Sunday, 20 November 2011

Favourite Reads of 2011

I've very much enjoyed my reading this past year. It's been a nice mix of old and new, some rereads of old favourites, continued work on favourite series and also introducing myself to some new authors. Looking back at my reading from this year, I thought I'd start with some of my favourite rereads.

On the Beach - Nevil Shute
I've very much enjoyed finding some of my old favourites, dusting them off and reading them again this past year. Nevil Shute is one of my favourite authors. I particularly have enjoyed Pied Piper and one of my Top Ten favourites, On the Beach. I have previously blogged about this book; it's number 2 on my all-time favourite books.
I've read this story many times and also have enjoyed the movie with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. The subject matter, while depressing, is treated with delicacy and respect by Nevil Shute. The plot is very understated considering the fact that he is discussing the end of the world. I read this first as a youngster, in junior high or high school and I was very much taken with this story. I followed up with other stories on similar topics; Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank and Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick, come to mind. Since that time, I've read On The Beach a few times and I still find myself drawn to similar stories. I particularly have enjoyed War Day by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka (one I'll have to dig out again and reread) and, most recently, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

All that to say, I'm so glad to have reread this novel and even once again talking about, even briefly, it has reminded me of what a classic story it is and I heartily recommend to anyone if you've not ever read it.

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
 It had been a very long time since I'd read Fahrenheit 451. I think I may have seen the movie first, but it had been a very long time. I bought this special 50th anniversary edition in 2007 and decided this past spring that it was time to reread. In May one of my Goodreads book clubs decided to read a story in the Dystopia genre, so I chose this novel as my read.

It was an excellent choice as rereading it refreshed my memories on how excellent a story it is. Basically, it is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman, whose role in the future is to burn books. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Unfortunately for Guy, he begins to doubt his role, finds himself collecting books and hiding them. He then becomes an enemy of the state and is forced on the run. The story and the movie are both excellent; both somewhat different as well. Fahrenheit 451 ranks up there with other classics of this genre, especially 1984 by George Orwell, which also happens to be a favourite of mine.

I do highly recommend either novel if you are interested in exploring this genre.

The Outsiders - SE Hinton
 Another genre that was chosen this past year in my book club was Young Adult. I dusted off another old favourite for this one. I've had my copy of The Outsiders since the early '80s. I believe I bought it after I'd seen the movie by Francis Ford Coppola.

Both the movie and the book are excellent, touching, thoughtful and well-presented. The story follows three brothers, Ponyboy, Darrel and Sodapop Curtis, and their friends in a small town in Texas as they interact with each other, fight with the rich 'Soc's' on the good side of the tracks and ultimately deal with tragic and life changing events.

SE Hinton presents this story in a manner that draws you in, even if you've never experienced what Ponyboy and his brothers experience. They are well-developed and you feel for them, understand what motivates and moves them.

I strongly recommend this story, it reaches all ages. The movie is also a must-see, it has such a fantastic cast and they all work together to bring you a fantastic movie.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
 I reread my all-time favourite book again in September. I have blogged about it previously when I was discussing my Top Ten favourite books. To Kill A Mockingbird ranks as Number 1 on my list. It also ranks as number 1 on my Top Ten movies of all-times.

The story is a timeless classic. It's a simple story in its way, telling of the growing up of one Scout Finch, a young Southern girl and of her older brother, Jem. They live during the Depression, must deal with school, have fun with their friend Dill Harris, who visits each summer, and try to solve the mystery of one Boo Radley, the never-seen neighbour, who seems to leave secret messages for the two of them.

The main event of this excellent novel is a trial that their father, Atticus, becomes involved with, the trial of a Negro man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. This trial will forever change their lives and it, along with all the events that take place, are presented wondrously, in a touching, intelligent manner by Harper Lee. Even writing about it now and thinking of the story again, I feel the emotions welling up inside me. It is a rare story, one that everyone should read and one that will draw you in so you are sharing everything with Scout, Jem and Atticus. (Watch the movie too.. excellent!)

The Return of Hyman Kaplan - Leo Rosten
During my high school years, I read a humorous set of stories featuring a fascinating US immigrant who attends English classes along with other immigrants. The story was told from the perspective of the embattled, frazzled teacher of the class, Mr Parkhill, or as named by Hyman, Meester Pockheel.

The first in the series was The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, the follow-on being, The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N. I had been looking for copies of these stories for a considerable time and luckily, while the missus and I were in Ottawa this past summer, I found one of them.

I reread the story with pleasant anticipation, hoping that the humour would still strike a chord with me. Luckily it did. The story is really a series of incidents, set in the classroom of Mr Parkhill, as he tries to get his students to understand the intricacies of the English language. The humour is gentle, the characters are colourful, the story is a pleasure to read. There are often laugh out loud moments, most often you find yourself chuckling or shaking your head as you finally figure out what the students are trying to present to Mr Parkhill. Hyman Kaplan, himself, is a larger than life character, full of energy, love for his new country and this language that he remakes into his own image.

I will continue to search for the other books, the stories are a pleasure to read.

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
 I have slowly been acquiring and rereading a series of spy novels that I had enjoyed as a kid. The James Bond stories were exciting to a youngster like me, full of adventure, intrigue, sex.. The books were dark and gritty, much more like the Sean Connery movies, or the more recent Daniel Craig attempts.

I reread Casino Royale recently, this is the first of the Bond stories. The recent movie did it justice, providing the same dark, grittiness that the book had. Of course, the story, which was written in 1953 didn't have the special effects that the movies have. But it introduced Bond nicely, his love of cars, the whole 'shaken not stirred', the glamour of the casino, all of that providing a hint of the life he leads as a double-0 spy. I have thoroughly enjoyed reliving my earlier adventures with James Bond and look forward to continuing to do so this coming year.

The Thirty-nine Steps - John Buchan
 My final reread this year was another spy thriller, John Buchan's, The Thirty-nine Steps. I think I've seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie from 1939 more times than I've read the book, but both stand the test of time. I think in many ways I relate this classic more to the movie, but the story is also excellent, and fairly different from the movie.

The premise remains the same in both though. Richard Hannay, a mining engineer, currently living in London, gets caught up in a mystery that threatens the safety of the United Kingdom. To bide time while he tries to solve the mystery, he travels the length of the British Isles, to the north in Scotland and during this journey, he must try to avoid arrest by the police and murder by the agents trying to find him.

The book was written in 1915 and as I mentioned above, the movie released in 1939, but they hold their own today. I can watch the movie and having reread the book, find them as interesting and as exciting as the first time I did either. What more can you ask from a story; that even almost 100 years on, it still manages to hold your interest and draw you in. The Thirty-nine Steps does that.

So there you have it for today, some of my favourite rereads of 2011. Next time I'll highlight some of my favourite new authors.

Keep on reading!

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