I migliori libri dell’anno:2010. Articolo pubblicato da Guardian.co.uk.
Best books of the year: 2010
How many picked Jonathan Franzen? And who’s the only one to recommend Tony Blair’s autobiography? Writers and public figures tell the Observer about their favourite books of 2010
Jonathan Franzen‘s Freedom (Fourth Estate) was head and shoulders above any other book this year: moving, funny, and unexpectedly beautiful. I missed it when it was over. Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat (Virgin) was like its author: fascinating, precise, opinionated, brilliant. I loved Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate (Faber). Never has anyone made me feel so close to the terrifying and occasionally exhilarating insanity that is stand-up comedy.
I enjoyed – if that can be the word – The Big Short by Michael Lewis (Allen Lane), an account of how a group of people contrived to bring the banking system to its knees, to take much of your money and many of your jobs, to condemn your children to a life of debt – and got away unpunished, with millions in their own back pockets. It’s in the interest of bankers to pretend that their work is too technical for lay people to follow, but in an account such as Michael Lewis’s, it’s really not that difficult. It’s quite clear what they did. Harder to understand is how they got away with it.
Editor, the Lady
Hitch-22 (Atlantic) by Christopher Hitchens is like a tin of Pedigree Chum: solid, meaty nourishment. Hitchens is incapable of writing a boring sentence. When he asks himself what he’d like to be different if he had to be the Hitch all over again, he answers: “more money, an even sturdier penis, slightly different parents, a briefer latency period”. I cried several times during Deborah Devonshire’s memoir Wait for Me! (John Murray), mainly at deaths: sister Nancy, brother Tom, and her three stillborn children. The calibre of events, cast and author could hardly be higher and Debo has gracefully potted an extraordinary life (though ordinary to her) with kindness and humour.
Historian and politician
Putting his little local difficulty behind him, Orlando Figes showed in Crimea: The Last Crusade (Allen Lane) why he is such a stellar historian. As ever, it mixes strong narrative pace, a grand canvas and compelling ideas about current geopolitical tensions. In The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent (Frances Lincoln), Matthew Rice, partner to top potter Emma Bridgewater, provides a clarion call to the “Five Towns” to stop knocking down the bottle kilns and pot banks and start preserving one of the civic gems of England. New Labour never had much time for history, but since the end of office, you can’t stop them writing the stuff. Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man (HarperPress) has the most authentic feel in a genuine account of his role in, out, in, out and in government.
When I fought the last election I never imagined I would be in cabinet with Nick Clegg – and certainly never thought I would be recommending Tony Blair’s A Journey (Hutchinson). But he has done politicians a favour by reinventing the art of the memoir in a way not achieved since Alan Clark’s Diaries. Funny and self-deprecating, they are also deeply manipulative beneath the surface. His best advice to ministers? Don’t make enemies deliberately as you’ll make plenty accidentally.
I once tried to write a prose memoir but couldn’t find the right tone of voice. Three authors who did published books this year. Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens (Atlantic), Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay (Picador), and My Father’s Fortune: A Life by Michael Frayn (Faber) are all beautifully written. On my summer holiday I was surprised to find myself enjoying a fat book about the Soviet economy. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (Faber) mixes fact and fiction, with the benefit of scrupulous notes to tell the reader which is which. Without the notes I would have found it frustrating. With them it’s terrific.
Civil rights campaigner
Gareth Peirce is such a private person that despite a momentous career (representing the Birmingham Six, Lockerbie families and Guantánamo detainees among others), Dispatches from the Dark Side (Verso) is her first book. It is a timely reminder of the darker side of lawlessness in freedom’s name. The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley (Penguin) is an impartial journalistic examination of New Labour by one of Britain’s finest political commentators.
Poet and critic
Hampton on Hampton (Faber) is a series of interviews with the playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton that amounts to an artistic autobiography. Intellectually intimate, unpretentious, informative, entertaining, anecdotal, fearless, funny, serious. Simon Armitage, the best poet of his generation, has produced a book of prose-poems, Seeing Stars (Faber), full of compelling, quirky, inventive, surreal tales. In January, I read his incomparable translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This autumn, I was charmed by the comedy of these spellbinding dispatches.
I enjoyed Chef by Jaspreet Singh (Bloomsbury). Its themes of food and war and love and poetry form a series of intricate tightropes that the author treads skilfully, bringing us, in a short book, a lot of pleasures. I read Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport (Profile) with smiles of recognition, nods of approval and sighs of admiration. Most people can’t wait to get away from airports. I’m very glad he stayed.