Monday, November 26, 2007

That's the best thing we've read all year -

Harry Potter's finale, the lives of Stalin, Brian Clough and Graham Greene, Ted Hughes's letters, a history of teenagers and not forgetting a tome on Welsh furniture ... writers and other cultural figures choose their favourite books of 2007

David Hare writing on Sunday November 25, 2007 in The Observer

My book iof the year?

It's a no-brainer: Jon Savage's pre-history of youth culture, Teenage
(Chatto & Windus). It's a proper book - it has heft. And not only
that, it's also fascinating and coherent and witty and challenging and
perplexing and poetic and awe-inspiringly intelligent. Even just holding
it in my hands makes me feel like a small child carrying a large birthday
cake with all the candles lit.

My book of the year is Hermione Lee's superb biography, Edith Wharton (Chatto & Windus). It
is finely researched, finely narrated, moving and perceptive - a major
book about a major writer.

In February I finally got hold of Paul Celan's Breathturn (Green Integer Press) as translated by
Pierre Joris. Breathturn is the earliest of Celan's final three books of
poetry. The other two, Threadsuns and Lightduress, had already been
published and I had been waiting to complete the trilogy. Although Celan
has a reputation for obscurity, I find him more moving than any other
20th-century poet. These editions - with English and German on facing
pages - could not be bettered.

I was very touched and impressed by Sukhdev Sandhu's Night Haunts (Verso), a series of essays about London at night. There are chapters on the lives of minicab drivers,
police helicopter pilots, Samaritans, cleaners and sewage maintenance
people. The book reads like a novel but has the immediacy of good
reportage, the sort of stuff that used to appear in Granta. You come away in awe at all that goes on in the capital on an average evening - and full of respect for an author who has left the study to discover how things really work.

Against the Day (Vintage) by Thomas Pynchon: sentence for sentence, scene for scene, idea
for idea, it gave me more pure reading pleasure than any book I've read in
the past few years. I only wished it were a thousand pages longer.

Unexpectedly pre-eminent among my books of 2007 was Richard Bebb's sumptuously learned two-volume Welsh Furniture 1250-1950 (Saer Books), which really amounts to a grand
domestic history of Wales. Half a lifetime in the making, with 1,500
pictures, it should be, as they say, in every Welsh library (though in
view of its price, I share my copy with my son Twm, who fortunately lives
next door).

Alice in Wonderland (Penguin Classics) by Lewis Carroll is a great book, an allegory for women
today, still not fitting in 'quite', either too big or too small or
growing too fast! It is amusing to read fiction as a satire, not as a
simple story, and has been my favourite book all year. I have also been
reading Judy Chicago, edited by Elizabeth A Sackler (Watson-Guptill
Publications). This book is interesting in that the long verbatim
interviews show Chicago's awareness of gender as an issue in art.

Read the choices of MJ Hyland, Ian Hislop, Peter Carey, Charlotte Mendelson, John Banville,
Anne Tyler, Michael Ondaatje, Hanif Kureishi, Irvine Welsh, JG Ballard, Simon Callow, Hari Kunzru, Oliver Sacks. Beryl Bainbridge and others here.

Footnote: I must say it is incredibly difficult to select one title as the best you have read in the year but shortly I'm goiung to give it a go and invite readers of this blog to write in with their choice.

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