Friday, 8 February 2013

Top 5 Books I Read in 2012

2012 was a good year for books. I managed to read almost two a month, which I reckon is pretty good going by anyone's standard. 2013 may not be so fulsome as I've not even finished one yet. That total did included two kid's books (The Borrowers & the 2nd Artemis Fowl story) and a Jim Thompson novel that (I only realised halfway through) I'd read once before. I read four of the 2011 Booker shortlist (all excellent & very easy to read), three of the 2012 Booker longlist (thanks mainly to the Library), three books about music, two other non-fiction books, two books off my reading pile, one e-book (written by a pal), one Bond, one Sherlock Holmes and one Agatha Christie. I enjoyed them all though, if I'm honest, I struggled with Will Self's stream on consciousness novel Umbrella.

1. "Half Blood Blues" Esi Edugyan - A captivating story of a group of Jazz musicians caught in pre-WWII Nazi Germany, cutting the disc of their lives but then being separated by the impending war and their own fears and jealousies. This treads the line between historical fact and narrative fiction really well and provides some insight into what life at the time was like as well as being a gripping story. It's a well crafted tale that doesn't attempt to hide any truths from the reader but leaves much unsaid by it's choice of narrator. I like that this left some room for reader interpretation. I read it in under a week whilst on holiday in Cornwall which helped me get fully immersed in the lives of the characters and felt a pang of sadness when it was finished.

2. "Do It For Your Mum" Roy Wilkinson - Ostensibly the story of the band British Sea Power written by Roy, former manager and elder brother of BSP's Scott (Vocals & Guitar) and Neil (Bass & Vocals). It's typical of the band that this biography is much broader than your average Rockopic and some of it's best passages dealt with how the band's success affected the Wilkinson family, particularly their BSP obsessed Dad. Ronald Wilkinson, 87-year-old veteran of World War II, is the real star of the book. The band's biggest fan who gets frustrated as one weak indie band after another leapfrogs his boys on the rise to popularity. Better still, as Ron's appreciation of the deepest recesses of alternative music grow broader, he is constantly pushing them towards more left field explorations.

3. "Lowside Of The Road: A Life of Tom Waits" Barney Hoskyns - I'd tiptoed around the periphery of Waits' discography before reading this book. I struggled with a couple of listens of Swordfishtrombones, enjoyed Mule Variations but had only recently made a proper breakthrough thanks to Small Change. I picked this up after seeing a glowing review in Mojo and attempted (thanks largely to Spotify) to get to grips with Tom's albums chronologically as I read. This is a fine book by Hoskyns, who is clearly a huge fan, and packed with detail. It certainly proved to be the breakthrough for my enjoyment of the music and I've now filled in a lot of the gaps in my collection. I suspect I will enjoy reading this again once I've got to grips with Waits full body of work.

4. "The Sisters Brothers" Patrick deWitt - The second book on this list from the 2011 Booker shortlist, I thoroughly enjoyed this darkly comic Western though I think I'm going to struggle to explain why. Eli and Charlie Sisters are infamous assassins sent to kill Hermann Kermit Warm who is accused of stealing from their boss. There's not much plot beyond that but there are a series of short events along the journey. The story is told from Eli's perspective and it seems like he's the less cold-hearted of the two, however, there's a suggestion that he's actually the more dangerously psychotic. Hermann Kermit Warm turns out to be extremely likable and the denouement is well played out.

5. "Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics" Jonathan Wilson - I'd heard good things about this book and when I found it for £2 in a bookshop near work I couldn't resist. A fascinating study of the development of football tactics from it's earliest days in the 19th century to the early 2000s. It's well structured to provide good chapters on the key moments in football development including the great teams like 1950s Hungary, 1970s Holland and the many eras of Brazil. Wilson writes really well, so this never feels like a scholarly discourse but nor does it stint on detail. He's also keen to point out that football success is not just about tactics. I'm now better equipped than ever to win an argument in a pub about why Fulham will only achieve success when they find a mobile central midfielder who can put his foot on the ball.



alicestronaut said...

Excellent reviews, Chopper. I'll definitely be adding the Tom Waits and the BSP ones to my to-read pile. The Sisters Brothers looks good too, that caught my eye when it came through the library I used to work in and you've reminded me to follow it up!

Chopper said...

Excellent. The Waits book took a while to get through but it's the sort of book you can dip in and out of too. The Sisters Brothers was almost my number one so I'd definitely recommend it.