It was also the year that Shakespeare’s Macbeth was played at the Stratford Festival, so I read the play itself over the summer, in a couple of versions. Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King was suggested to me at a bookstore in Stratford, and altho it was a bit historical fiction (romance)-y it was a deeply researched work, which aimed to show Lady Macbeth according to the actual historical record, rather than as a figure in a story aimed at James I of England, the Scottish James VI, who inherited the English throne from his cousin Elizabeth I and who had reasons to support his succession with popular works.
I watched Braveheart, because Mel Gibson used Polanski’s version of Macbeth to inspire his movie, and I am hoping to watch Polanski’s Macbeth before the new year resumes.
I read both the first volume of the memoirs of James McLevy, McLevy: The Edinburgh Detective and David Ashton’s The Shadow of the Serpent, from the fictional Inspector McLevy Mystery Series. McLevy was a real detective working in Edinburgh at the turn of the 20th C, and is a lovely backgrounder to Ian Rankin, and these were the first books of the year. I read them in Kindle, and great hospital waiting room reading they were, too.
I also watched the Korean historical drama series Moon Lovers/Scarlet Heart Ryeo, a succession story with many parallels to Macbeth in addition to the succession struggles, including the female use of soft power rather than legal or armed strength. It was a stunning window into a beautiful and ritualized world of Korea 1000 years ago.
That series connected thru to Margaret Drabble’s Red Queen, also based on a real person, a Korean queen whose real diaries exist in three original versions, and whose first English translators used Macbeth to illuminate the machinations she described. (That work is still on my to-read list.) This was my first Drabble. I tend to prefer the other sister, and I did also read an A.S. Byatt, The Game this year, and it was masterful, as expected.
I also finally got to A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, which is a very satisfying mapping of King Lear onto an American prairie farm, a stunning book which I overlooked during my year of reading Lear. For the record I did also read another alternate Romeo and Juliet, but it was not a favourite.
And in keeping with the dark wintery feel of Scotland, I read a couple of mysteries from melancholy places like Sweden and Vermont, and a very dark summery mystery by Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark, which I am pretty sure is The Inferno.
I reread Jane Eyre with one of my kids as mandatory summer reading, and was mightily impressed by the power of Jane as well as the power of Charlotte Bronte as a writer and moralist. I saw and felt why the book remains a generally-considered top 10 book in English. (Sadly, I did not actually read a first edition copy.)
The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne was a huge favourite of the year. It is about a 6’7” weight-lifting Mormon librarian with Tourette’s. Oh and it’s a non-fiction memoir!
Dystopian fiction is still hanging in there with the Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver. I read this in a reading group with a few of my high school classmates, and I preferred it to my own choice for that group, a book by Canadian writer Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down.
Then there was my beautiful Slavic mermaid favourite by Michelle Tea, Girl at the Bottom of the Sea, the second in a series published by McSweeney's, and my other YA favourite of the year Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, a real piece of meta-fiction, the writer’s fan fiction version of the fan fiction created by a the main character in her book Fan Girl, who writes about a fictional piece of fiction…
The graphic non-fiction winner of the year is Alison Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, I book I often recommend to people looking to get into graphic. Bechdel is also the source of the fabulous Bechdel test, which is a bar of acceptability reached if two named women characters can be onscreen in a movie without talking about a man.
The total books read was 50 of which 19 are on this list, not the highest count ever, but many really great books. Additionally connected are a film, a play IRL and on video, and a TV series. Eight books were by Canadian writers, eleven were fiction, two were memoirs, two were about Shakespeare.