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Tis That Time of the Year…..

Here we are, on the very last day of 2018 and it’s time to reflect and wonder, where did the year go? Of course, you may have already done this and that shows you are more practical, attuned to the demands as well value of time and over all circumspect in your approach. If that is so, then I hold you in admiration, if not, well, you have my company in the last minute reflections!

I cannot quite say I will miss 2018; I have always held the belief that even years are better for me, however 2014 and 2018, seem to really challenge this hypothesis. 2018, was in every possible way a horrid year, filled with all kinds of disagreeable happenings. In fact it was so bad, I went headlong and rushed an event, just so I can get it over and done with it this year, rather than let it fester in what I would like thinks is a brand new page. With an exception of one desperately sought professional movement, this year been blackest of black, with not even a tinge of grey to break the blackness. Thankfully, there were friends and books to see me through, yet again!

And this brings me to what is actually at the heart of this post, the 18 best books that I have read in the year! As is my tradition, based of the year number, I select that many books from my reading repertoire, in what can only be termed as one of the bestest reflections of the year. Therefore without further ado, here we go, in no particular order-

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva – This 11th century collection of Indian short stories was a significant departure from the traditional scholarly/spiritual texts of Sanskrit. In this earthly collections of tales, Kings and Courtiers, Queens and Maids, Priests and Merchants, Lions and Jackals, all battle it out for material gains of love, money, power, without managing to sound didactic or moralizing
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot, simply cannot enumerate the brilliance of John Steinbeck or how wonderfully he translated it all in this book – the saga of the Hamilton and Task families in the turn of the century Salinas Valley, where the most vile is redeemed, by the sheer power of choice.
  3. The Diary of Nobody by George Grossmith – My second re-read and what is there not to love about this middle aged bumbling man in his new house and old wife and friends, as he meanders through his own life, while trying to steer the lives of his loved ones, in a most hilarious, uproariously funny writing ever!
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – In this now celebrated and seminal writing, Ms. Woolf put down the very basic needs that remain unfulfilled for women, making them economically dependent and thus weaker, among the sexes.
  5. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot – I have never been a fan of Ms. Elliot and though her novel, Middlemarch is considered by many the best possible English Novel; she is one author, I just could not get through and constantly struggled with. Until on a whim, I picked up The Scenes of Clerical Life and fell in love with the three short novellas that constitute this novel. The prose, the plot and the characters, all wove together, to create one of my best reads of the year. This book was powerful enough to goad me to try another Elliot – Daniel Deronda, through which I am still plodding!
  6. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – This funny, ironic and downright crazy narrative of a Lady living in Provincial England in between the two wars, is an absolute delight! While our narrator battles the various requirements of the Lady of the house, to various persons, including her laconic but practical Land Agent husband,the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants, not to mention her demands at the Woman’s Institute, as a reader, your are swept away by the  everyday life  and challenges which are as real now, as they were in 1930s and cannot help but appreciate Ms. Delafield’s ability to them on their head, and make it all look like one gigantic joyride. This was such a wonderful read that I ended up reading this twice in the year! 

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  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – I discovered Arkady Renko very late in my life but having discovered him, I wasted no time in falling in love with this fictional hero. Set in 1980’s Soviet Union, the story follows the investigation by Renko, an investigator in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office as he hunts for the identity of the three murdered victims, whose bodies are found in a cold April afternoon in Gorky Part and their killer, taking him across USSR and US, and changing the very complexion of his life so far!
  8. February by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrey Kneller – Boris Pasternak was another non favorite. I could not, simply could not make myself like Dr. Zhivago or his unending whining about Lara. But while reading Gorky Park, I realized that Pasternak was appreciated in Russia more as poet than a novelist and that prompted me to try and read some of his poetry. This turned out to be one the best literary decisions of my life as I can now understand, why Russians love Pasternak. I quote directly from my post on this collection, as I simply have no other way to describe the sheer power of these poems – “Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!”
  9. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. PearceHelen has introduced me to great many books and Dear Mrs. Bird is one such book for which I will be eternally indebted to her. This novel about a plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column, that brings her success, challenges and one of the ultimate tests of life, is one the best new books of the year, according to yours truly.
  10. The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull – This little gem is something I stumbled upon sheer chance and what a find it was! The author in a reverse narrative, actually let’s the reader on who is going to murder whom and then leads us on a merry ride of adventure, fun and a unique take on English life and times in early part of 20th century! An absolute marvel.
  11. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian – If I had to pick one book which elevated me, made me cry and enriched me as a human being, teaching me some important lessons, it would be this absolutely scintillating memoir by Ms. Brittian tracing her youth, her struggle for education and finally the heartbreak of war. This book is a lesson of things we must NOT do as people and as responsible adults, who should bequeath a better world to the younger generation. This book forces one to think and challenge one’s belief system and then no matter how hard, work to better the world, in whatever small way we can!
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Another book which came very close to Testament of Youth and enriched me as a being! This story of coming of age of Francine Nolan, her struggle for education, the constant challenges of poverty and an incapable, albeit bright father and a fierce mother, to her final tryst to college on the eve of US joining the Second World War, is more than a story of young adult. It is about determination, it is about dreaming and of never letting go what you truly want, no matter how daunting the obstacles.
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Yet another author I was wary of reading, but I finally managed to read and of course love. I, Claudius traces the early years of Claudius, the future Emperor of Rome, nephew to one Ceaser and brother to another is hardly a typical hero but Robert Graves with his deep research and brilliant writing, makes him a memorable character, with kindness and intellect, who could be a straight arrow or a diplomat as the situation demanded and whose these very skills, and not one of physical poweress will make him survive one of the most difficult and suspicious history of Roman History, to become one of the longest ruling Ceasers.
  14. The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – There are books, that really do not have a nail biting plot or a sensational character or an epoch making historical event to serve as a background. Yet, in the setting, the characters and in the narrative, things come to together so well, that they are just right and tug at your heartstrings! The Flowering Thorn is one such book.  Lesley , the young woman about town, has everything that she wants, but is somehow unhappy. On a whim, she adopts an orphan and begins life in the country with all the challenges of keeping a cook, managing a house, not becoming and then becoming friends with the Vicar’s wife and of course taking care of young being, leading to a life that comes in an enriched full circle. Beautiful, poignant, and just lovely, I will forever be grateful to Jane for introducing me to this book!
  15. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – One of those highly cried up books of 2017, that I meant to read, but did not want to, because mostly such books are such disappointments. However I am glad I sloughed on this one.This story of Count Rostov an unrepentant aristocrat, who is punished by the Socialist Government in 1917 Russia to be confided in an attic room of the Grand Hotel overlooking Kremlin as the most volatile era of modern Russia evolve, is more than just another historical fiction. It is a deep insight into the Russian society, the changing of the guards and love that comes from the heart, without any blood bonds. I do not have enough words to describe this intellectually and emotionally illuminating book. You have to read to experience it!
  16. Final Meeting by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Andrey Kneller – Yet another book of poetry picked from the reading of Arkady Renko series. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry shines and glitters through the desolation and heartbreak, both at what happens to her personally and to her beloved Russia. It is often said, that the best poets experience pain, to write the very best poetry. I cannot even begin to fathom, the amount of pain, Ms. Akhmatova must have gone through, for such amazing works like Final Meeting, Epilogue etc. Mr. Kneller’s translation as always is appreciable in keeping the integrity and the essence of these poems very close to the originals in Russian
  17. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Torton – All stories after a point are more or less similar, and there can only be so much one can do with a murder mystery….right? Wrong. You need to read this absolutely shocker for I have no other word to describe this completely mind blowing work of Mr. Torton’s. Innovative, twisted, with a punch at the end of each chapter, only a book as this roller coaster could have helped keep me doom and gloom at bay, and help me get perspective back. Very rarely do I use this sentiment, but this book definitely calls out – Vi Va Mr. Torton!
  18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell  – I usually love most of the woman authors and their works who published some of the best pieces of fictions between 1870-1950 and am greatly indebted to many of my blogging friends for introducing me to their work. But Angela Thirkell despite all the commendations, I held back, because of what appears to be slight class consciousness in her writings. However on seeing this book listed by Cleo as a Christmas read, I decided to take the plunge. And am I glad that I did. Laura Moorland is a successful author of paperbacks for woman readers which has enabled her to raise her 4 sons, the youngest of whom, Tony is now the only one in school. Her work has also enabled her to get a flat in London and a cottage in the country, where she is headed with her son, this Christmas, to get some rest, write her book and meet old friends in High Rising. But there is a newcomer who is upsetting the serene settings of this countryside and Ms. Moorland must gather her wits, to ensure, peace continues to reign. In this she is ablely aided by many of her friends, including the village doctor, her publisher, her secretary and her formidable housekeeper Mrs. Stokes.  Unique character, uproariously funny dialogues and a plot that without being outstandingly different, neverthless holds your attention and flows smoothly! Great book to end the year with.

These then are my 18 favorites of 2018. A special shout out to Adam whose challenge,  The Official 2018 TBR Challenge, helped me read a lot of books that have been lying in my TBR forever, but from one reason or another, I did not venture forth. While I was not able to finish the entire planned 12 books, 5 of the 18 books listed stem from this challenge, which goes to show you need a friend to give you a push, always!

I cannot think of better ending for this long post and and even longer year than this piece by Ian Frazier, published a couple of years back in New Yorker  –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.” 

A peaceful, happy and bookish or whatever ish makes you happy 2019 to everyone!

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a wonderful range of books. I share your love of Eliot, Delafield, Sharp, Turton and Akymatova, and I hope that 2019 wll be a happier year for you.

    December 31, 2018
    • Thank you so much Jane! I owe you so much for introducing to so many authors and great books that I would have completely missed! Here’s wishing you the very best of everything in 2019!!

      January 1, 2019
  2. Oh, your post brought up so many thoughts and comments and proved to me that we are indeed book sisters! 🙂

    First of all, I am terribly sorry that the year was so bad for you. I do hope 2019 brings brighter days and happenings that make you smile and enrich your life. Dust 2018 right under the rug! Now on to books ….

    We must have a discussion about East of Eden because that book annoyed me. I felt that all of the character were slightly “off” Did you write a review? I’ll check when I’m done this comment. You could go and read my review and tell me what you think.

    I do love Eliot and Middlemarch is one of my favourites. I’ve read Daniel Deronda but I’m considering The Mill on the Floss if you can be swayed in your choices ….. 😉

    If you liked The Diary you might also like Henrietta’s War. It was so funny!

    I can’t wait to read Gorky Park and I still have to read Testament of Youth after so many good intentions (you know what they say about good intentions, ha ha!)

    I am soooo eager to read the poems of Akhmatova! I’m very happy to hear that they’re excellent!

    And I was going to read High Rising for the Christmas book challenge but just didn’t get to it. Sigh!

    At least your reading year was good and a hundred times better than mine! Peace and happiness to you in 2019. Let’s read together! 🙂

    January 1, 2019
    • Thank You so mucb Cleo! I don’t think I have reviewed East of Eden but for me the ending of the book kind of put everything in perspective though, we can discuss more over your blog or on email. I tried Mill on the Floss, and Sigh! But if you are serious, and because it’s you, I will give it a shot. I am off to find Henritta’s War. I need something light before heading back to work! I think if you need a light read which is not too dumb, then Gorky Park is the ticket. You will love Testament; that book really really redefines you! Read Akhmatova as well….she is….she something! High Rising was fun. Yes, I realized while I was writing this post that my reading year was enriching! I agree, off with the old and on with the new! Here’s a happy, prosperous and joyous 2019 for all of us! Now, as you put it, Let’s read!
      P.S. We are and will always be soul sisters, even when we disagree on every single word of the book! Big Hug!

      January 1, 2019
  3. I’m so sorry 2018 has been a bad year for you. I hope 2019 will be better in every way. You’ve read some great books this year, anyway! As you know, I loved Dear Mrs Bird too, as well as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Murder of My Aunt. In previous years I have enjoyed East of Eden, Testament of Youth, The Flowering Thorn, A Gentleman in Moscow and I, Claudius!

    Happy New Year. 🙂

    January 1, 2019
    • Helen, we are so synced in our bookish adventures! Thank You for introducing me to some great books and authors! It has been a pleasure reading from your list and discussing new thoughts and ideas! Here’s wishing you a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2019, filled with great books and everything else that you wish!

      January 1, 2019
  4. Happy New Year, Cirtnecce! 🙂 I’ve so enjoyed your book reviews this year… and sorry to hear it was a difficult one. The last half of it was hard for me as well, and I’ll be glad to be moving on in 2019. Really liked Dear Mrs Bird (per your recommendation!) and now I want to read Evelyn Hardcastle.

    January 1, 2019
    • Happy Happy New Year Marian! Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and bookish 2019! Thank You for your kind thoughts! Glad you liked Mrs. Bird, it was such a fun read! Please try Hardcastle…it is SOMETHING!!

      January 1, 2019
  5. mudpuddle #

    2018 was tough for the planet, especially for the humans living on it! hope next yar is better… great books on your list; quality is better than quantity, and there’s definitely some excellent tomes there… looking forward to your posts in the coming year…

    January 1, 2019
    • Thank You so much for your kind thoughts! Here’s to a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2019 for all humankind! Hope we all get to do some great things and read some great books!! Happy New Year!

      January 1, 2019
  6. I kind of feel similar about 2018. Glad for it to be done; ready to turn over a new leaf…a new page…a whole new chapter.

    So, #2…Steinbeck is not my kind of author, but I appreciated his writing style in East of Eden. The plot was so strange, and often I did not know where he was going with it; but I enjoyed it for the experience. I’d probably reread it one of these days.

    #4 was essential enough to add to my personal canon. I think I only listened to an audio of it, but I want to get a copy of my own. (I also wish I had a room of my own!)

    And #11 was also added to my canon. Totally memorable, and made me cry, too. Do you think you’ll ever read her other books that follow?

    January 1, 2019
    • I am so sorry Ruth about the way 2018 turned for you!! I know how it can get and all I can say is off with the old and on with the new! Here’s hoping 2019 brings much happiness, peace and all round prosperity to you and your loved ones along with a healthy dose of awesome books! I know East of Eden is not an easy book to like and I am aware of the limitations, but I love the philosophy of Timshel and I guess that makes go a bit “fan girl” on this book. #4 is a must for all men and woman; it is one of those seminal works, which simply and very thoughtfully puts out all that is fundamental and yet denied to woman for centuries, leading to the dis-balance of power among the Genders. I loved and like you cried with Vera Brittian; that book is something – just went straight into my heart and shook my soul. I will try her other works, but this will remain absolutely incomparable! Happy New Year once again and loads of good wishes!

      January 1, 2019
      • former blogger :) #

        Read Testament of Friendship, ladies. I couldn’t recommend it more. – jillian x

        January 6, 2019
      • Will do!! 🙂

        January 6, 2019

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