The Year in Reading: Books 21 & 22?

I meant to keep better track of all the books I’ve read this year, but I managed to lose track already. I thought I’d give a quick report of the last two books I’ve finished.

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel is every bit as good as the reviews made it out to be. One of my favorite writers, Mantel’s darkly comic novel tells the story of Alison, a professional medium, and her assistant Colette. A psychic you say? And a real one at that complete with a spirit guide, who causes no end of grief. Alison comes to terms with her dark past and Mantel slowly reveals the emergence of Alison’s “gift” while growing up in a really awful home. Colette meanwhile has broken with her husband of several years in a sort of attempt to wrest control of her life. She manages Alison’s career but at the same time hold her in contempt for many reasons one of which is her plus size. The dead demand Alison’s ear, not matter when or where she is and Mantel captures the dark, grittiness of the spirit world (which eerily doesn’t seem all that different from the world of the living). Not many authors do ugliness and unhappiness like Mantel and this book kept me turning pages both backwards and forwards as I read and reread.

On a lighter note, I picked up A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson because of its delightful cover. Princeton Architectural Press produced a high quality book complete with French flaps and gorgeous reproductions of Williamson’s illustrations of Japanese life. Like the title mentions, she spent a year in Japan observing the daily life and she did these wonderful illustrations of the small details she experienced. The book doesn’t take long to read—there’s not much text—but you can continually pick up the book, open it to a random page, and feast on a small bite, say about riding the shinkansen (the bullet train) or the wonderful socks she discovers there (who knew the Japanese loved socks so much). It’s a lovely book.

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