Last year I borrowed the title of this well-known spaghetti western of my childhood for an end-of-year post, choosing a book for each category. I don’t see why I shouldn’t cast a look back at this year’s reading and do so again… (And I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing you an embedding of Ennio Morricone’s theme tune to play in the background while you’re reading this!)
Not surprisingly – I do try to avoid reading s**t books – choosing the good is not easy. There are so many hopefuls in fact that there’s a veritable elbow fight at the bar as the various contenders are trying to catch the barmaid’s attention.
Among the hopefuls with most bar presence, there is:
- a historian: Roger Crowley with City of Fortune
- a number of travellers: Ernle Bradford with The Journeying Moon, Patrick Leigh Fermor with Mani and Washington Irving with his Tales of the Alhambra
- a hopeless drunkard: Venedikt Yerofeev with Moscow Stations
- and a former war correspondent whose novels simply ooze atmosphere: Arturo Pérez-Reverte with The Dumas Club and the Alatriste-series
But the winner (and the one who gets served first) is:
Borrow managed to combine history, travel and adventure in a single volume while merely talking about his day job. The result is a book you can’t put down. In case you’re suspicious of the title: no, it’s not a religious book.
Repeating my full review of the book here would be stupid; click the title above to read it – or read an excerpt: The Council of Trent. The Bible in Spain is also freely available from Project Gutenberg.
Not so much a fight at the bar for this particular epithet, probably owing to the overwhelming presence of one caveman-like fellow who pushed his way to the front without apparent effort…
Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly
It was my first book of the year but I immediately understood that it was going to be the worst. The ultimate [insert your favourite expletive here] book. If you don’t believe me, ‘enjoy’ an Awesomely Awful excerpt on my quotes page.
A somewhat curious category in this context perhaps but the script-writers of spaghetti westerns fifty years ago couldn’t foresee my need for a blog post title today. For our purposes, ugly refers to the ugly actions of mankind as the topic of a book: last year it was murder with Mario Vargas Llosa… this year it’s kidnapping with Gabriel García Márquez.
Noticia de un secuestro (News of a Kidnapping) by Gabriel García Márquez
A book written in journalistic style about the kidnapping of prominent figures in Colombia by the drug baron Pablo Escobar in the 1990s. I believe there are currently a few films running on various television networks in the world about Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel – if you enjoy those, you might enjoy this book.
Nevertheless it’s far from being one of Gabriel García Márquez’s best; in my opinion this book suffers from the author’s proximity to the events (some of the kidnapped were his personal friends). While the storytelling is clear and helps you to understand what was going on in Colombia at the time, García Márquez fails to transcend from the local and the immediate to the universal: unless you already have a personal interest in this rather narrow subject matter, it won’t grip you.
What were the best (and the worst) books you read this year? Did you read anything that fellow readers of this blog or I might enjoy?
Share your recommendations in the comments!
You might also like: ⇒ The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (of 2015)