I might be spending all of December eschewing my reading list (it’s seriously out of control at this point) and delving back into books I’ve loved in the past, but only because I needed a mental break from all the new and wonderful books that came into my life this year. And let me tell you, it was a damned good year for reading, even if my travels and social life meant that I didn’t hit the same page count as previous years!
The Night Manager - John le Carré
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, it’s a double win for John le Carré’s The Night Manager (in different formats of course)! After finishing off the amazing mini-series I headed right out to the bookshop to hunt for a copy of the novel. Low and behold, my shopping karma offered me up a first edition hardcover in near mint condition from my favourite local secondhand shop - SCORE (and cue rampant jealousy from my book-loving friends)! Now the novel may not have Tom Hiddleston to feast your eyes on, but thus far this is the most intimately Le Carré has ever gotten into any of his characters - even above the ever-popular George Smiley. The tv series delves well into all of the characters (as I discussed last week), but the novel’s focus is set squarely on our unlikely hero Jonathan Pine and his drive to take down Richard Onslow Roper is clearly driven by a simmering anger that most didn’t quite pick up on in the tv series. Anger at the death of a woman he briefly loved, at the ineffectiveness of the British intelligence apparatus, at the blindness of people, at the unfairness of the world - all culminating into a brilliant deep-cover mission that reads as an ode to “going forward because there's nothing behind and running because if you stand still any longer you'll fall over.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Charles Vess & William Shakespeare
I hit the highest point ever of book karma this year when I finally cracked open Charles Vess’ illustrated version of my favourite Shakespeare play. Not only was I treated to one of my favourite stories combined with the most perfect artwork I can imagine for it, but I had previously missed the inscription penned on the inside cover. It is addressed to [a different] Jaimie with “best wishes,” 1989. Seriously, what kind of past life synergy would make a personalized inscription to a person who spells their name the same way that I do in the year after I was born occur? This is officially my proof that magic exists in the real world - if only you open the pages of a book!
Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, volume 1: Birds, Bees, Blood, & Beer - Ben Templesmith
If creepy, supernatural, beautifully illustrated, blood-soaked, oddly endearing graphic novels are your jam (like they are mine), this is one series not to miss. I picked the first volume up for a song from a library book sale a while back, and finally got around to reading it this year and boy was I glad I decided to take a chance on it. It has hints of everything that I love about the urban fantasy genre (throwing unexpected characters together, treading on modernist themes in a dark faerie tale environment, and plenty of adventure) and takes full advantage of the graphic novel medium to depict the stunningly strange story of one of the oddest protagonists I’ve ever encountered - a supernaturally endowed worm with varying powers, aptly named Wormwood as he is as intoxicating as he is soaked in dry wit. It’s really just too bad that the series had to end so quickly, since, in my opinion, this is one of the few expressions of Templesmith’s art in which he is truly free to roam the depths of his dark imagination.
The Lies of Locke Lamora (The Gentleman Bastards #1) - Scott Lynch
Lately it’s been very rare that I pick up a 400+ page book and read it cover to cover in basically one sitting, but once I started reading this book there was really no other alternative. I read it while puppy-sitting the infamous Oscar & Felix (aka the Odd Couple), and literally every minute of that long weekend that I wasn’t playing with them or traipsing around their park my eyes were glued to the adventures of Locke Lamora & the Gentleman Bastards - the most notorious crew of thieves and con-men that the port city of Camorr has ever seen. Lynch’s story reads like a one-off crime caper, but as the series progresses (I also read the rest of the books in preparation for the release of the fourth book this Autumn, which didn’t happen…) the quarrels that Locke & co. pick in this first act start to come full circle and are hopefully building into a fantastic fourth book. The key that makes Lynch’s story so successful, in my opinion, is that he builds his characters and the world that they play in to a very specific point - just enough information to keep the story going but with endless opportunity to build more, which he later takes full advantage of to create well-rounded stories and characters which go far beyond what on the surface seems like a simple caper. Now if only Lynch would hurry up and get the next book published!!!
I know, including what is technically a re-read novel on the best-of list is cheating a bit, but how could I resist gushing about the beautifully illustrated edition of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone that came out last Autumn? Harry Potter was and is such a big deal for my generation that this illustrated version could have been judged very poorly if they hadn’t done a good job, but thankfully Rowling has exceptional taste and this is definitely the beginning of a wonderful collaboration with artist Jim Kay!
**images from Goodreads