That was the year that was 2009

Yes, it was a year peppered with unemployment figures, the coinage of new recession-related terms such as 'staycation' and the liberal peppering of credit-crunch this, that and the other. Yet 2009 got off to a good start with the arrival of the much-awaited Sam Mendes film adaptation of Richard Yates novel, Revolutionary Road. The film was faithful to the book and the actor playing Givings, the so-called 'mad-man' won much critical acclaim, with some calling him the true star of a film which starred Di Caprio and Winslet. Sebastian Barry was also rewarded for his brilliant book, The Secret Scripture, which won The Costa. February was the month in which my own book, A Clockwork Apple, was made into a question on University Challenge, which made me happier than seeing a review in print! Talking of reviews, I think one of my biggest gripes this year was the need for newspapers book sections to review a hardback then review it again once out in paperback, giving a title (usually the 'big' names), two bites of the precious publicity cherry. There was more for the books pages to talk about, however, in March when Julie Myerson's strange little book, The Lost Child, was published, documenting some of her teenage son's wayward antics, resulting in Myerson being grilled, painfully, on Newsnight. At the opposite end of the spectrum there was much critical fanfare to greet the publication of The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Just glad I wasn't one of those charged with having to decipher his notoriously bad handwriting. March was also the month in which I read my first Zoe Heller, and my was it good, The Believers. From book to theatre I went along to The Old Vic to see Dancing at Lughnasa, in which Andrea Corr silenced any critics she may have had. April was also the month to try out another author I hadn't yet read, Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, which, to use a cliche, was profound, and was justly rewarded by the critics (but not the prize judges) - and the booksales! April also delivered the new (for me much awaited) biography of Friedrich Engels, by media-savvy young historian (and friend of Lord Mandy), Tristam Hunt. Hunt had said that there would be more covered on Engels' long-term partners, Mary and Lizzie Burns, but I didn't find this the case. May was an eventful month in literary circles with the nominations for Oxford Professor of Poetry - Ruth Padel going head to head with Derek Walcott. Walcott's campaign had a spanner thrown in the works when a smear campaign was launched against him. Thus, Padel was declared the victor. But not for long. The whole thing blew up and got ugly when Ruth Padel was identified as the source of the smear campaign! She promptly stood down. Don't ask me who took on the mantle. It wasn't Walcott - he turned his back on Oxford and instead took up a similar honour at Essex University! June saw a rare first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses going for a snip - at £275,000! A strange muse came to me mid-year in the form of The Lady of Shallot, despite not having read Tennyson's poem of the same name, which I then turned to. Timely, then, that the Royal Academy ran an exhibition on Alfred Waterhouse 'the modern Pre-Raphaelite', which I duly went to see. It was back to the theatre, the Donmar to be precise, in June to see Gillian Anderson, Christopher Ecclestone and Tara Fitzgerald in the reworking of Ibsen's The Doll's House. With September came the announcement of those lucky things who had made the Booker shortlist, with Coetzee, Byatt and Mantel heading the list. Shockingly, Toibin dropped off! It wasn't long before the secretive Nobel prize-winner was announced, bringing to my consciousness, a writer I had been thus far, ignorant, Herta Muller. Don Paterson beat New York poet, Sharon Olds to win the Forward Poetry Prize, for his collection, Rain, but not before much fanfare around Hilary Mantel's clinching of the Booker with Wolf Hall.

Some of the books bought - and read!
The Making of the English Working-Class, by EP Thompson
The Book of Dead Philosophers, by Simon Critchley
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol 1
The Believers, by Zoe Heller
Penguin's Poetry for Life
The Street Philosopher, Matthew Plampin
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
Love's Executioner, and When Nietzsche Wept, by Irvin Yalom
Strange Days Indeed, by Francis Wheen (review copy from Tribune)
The House of Wittgenstein, by Alexander Waugh
Faber Book of Modern Verse
Biography, an Introduction, by Hermione Lee
Main Currents in Marxism, Leszek Kolakowski


Notable essays of 2009:
Andrew O'Hagan's Orwell memorial lecture, as featured in The Observer, on the apathy of the working-class.
Adam Phillips - In Praise of Difficult Children, London Review of Books.

Bought and wanted to read, but relegated to 'to read' pile:
Too many to mention!

Didn't buy, but want to read:
The Strangest Man - The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac
Alone in Berlin, by Hans Fallada
Incredible Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier
Muriel Spark, the biography, by Martin Stannard
Ted Hughes, letters

Started to read but didn't finish:
Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte
The Outlander
The Post Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig
Firmin, by Sam Savage
Friedrich Engels, by Tristram Hunt
Adam Gould, by Julia O'Faolain
The Last Great War, by Adrian Gregory (review copy from Tribune)
Summertime, by J.M. Coetzee
Written Lives, by Javier Marias

Some Notable Deaths of 2009
John Updike
J.G. Ballard
My friend, Alex Georgakis
Frank McCourt
Leszek Kolakowski
Claude Levi-Strauss (he was 100!)

People most got on my wick during 2009:
Stephen bloody Fry - ubiquitous is an understatement!

Favourite films of 2009:
Looking for Eric, Ken Loach/Eric Cantona
The White Ribbon
Seraphine
A Serious Man
The Wrestler
Two Lovers
Revolutionary Road

Favourite plays of 2009:
The Doll's House, The Donmar

Favourite art piece of the year:
Gillian Carnegie's Black Square - seen at Tate Britain and Tate St. Ives

Poets I came to like:
Frank O'Hara
Ted Hughes
William Stafford

Articles and reviews I managed to write this year:
On Gaskell's House - The Guardian
On Keats' House - The Guardian
On education - Society Today
Review of Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed for Tribune
On reality TV - The Guardian
On the death of the last WW1 veteran, Harry Patch, for The Guardian
Stop the hand-writing on prostitution, The Guardian

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