I seem to be reading fewer and fewer new books each year. I don’t know if I’m growing more hypercritical as I get older or the titles being released are really not as good as they used to be. All I know is that I seem to spend more time re-reading items from my collection than reading new releases. This year was no exception, as I couldn’t even come up with a list of ten titles among those I reviewed to put on my list of favourite reads of 2011. However, the titles listed below are all ones that I will gladly keep to read again and again for the pleasure they brought and the ideas they generated.
River Of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh: If you’ve given up hope of ever reading historical fiction that’s not merely a romance novel made respectable then River Of Smoke will be a welcome breath of fresh air. The second book of Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy lands the reader smack in the middle of the British-run opium trade of the 1830s.
Set primarily within the foreigner’s enclave in Canton, China, it follows the fortunes of a disparate set of characters ranging from the mixed blood bastard offspring of British traders, Indian opium merchants, Chinese merchants, to the heads of British trading houses. The latter’s version of Manifest Destiny disguised as a belief in Free Trade makes the Monroe Doctrine look like a thing of restraint and reason. While his vivid descriptions of life at sea and on land bring the era to life, it’s Ghosh’s ability to recreate vernacular and dialect that gives his characters an extra dimension that allows them to almost leap off the page. This is an experience not to be missed.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: Originally published in the 1930s and now reissued under the Penguin Classic imprint, Cold Comfort Farm is still one of the funniest books you’ll ever read. Gibbons pokes fun at literary conceits, the bored middle class and religion in equal measure. For those who’ve seen the BBC film adaptation, the book will delight, while the uninitiated are in for a treat. A very timely reminder of what satire sounds like and is capable of accomplishing.
The Conference Of The Birds bu Peter Sis: It’s not often you find a book that does as magnificent job of telling a story through words and art work as Sis has done in this work. An adaptation of a classical Persian poem, it will appeal to people of all ages. The illustrations will delight younger readers and the text, while straightforward, contains sufficient depths to keep adults thinking. One of the most beautiful books you’ll find on the shelves this year, or any year for that matter.
The Crippled God by Steven Erikson:The long-awaited, stunning, conclusion to Erikson’s 10-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen series lives up to everything devoted readers have come to expect from the books. Human frailty, the hubris of immortals, bravery, spectacular battle scenes and the ability to recount great events and their cost on an individual level have been the hallmarks of Erikson’s writing and this volume is no exception. This series established a new benchmark against which all epic fantasy will be measured in the future.
One would think that after 10 books, each roughly 800 pages in length, an author might start to run out of steam and ideas. That wasn’t the case with either the series or its conclusion as we are held in thrall until the last page. Thankfully for anyone experiencing withdrawal from all things Malazan, Erikson’s partner in world creation, Ian C Esselemont still has two volumes left to contribute. So while one segment of the journey may be completed, the voyage is not quite over.
The Map Of Time by Felix J Palma: The mystery of this book is trying to figure our what is real and what isn’t. Told from a variety of perspectives, Palma has created a looking glass world where reality is dependant on who is doing the recounting. Yet even as various examples of time travel are revealed to be hoax after hoax, each subsequent adventure is described in such convincing detail by its narrator we can’t help but think maybe this one is for real. However, how are we to know as we are at the mercy of both our narrator and the author himself?