Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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10 Top Books of 2010

In case you feel the need to slap me, I have already submitted the novel revisions to my agent. Despite having a houseful of guests this weekend and childrens’ social calendars to massage, I was a good little writer. And there is a secret to my success: you know how all the famous artistes of history had wives who did all the actual bloody work, while the fellas scratched their bums, sucked their quills and tried to find words that rhymed with orange? Well folks, I have a husband and a damn useful one at that. I have to admit that there was a certain amount of bliss, sitting in my office, hearing the noises of my family and our friends above me, smelling the scent of food being cooked by someone else, knowing that all was well in the world and my only responsibility was to put words in a row.

One of my blog readers recently bemoaned the fact that I no longer keep a list of the books I’ve read during the year and that she and her Swaziland book club would like some top tips. So this post is dedicated to M (how are you, honey?) and the ladies in Piggs’ Peak, Swaziland, who are in need of hot book recommendations.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Books of 2010:

The How We Miss You, Stieg Larsson Crime Fiction Award goes to Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman. This is a biting, edgy crime thriller set in a wintery Oslo with jaded cops, evil murderers, lots of corpses, inappropriate sex and heavy drinking. A great read and a page-turner that would make an excellent Christmas present for anyone who loved the Millenium Trilogy.

The Laughing All the Way to the Bank Award for Literary Fiction goes to Emma Donaghue whose novel Room did not win the 2010 Man Booker Prize but which consistently out-sold the other five short-listers. Room, reviewed here, is a brilliant exercise in first-person narration and a stunning depiction of incarceration from the perspective of a five-year-old child. It’s moving, surprisingly funny and very beautiful.

The Maybe I Won’t Emigrate to Australia After All  Award for Difficult Fiction goes to Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap. At a suburban barbeque, someone slaps another person’s child, and the novel tells how family ties and friendships dissolve and unravel as a result. Tsiolkas, dare I say it, does not pull his punches and Aussie society is revealed, warts, prejudices, misogyny, racism and all.

The Beautiful Book in Translation Award goes to Julia Franck for The Blind Side of the Heart. This is World War II written from the German perspective and it is tragic, heart-wrenching and exquisitely written. Read it if you dare.

The I Laughed, I Cried Animal Lovers’ Memoir of the Year Award goes to John Grogan’s Marley and Me. I read this against the background of my family’s debate about whether to get a dog or not. Marley, being a good-natured oaf given to idiotic pratfalls, did not press his species’ case successfully, but it is a delightful book.

The Damn, I Wish I Was this Clever Award goes to Margaret Atwood for The Year of the Flood, part two in her dystopian trilogy. I’m not usually a huge fan of science fiction, but I’m loving this series, and Atwood is of course brilliant, incisive and sharp.

The Put Your Feet Up And Dive In Big Fat Page-Turner Award goes to Stephen King for Under the Dome, reviewed here. The reviewer says he ‘constructs a world so compelling  that you are obliged to keep reading, pressing the accelerator against your more civilised instincts, because you just know the end is going to be ghastly and grim.’

The Makes You Hungry Without Wrecking Your Confidence in the Kitchen Cookbook of the Year Award goes Bill Granger for his fabulous Holiday, a feast of fresh flavours, novel ingredients and charming pictures of the lovely and boyish Bill.

The Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Jane Smiley whose thirteenth novel, the beautiful Private Life was published this year. The tagline reads ‘Marriage can sometimes be the loneliest place’ and in this book she traces the relationship  between two people who really shouldn’t be together, but who survive a lifetime of marriage against society’s expectations of them.

The Wolf Hall Book of the Year Award goes to Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, reviewed here. This is an ambitious book and I was nervous of reading it, because I don’t much like George Bush and I didn’t want to feel sympathetic to him in any way. However, it is brilliantly done and of course is not really about George or Laura Bush, but about Alice and Charlie Blackwell. It is an audacious attempt to fictionalise the lives of people who are still living, and while my mind swung from the fictitious characters to the real ones and back again, in the end I gave in to the sweep of Sittenfeld’s story. She deserves prizes and paeans for a big, bold novel and quite frankly it is she, not Jonathan Franzen, who the USA should be lauding as the leader of their modern literary canon.

And in case anyone wishes to send me books or give me gifts, here is my remaining wish list for 2010:

Anything by Margie Orford

Tom Vowler’s The Method and Other Stories

Polly Samson’s Perfect Lives

A Million  Miles from Normal by Paige Nick

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes


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Books, Stats, Prizes!

This old granny blog is about to hit 300,000 views thanks to you, my lovely readers. In addition, I also have to thank the person who searches on ‘charlotte lurken’ for their visits and the people who really really want to know about ‘young women with grey hair’ for theirs. Mr ‘Is it cheap to love in Germany?’ deserves a special mention, and an answer: no, it isn’t, my dear. Love in Germany does not come cheap.

Anyway! To celebrate this milestone in the life of Charlotte’s Web, I’m announcing a competition. But you have to read through the whole post to find out what it is.

I have a lovely new pile of books awaiting reading. First off is fellow Litopian Sally Zigmond’s Hope Against Hope. Described as ‘a rich slice of Yorkshire Victoriana’, Hope Against Hope is the story of sisters May and Carrie who are driven apart by misunderstanding, pride and a mutual sense of betrayal and resentment. One Amazon reviewer said it is ‘one of those books where both the characters and the settings are strongly written and hugely memorable. It would appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction – it’s a half-way house between literary historical and family saga.’ I’m halfway in and loving it.

Next on the pile is a book by another Litopian: The De Lacey Inheritance by Elizabeth Ashworth. Elizabeth is a historian whose first three books focus on the history of Lancashire and this is her first novel. It is apparently a ‘tale of loves lost and found during the exile of Richard the Lionheart.’ Dying to dive in.

I also have a couple of Man Booker Prize contenders to read: C by Tom McCarthy (according to my most well-read friend, the most literary of this year’s short-list) and The Long Song by Andrea Levy. Looking forward to those.

The last two books on my TBR pile are new books by old favourites: Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido and Private Life by Jane Smiley. I feel a glow of warmth each time I see these on my bookshelf, just knowing the pleasure that awaits me within their pages.

And now to the competition part …

You can win one of these celebratory, 300,000-visit milestone books. Tell me in the comments which of these six books you most want to read and why. I’ll draw a winner in a couple of days and post you the book after I’ve read it, when it becomes yours for evermore.

Thanks for reading and for being part of my blogging journey. It means the world to me.