Dan Brown doesn’t do it for you? Jeremy Harmer’s greatest hits leave you unquenched? Try these:
Best Fiction of 2016 so far
Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time.
A real tour de force by Barnes who does a fine job of transmitting the true horror of Stalinist Russia’s denial of free expression, the awful results of the absolute and fickle control of philistines over culture, the constant fear under which everybody lived their lives. This is a very powerful book, “a condensed masterpiece that traces the lifelong battle of one man’s conscience, one man’s art, with the insupportable exigencies of totalitarianism” as Guardian critic Alex Preston says in his review. Not the most relaxing pool side read, not easy, not light, but it’s a compelling story and it left me with a re-kindled fear of totalitarian regimes and a grudging gratitude for living in the West.
Best Fiction I’ve read in 2016 so far
Edward St Aubyn: The Melrose Novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to find these 5 novels, but I’m so glad that I finally had the chance to enjoy them. From the opening lines of the first book – Never Mind – to the last lines of book 5 – At Last – St Aubyn dazzles with his quite extraordinary writing. He tells a harrowing tale, but he tells it with verve, sparkle, wit and honesty; he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t hold back and there’s not a trace of bathos or self-pity. I don’t think I’ve ever been so initially impressed with a novelist’s style. The 5 books rip along – you can read the lot in a week. The story is awful, starting with how he was consistently raped by his father. It’s frightening, it’s magnificent, it’s funny, it’s appalling, it’s heroic, it’s witty; it’s tragic, it’s inspring. St. Auybyn says that writing these books saved his life and it’s obvious that they’re cathartic. You have to read them all, but if you only have time for one, then I recommend Mother’s Milk. If you think Silvia Plath was scathing about her dad, read what St Aubyn has to say about his mum – the mum who did nothing to protect him from his dad’s abuse.
Best Non-Fiction books of 2016 so far
Yanis Varoufakis And The Weak Suffer What They Must?
The Greek Finance Minister takes us on a compelling ride through the eurozone from post Second World War attempts at recovery to the inevitable collapse in 2008 and beyond. This is a fresh, persuasive narrative which argues that “the weakest citizens of the weakest nations have paid the price for bankers’ mistakes” and that “the principle of the greatest austerity for those suffering the greatest recessions has led to a resurgence of racist extremism.” Well-written and well-informed, with perhaps just a tad too much reliance on fiscal and monetary shenanigans to explain the fundamental flaws in the EU, this is a real pool side page turner; no really: it is.
Miichael Greger: How Not To Die.
The best guide to healthy eating ever written. All the top causes of premature death – heart disease, various cancers, diabetes and many more – can be beaten by “nutritional and lifestyle interventions”. Well. I’ll grant you that that isn’t the best phrase ever written, but the book is wonderfully clear and very practical. We really must stop eating red meat and processed food. Unprocessed plant foods – beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other veg., flaxseeds, nuts, spices, whole grains – plus lots of teas and water, is what you need. Greger argues his case very forcefully, but he’s not a zealot. Here’s a sample:
Whenever I’m asked whether a certain food is healthy or not, I reply “Compared to what?” For example, are eggs healthy? Compared to oatmeal, definitely not. But compared to the sausage links next to them on the breakfast platter? Yes.
Best New Book on SLA so far in 2016
Stefano Rastelli Discontinuity in SLA.
I’ve already given Mike Loing’s review of this book, so suffice it to say that it’s a must read. Tired of bullshit from the likes of Larsen Freeman? Read this. Stefano will deliver a paper on Intra language at the upcoming SLRF conference in September- stand by! If you’re pool side, get in the shade, put down that drink and read Rastelli’s book. It’s invigorating. Mike Long has already questioned bits of it, and I await the verdicts of Kevin Gregg, Nick Ellis, Peter Robinson, William O’Grady and others. I wonder what Scott Thornbury will make of it.
Best Book on SLA I’ve read in 2016 so far
William O’Grady How Children Learn Language. Kevin Gregg chastised me for not having already read this book. It’s superb. The clarity of O’Grady’s writing is supreme, and the force of his argument is daunting. All those who fumble and stumble in their criticisms of Chomsky’s UG should read O’Grady’s splendid work. It’s one of the best books on language learning I’ve ever read. It’s accessable, it’s persuasive, it’s a model of coherence and cohesion. It should, in my opinion, be required reading on any ELT course.
Best Book on ELT so far in 2016
Brian Tomlinson (ed) SLA Research and Materials Development For Language Learning. I’m a bit wary about recommending this book because I haven’t finished reading it, but it looks good. It has Tomlinson’s hand all over it, and it’s uneven, but still, it has some some good chapters in it, including some that slam the use of cousebooks and give a much more considered view of how lexical chunks should be dealt with than that provided by the usual suspects, who give so little evidence of scholarship.
And if you don’t like the sound of any of the above books, may I recommend Thomas Pynchon’s V – the best novel I’ve ever read.
Have a great summer.