Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top ten books from 2010

This year the New Year resolutions are boring, we are not in Sydney, and nothing of note has happened over the Christmas break. A perfect time to look back over the year’s reading and pick my top ten, presented below in alphabetical order of author. Not all were published for the first time in 2010 as I’m always trying to catch up.

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam (Harvill Secker)

Dystopian series of connected short stories, although Amazon describes it as a novel. Makes you wonder how you would behave in extreme circumstances, especially if you were a public official.

The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein (Persephone Books)

First published in 1967, inspiring story of resisting apartheid despite the lengths to which the South African state was prepared to go to maintain their power. Bernstein, as a white woman, refused to accept her privileged place but there are some wry accounts of how she uses her position to protest or to help others.

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig (Abacus)

Characters from all over the world living in London and linked by a human rights lawyer living ‘on the scruffy edge of Islington and Camden Town’. Could so easily have been a parody but works wonderfully.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)

The critics have been most unkind about this book but I loved it. A woman deciding what she really wants to do with her life - it was the teensiest bit too self-centred in places though. A bit like talking to your friends.

The Fall of the House of Paisley by David Gordon (Gill & Macmillan)

Why Northern Ireland politics needs a wider gene pool. Well written and researched, and passionate about the need to move beyond politics based on sectarian division.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (Constable & Robinson)

Why it really is important to reduce, reuse and recycle – in that order. Takes you through production and consumption processes in guilt-inducing detail. It might be the book that actually changes your behaviour. There’s also a video.

The Propaganda of Peace: the Role of Media and Culture in the Northern Ireland Peace Process by Greg McLaughlin and Stephen Baker (Intellect)

Fascinating analysis of the ‘peace process’ media message as hegemonic project, backed up by civil society including the liberal intelligentsia, er, I think that’s me....

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (Penguin Books)

Emigration from Ireland to New York in the 1950s. How small town life can follow you to the big city – and back home again.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Tuskar Rock)

A bunch of unpleasant people deal with the aftermath of an incident at a party in Melbourne. Moral ambiguity and explicit sex. Lots of UK Amazon readers hated it. Made me miss Australia.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone Books)

First published in 1930. A great read about a young businesswoman, full of fascinating detail about shopkeeping at that time. Whipple was scorned by Virago in the 1980s but several of her novels have now been reissued by Persephone Books.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


My generation of children loved the snow. We always seemed to be out in it – tobogganing, throwing snowballs and making snowmen.

But when we grow up, snow is supposed to become a menace. We have to drive carefully – true, but responsible drivers know how to do this, and when not to travel to all; it’s only the minority who get stuck. We might slip on the footpath – but, at least until we are very old, our reaction times and (at worst) ability to heal will protect us. It’s true that some aspects of everyday life are disrupted, such as flights, but it does no harm to be reminded of how contingent these are on the power of nature.

I still do love the snow. The extreme whiteness of it, that makes everything I thought was white turn to cream. The way it settles on everything, reminding me of Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures. The quiet that accompanies a heavy snowfall. The extraordinary light.

Snow isn’t the worst type of weather. Frost and ice in sub-zero conditions are more dangerous and not as picturesque. Rain that goes on and on for days is more depressing. Excessive heat is difficult to deal with too, as I remember from my trips to Australia.

So throw on a jumper and get out there. Enjoy the scenery and the dry, refreshing cold.

And, when home again, it’s the perfect excuse for cakes.