The Books of 2010

I hadn’t intended to write a favourite books post for the year end, because I’ve written so many posts with lists of books over the last few weeks that I thought it might be too much.

But I’ve read some wonderful books of the year posts over the last few days, and when I did put my own list together I realised that a few of my favourites hadn’t appeared in any of my other lists.

And so here, in no particular order, are my top ten books of the year.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran

“I find myself reminded of books I’d quite forgotten. Happily recalling others. noting a few that I don’t think I’ve read yet. I want to read and re-read every single one. And then I want to look again at what this book had to say – I’m definitely going to need a copy of my own!”

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

” And I love my native Cornwall. So imagine my delight when I found a book by Wilkie Collins in the library’s Cornish room. Joy!

Rambles beyond Railways: Notes in Cornwall taken a-foot. A travelogue visiting so many places I know so well. Bliss!

And it gets better. The book I picked up was the original 1851 edition. And a bookplate at the front advises me that it was found, in tatters, in 1933, restored and then presented to the library. What a wonderful thing to do! And so I was holding the same edition that the author himself must have held. Wow!”

Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp

“Her story is strangely charming. And strangely charming is something that Margery Sharp does particularly well. This book, and indeed the whole of Martha’s story, is populated with wonderful human characters, who maybe didn’t behave and talk quite how I might have expected, and yet what they did and what they said was exactly right. I couldn’t help warming to them, understanding them, those ordinary, but somehow very special people.”

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley

“It is impossible not to care: the man and the woman are utterly real, and every detail rings true.

We make life complicated, when it could be so simple.

Love in the Sun is simply lovely.”

Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico

“The storytelling is lovely. I read about Mrs Harris’s adventure in the same way that I read the books I loved as a child. I was completely captivated, living every moment, reacting to everything, wishing and hoping…”

Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet

“Oriel Malet creates a child –  a bright child, but a child nonetheless – so beautifully, with such empathy, with such understanding that you really can see what she is seeing, feel what she is feeling.

The quality of the bigger picture is  just as high. Every detail that makes up a child’s life – people, places, events – in such lovely descriptive prose.”

Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye Smith

“I have met many remarkable women between the covers of green Virago Modern Classics. And now that I have met Joanna Godden I have to say that she is one of the most remarkable of them all.”

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi

“It is a quite extrordinary piece of writing. I reacted to it physically and emotionally, and it made me look at the world differently.

Several days after I finished reading it is still in my head, and I am utterly lost for words.”

I wish you books that you love as much in the new year.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran

“In August 1948 Penguin Books made publishing history when they issued one million Agatha Christie novels on the same day – 100,000 copies of each. This venture was such a success that it was repeated five years later.”

That’s an awful lot of books. And how many more have been sold – and borrowed – since then? How many films? How many television dramatisations? Amazing numbers!

You would think that everything to be said had been said by now. But no! This lovely book offers something new.

A few years ago Agatha Christie’s heirs decided to pass The Greenaway, her riverside home in south Devon, to the National Trust. When the Trust started to renovate the property its former owners notebooks came to light. Seventy three of them!

Not orderly notebooks but notebooks that were grabbed when the need to write anything down arose. Shopping lists. Character lists. Story ideas. Random thoughts. There’s an awful lot there, but not everything. Many works are unmentioned. So presumably Mrs Christie lost notebooks and wrote things on the backs of envelopes like the rest of us.

John Curran has done a wonderful job of organising the material to give a picture of how many well-loved books developed. They grew in all sorts of ways. From a character. From a setting. From and object. All sorts of things changed along the way, and very often the murderer and their motive wasn’t settled on until the very last moment.

He is clearly very knowledgable and, while he clearly loves Mrs Christie’s work, he is quite prepared to step back a little and be objective.

There are so many wonderful little facts. Gems are scattered throughout the book. Cases transferred between Poirot, Miss Marple and Parker Pyne (I’d forgotten him). Ideas picked up, dropped, and then sometimes picked up again for another story. Characters changing names and evolving. It really is fascinating.

(Of course plot points and killers’ identities are given away, but titles discussed are listed at the start of each themed section and at the start of each piece about a specific book. Which seems reasonable to me.)

And so I find myself reminded of books I’d quite forgotten. Happily recalling others. noting a few that I don’t think I’ve read yet. I want to read and re-read every single one. And then I want to look again at what this book had to say – I’m definitely going to need a copy of my own!