And here is the long-awaited list! I actually found it a struggle to put together this year, in that I’ve only read three or four books which I think outstandingly brilliant. Number 1 is one of my favourite books ever, but I don’t think 2013 was a particularly stellar year. Still, all ten remain great (if not all-time-great) and my usual rules apply – no repeated authors, no re-reads.
10. Of Love and Hunger (1947) by Julian Maclaren-Ross
Not a book I’d heard of before Dee gave me a copy, but any fan of Patrick Hamilton or George Orwell will find much to admire in this account of a poor vacuum-cleaner salesman. Somehow the prose is both sparse and beautiful.
9. The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene
#GreeneForGran, in memory of Simon Savidge’s much-loved bookish gran, led to a lot of bloggers furthering their acquaintance with Graham Greene – I read what must be his masterpiece, this beautiful, melancholic paean to a flawed and painful love affair.
8. Dumb Witness (1937) by Agatha Christie
I read a lot of Agatha Christie this year in quick succession, during a period of reader’s block, and chose this one as a representative volume because it had my adored Captain Hastings. My appreciation for her plotting was always high; this year I learnt to admire her writing more than I would have imagined.
7. Housekeeping (1980) by Marilynne Robinson
Not as brilliant as Gilead, to my mind, but further proof to me that Marilynne Robinson is the greatest living writer whom I have read.
6. Symposium (1990) by Muriel Spark
I read quite a few Spark novels this year (I was teaching her to an undergraduate) but blogged about relatively few. This was the best – I described it as containing a pantheon of Sparkisms, and I stand by that!
5. Phantoms on the Bookshelves (2008) by Jacques Bonnet
One of the loveliest books-about-books I have ever read, and one which will entertain (and justify) any spendthrift bibliophile.
4. Hallucinations (2012) by Oliver Sacks
Sacks is endlessly fascinating and brilliant, and this book about hallucinatory sights, sounds, and smells is told with exceptional skill, as well as being (I’m sure) scientifically significant.
3. Skylark (1924) by Dezső Kosztolányi
I’m very grateful to Claire of The Captive Reader for recommending this (and my parents for buying it) – it appeared on her top books of 2011, and now here it is on mine! A sensitively told and moving novel.
2. Stet (2000) by Diana Athill
The life of an expert literary agent can’t help but be interesting, and Athill writes unself-consciously, wisely, and very (seeming) great fairness about some quite difficult people.
1. London War Notes 1939-1945 (1972) by Mollie Panter-Downes
And this is the best book I read in 2013! I was so lucky to track down an affordable copy, after borrowing from the library, and I know that it isn’t available easily – but I can think of no more accomplished, humane, and plain useful record of the wartime home front from a contemporary’s viewpoint. It changed the way I think about the day-by-day events of the second world war, and (like Guard Your Daughters at the top of 2012’s list) I think it is scandalous that it’s out of print. Well, Guard Your Daughters is coming back into print in 2014, so fingers crossed for London War Notes following suit…