24. Margaret Atwood - The Tent (2006) (156 pp)
25. Alison Weir - Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) (427 pp)
26. Wendy Northcutt - The Darwin Awards 4: Intelligent Design (2006) (292 pp)
27. Alison Weir - Queen Isabella (2005) (c. 328 pp)
28. Alison Weir - Katherine Swynford (2007) (356 pp)
29. Elizabeth Hay - Late Nights on Air (2007) (368 pp)
30. Gregory Maguire - Wicked (1995) (538 pp)
31. Gregory Maguire - Son of a Witch (2005) (357 pp)
32. Gregory Maguire - A Lion Among Men (2009) (312 pp)
33. Alison Weir - Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (1995) (441 pp)
34. Edward Rutherfurd - The Rebels of Ireland (2006) (863 pp)
35. Alison Weir - The Princes in the Tower (269 pp)
36. Alison Weir - Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001) (618 pp)
37. Alison Weir - The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991) (619 pp)
38. Alison Weir - Children of England (1996) (376 pp)
39. Alison Weir - Elizabeth the Queen (1998) (515 pp)
40. Alison Weir - Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley (2003) (666 pp)
41. Mark Pearson - Christian Healing (2004) (329 pp)
42. Mark Pearson - Why Can't I Be Me? (1992) (224 pp)
43. Diana Gabaldon - Lord John and the Hand of Devils (2007) (303 pp)
44. Diana Gabaldon - An Echo in the Bone (2009) (821 pp)
45. Terry Goodkind - Phantom (2006) (675 pp)
46. Terry Goodkind - Confessor (2007) (757 pp)
47. John Brookes - Garden Design (2001) (384 pp)
48. Franz Kafka - The Trial (1925 (Der Prozess); tr. 1994 by Idris Parry) (178 pp)
Margaret Atwood's The Tent was extremely disappointing. It had been a Christmas present from friends; otherwise, I assure you, I wouldn't have bothered. It's a collection of short pieces, some less than a page long, and smelt of a publisher's greed. What next? A slim, sensitive volume of Margaret Atwood's dry cleaning receipts?
This was, for me, the Year of Alison Weir. I made my way through all her historical biographies, starting with Eleanor of Aquitaine and finishing with Mary, Queen of Scots (though, in the latter case, it was only a few years of her life covered by the book). I had originally only intended to read the three on Eleanor, Isabella (wife of Edward II, he of the poker up the butt), and Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's wife, but then I found I couldn't quite bring myself to stop. Weir is an eminently readable historian. The earlier books, however, aren't rigorously footnoted (perhaps at her publisher's request to make them easier reading); it's clear, however, that she is no slouch in the research department. Weir's main interest is really "social history" -- the day to day lives of these figures. As a result, she pores over household account books (digging up some extremely interesting information or evidence from time to time) and gives the reader a great sense of their way of life. The true benefit of Weir's books is the research she does regarding female historical figures. Despite their social status, a good deal of these queens' and paramours' lives goes unrecorded. The men in their lives enter the history books because of their deeds, while these women are recorded almost solely because of they brought forth children. The book on Katherine Swynford was the weakest of the books -- to be honest, it was really more about John of Gaunt. But that is to be understood, given that primary sources on Katherine Swynford -- first mistress, then wife -- are almost nil. (I was interested to learn while reading the books on Katherine and on Isabella how closely Geoffrey Chaucer was linked to Swynford's family.) Reading the series of books on the Tudors might have been old hat for me, given that I grew up (literally) on a steady diet of Tudor biographies, but Weir was able to make even those lives stand out in sharp relief with new facts and new arguments. (For instance I had no idea Henry VIII seemed to have been as covetous of property as he was of women! In another era he could have been a playa in real estate!)
Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air I read at the insistence of my sister in law. It wasn't the sort of book I'd normally read, but I was interested to read something set in the Northwest Territories, as my brother in law lived there for ten years and I've never been. It tells the tale of several lost souls working a radio station deep in the frozen Canadian north. The book won a major literary prize in Canada and is indeed beautifully written and worth a read.
I had read Wicked several years ago, but rereading it was a rich and rewarding experience. The first time round I kept expecting it to be more like The Wizard of Oz and felt somewhat annoyed when it didn't do what I "wanted" it to do, I'm ashamed to admit. This time, I was more at ease and let the book simply be what it was. The experience was altogether different, and I was dazzled by the depth of Maguire's political criticisms and the originality of his imagination. Son of a Witch took a while to get going for me, and while it will never reach the mastery of the first volume, in the end became a worthy companion. A Lion Among Equals, while a good read, again, fell short of the heights of Wicked. I wonder if Maguire has more to say about Oz?
Edward Rutherfurd's The Rebels of Ireland -- well, it's not Leon Uris's Trinity, let's just say that. Sometimes the cast of thousands thing works, and sometimes it doesn't. The first one was OK (partly because the pre-Christian Ireland section was so intriguing), but Rutherfurd will never live up to James Michener's panoramic legacy. If you want to read a superb novel using this timeline device, read Michener's The Source.
The two Mark Pearson books I read because they had been given to me by my mother and late father. The book on Christian healing was all right, though I found the psychobabble a bit tiresome. Why Can't I Be Me? is designed for people who have done the Myers-Briggs psychological tests and who also are actively involved in their church. I didn't find his insights as to how to use INTJ's and ENFP's in church settings to be terribly interesting, to be honest.
Diana Gabaldon is one of my very favourite authors and she seldom disappoints. Her eighteenth-century Lord John series takes a minor character from her more famous Outlander series and uses him to solve mysteries. Lord John is a fascinating and fully fleshed out character in his own right, and the short stories and novella in this collection are well worth a read. Like many others I had waited impatiently for An Echo in the Bone to come out. It's fabulous. I'm completely biased. I adore this series, and am coming to conclusion that Gabaldon could write about Jamie and Claire playing cards for 800 pages and it would still be interesting. So there.
As for Terry Goodkind, he of the Wizard's First Rule series, I am happy to say that, having waded my way through all twelve (thirteen if you count Debt of Bones) books in this series, I WILL NEVER READ ANOTHER BOOK BY TERRY GOODKIND AS LONG AS I LIVE. His books are pompous, poorly written, politically reactionary, and I will shoot myself if I have to listen to Richard bloody Rahl blather on and on for EIGHT PAGES ever again. The sad part is that the first couple of books were great. Then he took off his mask....
John Brookes' Garden Design is an updated version of a long-loved book. After Goodkind's tripe, it was lovely to sink into beautiful photographs of fritillaria and ferns and enjoy a walk down Gardening Fantasy Lane. LOL.
Of Kafka's The Trial, I can only say this: what was I thinking? My brain hurts!
So, thus was 2009 for me. After a week of reading up on old issues of Style 1900, Chatelaine and old alumni magazines, I have returned to Reading Books, and am starting 2010 by rereading Of Mice and Men. I didn't make it to 50 books this year, but I did read a lot of memorable history!