It’s perhaps already little late for a review of the previous year, but given that I failed to publish this at all last year (where my draft which I remember writing went I have no idea), and that my 2007 and 2006 reviews were written even later in January than this one, I’m not doing so bad. I enjoy doing this though as it gets me thinking about the best of the last year, and so I’ll use most of the same categories as in the past but add in an extra one.
BEST FICTION READ IN 2009
In 2009 I read more books than I had in the whole of the previous three years. When I was younger I was an avid reader, but this changed when I started doing lots of other things with my time and so the only time read was in bed and so one book would take months as I’d fall asleep after one page. My longer commute to work since April has changed all of that, but it also means I have so many books to choose from as the best of the year. So I’m going to pick out two, but recommend a few others in passing.
The first was mainly read in 2008, but I finished it at the start of 2009 and would probably have been last year’s choice if I’d written a review. That book is The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. A modern classic, this book is either loved or hated. But I loved it. It’s an odd book in that very little happens in it and it never really comes to a conclusion. Instead it goes through the thoughts and emotions of someone who seems to have a lot of teenage angst, although his thoughts are a lot more complicated than that. Although I wouldn’t say that Holden Caulfield is like me, there were many points in the book where I could really relate to the character and I understood where he was coming from. It’s rare that happens in a book. This isn’t the sort of book I would normally choose to read, but given that it is so often referred to by other writers and that it has legendary status through its connection to the murder of John Lennon, I was intrigued. I am now very glad I read it.
The other book I’m going to pick out is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. There probably isn’t much more I can say about this book that I didn’t say in my own review or the thousands of articles that have been written about the book and its author in the last year. But it’s just a very good story with an unpredictable ending, and is both very Swedish yet with broader appeal.
The other books I should mention are: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (funny, not what I’d normally read, but enjoyable), The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (well written, beautiful book – as described in my review), and Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (the book that got me in to the briliant Rebus books – how could I have left it so long?).
BEST POLITICAL READ IN 2009
Without a doubt, it’s The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe. If you’re interested in political campaigning and/or American politics, then this is a book for you, as this is the story of how Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, by the person who ran the campaign. For me, this book was far more interesting than Barack Obama’s own books and shows how they built the campaign from no infrastructure but an idea that Obama would be good, to an improbably but decisive victory. I had intended to do a proper review of this excellent book, but I didn’t get around to it. But it’s something I will still do.
BEST SINGLE IN 2009
I’ve already been asked on Facebook to list my 15 best singles of 2009, but I struggled to list that many. Put simply – I just don’t listen to the radio like I used to and so my knowledge of new music comes largely from free tracks on iTunes (not usually that great) or Later with Jools Holland (a lot better). My choice though is actually two very different singles – Remedy by Little Boots and All the King’s Men by Wild Beasts. In passing I must also mention Daniel by Bat for Lashes as well.
Little Boots is pure pop and Remedy is quite a camp song, but it’s great. I reviewed it back in June, but what really sealed it was seeing her perform at Sheffield Music City, which was Sheffield’s free music festival held in the city centre last July. It is now coming back again in 2010, which is great as it created a real buzz for the whole weekend. Little Boots’ energetic performance on Devonshire Green as the sun started to set was terrific, and I still associate the song with that day. It’s unbelievably catchy.
All the King’s Men by Wild Beasts is completely different, except in one respect. It is also a song that sticks in your head, and I suppose that is what unites most of the music I like even though it is usually all different genres. Again I reviewed this earlier in the year after hearing it performed on Jools Holland. It’s a very different sound from a lot of songs that come out, and that’s the main reason I love it.
BEST POLITICAL MOMENT IN 2009
Politically, 2009 has been less eventful than most recent years as there hasn’t been a normal run of elections that I’ve been involved with. So rather than just picking a personal one, I’m going to go for two radically different moments – one local and one international.
The local one was the East Ecclesfield by-election for Sheffield City Council. This was the first test that the Lib Dems had had since taking control of the council, with both Labour and the Conservatives running quite strong campaigns and the BNP also delivering leaflets. So Colin Taylor’s comfortable victory was both a relief and an achievement, plus he is a thoroughly nice guy too.
The international one was the swearing in of Barack Obama as the President of the United States. Not as good as the election itself for excitement, but still a great moment for obvious reasons.
BEST PLACE I’VE VISITED IN 2009
I’ve not been to many places this year outside Sheffield and London, except Stamford for a wedding and Weem near Aberfeldy for a stag do. Stamford is a lovely town and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Weem, but I am going to have to pick Hebden Bridge as it probably won’t qualify anymore as I’m there every day now. I might work there, but until I changed jobs I’d only been to the town once before. It’s a beautiful town, full of independent shops and with a unusual feel that is both very Yorkshire but also slightly hippy. I feel very lucky to be based there, even if it can be drag to travel up there some days.
THE MOST SURPRISING THING I’VE DONE IN 2009
This isn’t an easy one actually. I suppose the most surprising thing is to change jobs. I really enjoyed working in Liberal Democrat campaigns and in particular for Nick Clegg and Sheffield Hallam. However, sometimes you need a change and my new job was an opportunity that might not have come along again.
A big surprise though, and an odd choice to pick, is that I’ve developed a love of spending days at my parents’ house. I’ve always got on with my Mum and Dad, but until recently I didn’t necessarily see spending a day with them in their home as a highlight of my week. It’s not that I actively didn’t look forward to it, it’s just that it wasn’t something special. I think it’s partly come out because I’ve had a year of trying to save money and so it’s about the only change of scenery I get (even though it’s only 3 miles from home), but also because there’s something comforting and stable about it, and perhaps also because I get a decent meal out of it. It’s the house I grew up in and it’s just a bit of a safe haven from the stresses of the rest of the world and my new job no longer means that I’m always getting phone calls from people while I’m there. An odd choice perhaps, but probably the best one to pick.
THE BEST THING I’VE DONE IN 2009
This is a dull answer, but a realistic one. I got on top of my finances. I’ve had some expensive years, ever since I moved from Derby. Now finally my financial picture is better as I’ve managed to pay off some debts and I’ve had a more stable income for year. The decision to pay off debts has nothing to do with the recession, it was just something I needed to do and this happened to be the year when it finally became more achievable. This should hopefully make 2010 a better year.
THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO OR HOPING I WILL ACHIEVE IN 2010
Some that spring immediately to mind, whether achievable or not are:
- Hopefully being elected as the Liberal Democrat councillor for Nether Edge ward in Sheffield.
- Seeing Liberal Democrat gains in the General Election.
- I doubt this will happen, but I must do more photography as it’s something I’ve really got interested in over the last couple of years. It’s just a shame that I don’t have a decent camera.
- Like the last point, I would love to make a start on the book I’ve been wanting to write for years, but I doubt I will.
- New albums from Delays, Amy MacDonald, Hard-Fi and Amy Winehouse.
- Visiting my friends more often.