (New York Review of Books, 7.99), first published in 1967, which took the non-fiction world by storm and inspired many nature writers. It does so still. It is a magnificent work of literature. Richard Mabey's Nature Cure (Chatto & Windus, 15.99) bares all. This venerable nature writer hit bottom with depression but came back to life by gentle exposure to nature - his alter ego and his passion. A rare treat, beautifully written.
Finally, one of the best novels of growing up I have ever read. Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide (Bloomsbury, 10.99). It is lyrical, moving, funny and breathtakingly well written. I wanted to live in his world on Puget Sound, I even dreamed about it. A truly great book.
I recommend Professor David Ray Griffin's The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Arris Books, 12.99). Griffin is no hysteric, no left-wing conspiracy nut - he's simply done what every concerned citizen with a fondness for democracy should - he's examined the report's conclusions and his government's statements and found them terrifyingly lacking. This book, coincidentally, helps explain why Lewis Libby's indictment could be such bad news for Bush and Blair - because it leads all the way back to 9/11.
This year there were two books from one author which thrilled me, Kathleen Jamie's new collection of deft and moving poems, The Tree House, in which she moves effortlessly between English and Scots, and a book of her prose Findings. These essays startle you into seeing things as you never saw them before - she reveals what Hopkins calls "the dearest freshness deep down things". And earlier in the year I loved the brilliance of the voice caught in James Kelman's You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free. I am still enjoying dipping into Mark Cousins's ambitious and encyclopaedic The Story of Film (Pavilion Books, 25).
Being the mother of a Scottish Parsi son, I am bound to recommend Julian Barnes's Arthur and George (Jonathan Cape, 17.99), whose George is such a person; but beyond that binding, let me say that it is a masterpiece. This always intelligent and vigilant artist comes into his generous greatness with this book. Read it. In a waste of aridly ludic novels, this one came to me as a raft. And yes, I did also like The Sea (Picador, 16.99), which won that wearing prize, the Booker. John Banville is another serious novelist. He has written maybe greater books, but this one allows, as so much contemporary fiction does not, for the human, the differentiated, the untypical, the specific and, despite what you may have read, the exactly unpretentious.
There has been much wonderful poetry this year , specifically from Scots poets. Let me highlight 100 Island Poems (Iron Press, 7.99), an anthology edited by James Knox Whittet.
Carlos Ruiz Zafn's The Shadow of the Wind (Phoenix, 9.99) is the story of a young man who visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, in Barcelona, where he may choose one book, at random. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, by Julin Carax; but who is he? And how did he die? Riveting. You don't have to be a journalist to appreciate Andrew Marr's My Trade (Pan Books, 7.99), the inside story of how news is processed through the media to be served up to readers and viewers. Noble or ignoble, serious or superficial - it's all there. Finally, make shelf space for Scotland: A History, edited by Jenny Wormald (OUP, 25), which is, quite simply, the best, the most lucid and most illuminating history of Scotland I've read.
I read Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking (Fourth Estate, 12.99) in a sitting and can't get over it. It's not merely my book of the year, but one of my books of the decade. Nobody going in and buying a volume could ask for more: the precision of the memoir is astonishing, the value of the lives - John Gregory Dunne's, their daughter Quintana's, Didion's own - immeasurable. As a portrait of a marriage and an encapsulation of the writing life, as a commemoration of grief and a testament of love, this is a book that will never leave the mind of anyone who reads it.
I was also fond of two books by the Northern Irish poet Nick Laird. His first volume of poems, To a Fault (Faber, 8.99), is filled with very precise emotion and technical flair, the kind of poems which are not only excellent in themselves but which promise a great deal to come. Laird also published a novel, Utterly Monkey (Fourth Estate, 10.99), about a Northern Irish lawyer who hates his London job and gets tangled up in mysterious events back home. The book is full of good jokes and is wise on the trials of friendship.
Books I've enjoyed this year include Kevin MacNeil's first novel, The Stornoway Way (Hamish Hamilton, 10.99), an intoxicating (and often intoxicated) introduction to Hebridean life; The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon, 25), a wonderfully generous reminder of a wonderful and generous poet (complemented by a free CD of the poet in performance); and Paul Auster's novel Brooklyn Follies (Faber, 16.99), an engaging and relaxed piece of storytelling in which an uncle and nephew find their lives changed by their tenure in the New York suburb. But probably my greatest pleasure this year has come from re-reading Anthony Powell's magisterial 12-volume novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. It's artfully constructed, staggeringly well-written and includes an almost Dickensian array of memorable bounders, eccentrics, victims and villains.
Two novels and a memoir. Helen Oyeyemi is (roughly) 20 years old and wrote The Icarus Girl (Bloomsbury, 10.99), about the split self in a fractured culture, when she was about 17. Something about it is pervasive, visionary and unforgettable, with the true pressure of real story. Sebastian Barry is a master craftsman with a real story - A Long Long Way (Faber, 12.99) never compromises on reality or story. It's a humanist, lyrical tour de force, a novel about the First World War that looks the present right in the eye. Xandra Bingley's Bertie, May and Mrs Fish (HarperCollins, 14.99) is about the Second World War, the battle between the genders and the Great British class war; this true story, with its funniness, clarity, energy and generosity, is a read that gladdens both intellect and heart across what seem uncrossable divides.
It's been a good year, but at the top of my reading list is Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador, 12.99). Profound, superbly crafted, deeply moving, this is an achingly beautiful cycle of poems, a sustained meditation on love in all its phases. This is a great poet writing at the peak of her powers, and it's just sublime. Findings by Kathleen Jamie is another rare delight, a pitch-perfect collection of essays on the natural world. She has a poet's eye and ear, writes with a loving attentiveness, full of warmth and sudden insights, little moments of sheer revelation.
My novel of the year was Arthur and George by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape, 17.99). I think it's his best yet, and that's saying something. As he put it himself, it's no mere costume drama, but a modern novel set in the 19th century. Absolutely relevant in its treatment of institutionalised racism, it is also a mystery worthy of Conan Doyle himself and a ripping good read.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West