This is the book I got for xmas and my latest commuter read which I finished last night, although it was a book I wanted to go on for a lot longer. Zadie Smith can make you laugh at and care about her characters, while making you think about Big Things like families, love, education, culture, identity. Rich, satisfying, thoughtful, bighearted fiction.
I was really surprised at how much I liked Ain’t She Sweet. Normally I run screaming from any book set in a small (particularly) southern town and/or dealing with characters suffering decades-old high school angst. But Phillips’ characters, particularly her complex, appealing hero and heroine, are grown-ups who can come to terms with their pasts, while still making some pretty dreadful mistakes in the present.
Another cheating entry–published a few years back, but new to me this year. Yes, it’s about SM. I loved the voice of this book–Carrie’s ironic, bookish take on her adventures as a sex slave. It’s suprisingly funny and sweet. And, oh yes, very sexy indeed, even if you think you’re not into that sort of thing. Its author Molly Weatherfield wears another hat as a writer of equally wonderful regency-set historicals.
Anna Maxted is a British chicklit writer–roughly speaking–who isn’t afraid to take on big issues and real angst (date rape, bereavement, eating disorders) and in her latest, adultery. At the same time she’s genuinely, hysterically funny and her heroines don’t lapse into the self-pitying whines I tend to associate with chicklit. And how’s this for an opening line (maybe she’s a contender for the successor to Jane Austen title we discussed a week or so ago?): Every woman likes to be proposed to, even if she knows she’s going to refuse.
Here’s the best re-read of my year, Flora Thompson’s memoirs of growing up in the English countryside in the late nineteenth century. A great source for small details of country life and a sense of an era about to come to an end. My great-aunt told us it was exactly as she remembered her early childhood. The book may be out of print here, but it’s rediscovered and cherished by every generation in England.
Looking ahead to 2006…In 1988 Catherine MacCoun published a book called The Age of Miracles, about a thirteenth-century novice who is possibly–or not–a saint, and what happens to her when she leaves the nunnery. I love this wry, thoughtful, beautifully written book–she’s another writer, like Gregory, who can evoke the past and not sound overly historical. I’ve re-read it many times and I guess it’s a romance, though nothing like any other medieval I’ve tried and flung against the wall. At the time I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading a romance (now I’m only mildly embarrassed but it’s so difficult to read with a paper sack over your head on the commute). After (oh, gasp, this makes me feel ill) eighteen years in the strange twilight world before the second sale, Ms. MacCoun’s next book comes out in May. And I can’t wait to read it.