December 31, 2009

December and 2009 Reads

I've just read the 40th and final book on my list for 2009. 40 may seem like a decent number to some; I consider it somewhat feeble but a valiant effort all the same, and at the very least, an improvement on last year's total of 35 books. Always a silver lining, folks. My final read of 2009 is A. S. Byatt's Possession. Next to Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, I found it to be the most challenging book I read this year, and like Hundred, I'm very glad I stuck with it. It's the sort of book that is layered with meaning (a book about writers from a writer herself and the interesting framing device that entails) and begs several readings for all those layers to unfurl and make sense (and I'm counting on future readings to back me up on this). When I finished the novel, I sort of felt as though I had finally put together the disparate pieces of an intricately-designed puzzle that, incidentally, I'm still trying to sort out and analyze. It's the perfect book for rumination and I have a feeling it will stay with me for some time. However gratifying it feels to have completed the book, getting there took an unforeseen amount of determination and effort on my part, especially since I was told that I would absolutely adore this book. But I found it hard to adore, more like really admire and I also couldn't help but feel frustrated from time to time. Often I felt like casting the book aside for something at once more agreeable and palatable, but I still persevered because I really wanted to like the book and learn something from it. Not to mention, I have this weird compulsion to finish the books I start. Masochistic? Perhaps. But rarely do I regret persisting with a book, and Possession is no exception.

Possession is the story of a pair of contemporary scholars whose study of two Victorian poets brings them together. A thrilling discovery is made that could change the course of their study, and together the scholars unearth the Victorians' letters, journal entries, and poems to ascertain more clues. The book raises questions about scholarship and the past and whether we as a public have a right to the private thoughts of others, no matter if those thoughts emerge from buried past more than a century ago. Chock full of poems and literary allusions to other poems that delighted my inner English literature dork, this book seems entirely like my cup of tea. And it is, but I found it more dense and difficult to get through than I had otherwise expected of a book of this nature. At 555 pages, it's definitely not for the faint of heart, either. This is a serious, rigorous literary novel and I probably wouldn't recommend it to most people I know. Nevertheless, I am so glad I persevered, because I felt so gratified by the time I finished and instantly had the urge to go back and re-read certain passages, as only a book that makes an indelible impression does.

Looking back, I can say that I've really enjoyed the books I read this year. I was entertained, delighted, stimulated, and inspired. The following five books were among the most memorable for me in 2009:

One Hundred Years of Solitude--The first of a few difficult, yet rewarding books I've read this year.

Memoirs of a Geisha--This one also took awhile for me to warm up to, but I ended up being completely spellbound by it.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
--Probably one of the most important books I've read and again, took some time plodding through the difficult parts.
I'm noticing a theme here; apparently, I quite like a good reading challenge.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--Loved from start to finish and just delightful all around.

Loving Frank--Thoroughly enjoyed this one and fell in love with the flawed main character, whom I found wholly sympathetic and fascinating. This might just be my favorite book I've read this year.

And because I cheated, Possession by A. S. Byatt makes six.
I really look forward to discussing it with my book club in the weeks to come.

I'm also super excited about my reading for 2010. In spite of the increase in visits to my local library this year, I still somehow managed to purchase more books than I care to admit. This just means I have more browsing through my own bookshelf to look forward to. Wishing you all the happiest of new years! See you in 2010!


Mary-Laure said...

I had a lot of trouble with Possession too - more than with Joyce's Ulysses!!! I didn't like it that much, really, to tell you the truth, though I admired the writer's craft.

erin said...

happy new year, joanna! and happy reading, too.

Sam Made said...

Congrats to you for finishing your list. I know have a selection of books to add to my reading list.

heart charlie said...

40 is an amazing number to me!! I was just commenting on another blog about how I wish I read more! I am going to steal your book reads and try them out for myself ;) Especially Loving Frank, something about the way you described it really speaks to me, possibly b/c of the flawed character, which is a category I fall into...(also b/c you said it might be your fav:))

Joanna said...

Mary-Laure: Glad to know that I'm not the only one! I can't imagine any book topping Ulysses in the challenging department, though. Egads!

Erin: Same to you, thanks for stopping by!

Sam Made and heart charlie: Happy I could be of some help in the book ideas department. :-) Feel free to check out my reviews of the other books I've read in 2009.

Happy reading!

Sabine said...

I absolutely loved '100 years...' (also find Marquez's writing so much superior to Isabel Allende) and I agree very much with you that sticking to a book even when it's slightly boring and hard to read is good. Though I have to admit the I gave up with 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. But perhaps I'll give it another try. Sabine x