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January began with the completion of my MA as well as well as the rumblings of the ‘credit crunch’. First off the block to voice funding fears were the indie publishers who began to fret over potential Arts Council funding that, unfortunately for some, such as Ambit Magazine, came to pass in the first quarter. Never mind, at least Waterstone’s launched their ‘Writers Year’ – although when it could ever claim not to have a writers year is beyond me as without them there is no Waterstone’s.

It was also the month in which I finished my first Bernard Malamud novel, his excellent The Assistant, which earned my unbridled praises and I declared that I would consider myself very happy if I read anything this year of a similar calibre. Well, I should have been very happy. Well, not very with all other things considered, but quite satisfied with quite a bit of what I picked to read throughout the year, although I wasn't that enamoured with some of the books published during the year like Rose Tremain's The Road Home, nor, whilst certainly finding it a good read, could I buy wholesale into the love-fest around Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost. I was also mightily disappointed that Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture didn't win The Booker Prize, even though by all accounts, it was just pipped to the post mainly because a few other Irish works had already won the prize in recent years! I haven't read winner Adiga's The White Tiger, so cannot compare, alas. There were also those kookie little novels that you wonder how to position such as Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog which I found endearing, but didn't quite make the favourites list simply because I felt she stinted on depth. If I have to pick just one favourite read of 2008 it would have to be Georgina Harding's The Solitude of Thomas Cave, it moved me in such a profound way and hard to believe it was her debut novel, although Harding has written non-fiction. She will definitely be one to look out for, although, just as I was looking forward to reading more of Per Petterson, he of Out Stealing Horses, this year I also wanted desperately to be as moved by To Siberia and In the Wake, but was left a bit cold by both. One of the key trends for this year was the engagement with language that a few novelists demonstrated. There were many books published this year that I will probably not get round to reading until years hence, like Zoe Heller's The Believers, or Siri Hustvedt's Sorrows of an American and Eminem's (auto)biography, The Way I Am.

Favourite film of the year had to be Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. Favourite song is the not very well known Ane Brun's Lullaby for Grown-Ups, which is just divine, although M.I.A.'s Paper Planes is quite special too.

I am predicting that next year is going to yield some special works that, like some of the great work producing throughout the eighties, really engage with the structures of society and have some of us seeing anew. Hopefully this will mean more of a stepping away from much of the crass formula-fiction, though as most people seem to gobble it up by the bucketload this isn't very likely. Dystopias are going to be a trend throughout which, some would say is inevitable, given the much proclaimed financial bloodbaths heralded for the duration of 2009. But then so too will the saccharine utopia, for one without the other cannot be. In any case, it should be nothing if not interesting. And my New Year's resolution is that I will work at keeping my blog a bit more up-to-date - maybe even earmark a particular day of the week when I post.

Here are my favourite reads of 2008:
Bernard Malamud, The Assistant
Anita Brooker, Hotel du Lac
Patrick Hamilton, Slaves of Solitude
Georgina Harding, The Solitude of Thomas Cave
Bernhard Schlink, The Reader – about to hit cinema screens with Kate Winslet
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture – close runner for Booker Prize
Erich Fromm, Sane Society, Fear of Freedom, Man for Himself
Dannie Abse, The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds and Dr Glas
William Trevor, Reading Turgenev
William Trevor,
Felicia’s Journey
Bernard McLaverty, Grace Notes
Patrick McGrath, Trauma
Brian O’Doherty, The Deposition of Father McGreevy
John Worthern, D.H. Lawrence – Life of an Outsider
Siri Hustvedt, What I loved

Whilst I’m not feeling that engaged with stories in books at the moment I am listening to lots of music with their own stories, like:

M.I.A. – Paper Planes
Ane Brun – Lullaby for Grown Ups
Florence and the Machine – Dog Days are Over
The Dubliners – Oro se do Bheatha Bhaile
Dusty Springfield – I just don’t know what to do with myself
50 Cent – Get Up

And poetry:

Arthur Hugh Clough, Say not the Struggle Naught Availeth

A.S.J. Tessimond, Not Love Perhaps

Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal, Song

Vachel Lindsay, The Leaden-Eyed

Thomas Moore, Oft in the Stilly Night

And films:

There Will be Blood

Waltz with Bashir

In Bruges

Gone Baby, Gone

I've Loved You So Long

Lives of Others

Notable deaths of the year:
My Mum - Joan Theresa Webb nee Fitzgerald Sanders
Simon Gray – Writer
Harold Pinter – Playwright
Pat Kavanagh – Literary agent

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