It's a great insight into the way Montana Medal winner Charlotte Grimshaw thinks to see she's read Tim Winton's Breath three times for enjoyment and 'out of what you might call technical interest.' Also interesting to see Menton fellow Damien Wilkins putting Marilynne Robinson's Home as his favourite novel. I remember discussing the book she wrote as its precursor - Gilead - with Damien when he was my tutor in creative writing at Victoria University. I am trying to remember if I got onto Robinson's writing in the first place because Damien recommended her first novel Housekeeping which is a modern classic. Come to think of it, I think he did. I loved Gilead very much but when I saw Home I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to that careful, quiet, constructed world again. Maybe I should (Elizabeth Knox loved it too I see).
And both Damien Wilkins and KM Award winner Julian Novitz seem to have loved Ellie Catton's spiky debut The Rehearsal which is another book I've been holding off reading because I know it's terribly clever with wonderful words. I usually want more than that from a novel you see. Then again, I think maybe I should stop thinking about it and just buy the book. When I heard Catton read from the manuscript a couple of years ago I was transfixed.
Lastly, good to see Vanda Symon's The Ringmaster, Sue Orr's Etiquette for a Dinner Party and My Father's Shadow: A Portrait of Justice Peter Mahon by Sam Mahon on the list. From my bookshop dips into each, and Mahon's reading at the Christchurch writers' festival, this is well-deserved and I intend to read all three forthwith.
Actually, my favourite 'best of' list didn't make it into The Listener.
MY BEST BOOKS 2008 (The NZ Listener)
My top books for the first time ever are all non-fiction. First up: Rita Angus, An Artist’s Life by Jill Trevelyan (Te Papa Press). It is the whole package: exquisitely produced with a tantalising subject, stunning art plates, and prose that levers open the woman, her art and her time. Then there’s The Love School, Personal Essays by Elizabeth Knox (VUP) which I confess I have skimmed and am now reading, and find a thrilling insight into the mind of one of this country’s most imaginative and audacious writers.
Third on the list is Corvus, A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson (Granta) - a memoir about this writer’s unusual family in Aberdeen which has at different times included a rook, a crow and a magpie. This book offers up intelligent personal observations and facts that challenged my understanding of birds and the rest of the natural world.