For the first time I kept a list of the books I read during past year and looking back over the months, 2013 was a rich year for literary pleasure. In total I read 76 books. That averaged out at about six books a month I only managed three in June yet nine in May (that’s the luxury of holidays). Apart from reading all the books on the Booker Prize shortlist there was no particular rhyme or reason to my selections. Sometimes I would just see a book in a book shop, other times it was the book selected by my book club. Sometimes it was a review or a news item in a newspaper or magazine or because an author was appearing at a literary festival I was attending (Dublin, Hay-on-Wye in England and Byron Bay in Australia).
Despite all that, I when I read other people’s end-of-year Best Of book lists I was stunned at the number I had not even heard of let alone all those wonderful authors whose books are sitting on my bedside table or in my e-reader but which I haven’t got around to reading yet. I did live up to the promise I made myself to read more collections of short stories and was richly rewarded. I read a pathetically small number of non-fiction which I hope to remedy in 2014. There were one or two which, if it were not for the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” rule, would have immediately been relegated to the bottom of the book pile but thus is the delicious serendipity of reading.
So, before the clock ticks over to a new day and new year, here is my top ten for 2013
Jhumpa Lahiri made a stunning entry on the international literary scene. Her debut book of short-stories, Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2000 and her 2003 novel The Namesake, was adapted into a film. Her follow-up book of short stories Unaccustomed Earth, released in 2008, shot straight to the New York Times Best Seller list. Now her latest book, The Lowland, has been included on the 2013 Man Booker shortlist released last week. Not a bad pedigree.
The Lowland is about Subhash and Udayan two Bengali brothers growing up in post-World War 2 Calcutta. Udayan is the intrepid one, the brave one “blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colours.” Sabhash was the cautious one. The one who “waited for chaotic games to end, for shouts to subside”, whose favourite moments were “when he was alone, or felt alone.’’
Although the character of each slightly baffled the other, they grow up more like twins, virtually inseparable. Both curious and academic, their idea of excitement is to create a small radio from spare parts, their private portal to the cataclysmic events unfolding around them through the 1960s and 1970s. Then, at University, while Subhash is devoted only to his studies physically frightened of the brutality that is unfolding across the city, Udayan becomes an active participant in the Naxalite movement, the Maoist-based
Harvest, by early favourite Jim Crace tops the shortlist for the Booker Prize announced overnight in London. Also on the list are A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Testament…