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My Top Ten books for 2013: A wonderful year of reading

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

Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The LowlandJhumpa 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

Review: Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson

MrWiggOne of the great joys of being an avid reader is the serendipitous discovery of a little gem, a book you probably would normally have never found and read if you hadn’t gone to that book festival, or popped into that bookshop, or sat opposite that person on the train.

I had not heard of Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson before I attended the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival on the lovely New South Wales coast in Australia. It’s probably not surprising as she was part of a panel discussion called Bursting on the Page: fabulous first fiction.

I wouldn’t put Mr Wigg in the same category as Burial Rites (Hannah Kent’s powerful first novel) or We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, which is long-listed for the Booker Prize, but I loved its gentleness and its enchanting whimsical riff.

Review: Harvest by Jim Crace

HarvestThe inhabitants of the small English village, so meager that it does not even have a name, are celebrating the end of the annual harvest. It is a rare moment of carefree pleasure for the families who eke a living growing crops and grazing their animals on the common land they have lived on “since Adam”.

But the arrival of a surveyor, taking stock and drawing maps of the land, creates a cloying atmosphere of anxiety and gossip. Then fire destroys the stable block and outbuildings belonging to the benign Master Kent, who owns the fields and effectively the village. A ragtag mob sets off following the thin ribbon of smoke rising from a lean-to on the edge of the common. The strangers make ready culprits. The two men ending up in to stocks, the enigmatic woman, shorn but free.

Crace’s Harvest, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is set in an unspecified year during

Booker Prize 2013 longlist announced

Women have dominated the Booker Prize long list taking out seven of the 13 slots. In an eclectic selection said by the judges to be the most diverse ever there was only a smattering of well-known authors. There was a fair international spread with four British authors, three Irish and representatives from Malaysia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India and Canada. The full long list is:


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