Terence Blacker: My choices for Unread Books of the Year...

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The Independent Online

Every year it is the same. At the very moment when I am in a full state of Christmas denial, literary editors spoil it all by begging me to contribute to their accursed "Books of the Year" lists. Which new book have I enjoyed most? Have I encountered a tour de force? Which authors have been "on sparkling form" and have offered "a rare treat for their many fans"?

Every year it is the same. At the very moment when I am in a full state of Christmas denial, literary editors spoil it all by begging me to contribute to their accursed "Books of the Year" lists. Which new book have I enjoyed most? Have I encountered a tour de force? Which authors have been "on sparkling form" and have offered "a rare treat for their many fans"?

Heaven knows, it's tempting to join in this great game. A carefully selected list can give untold pleasure to writer pals whose works you have puffed, not to mention ensuring a plentiful supply of free books and invitations from publishers in the coming year. Simply by casually recommending a Russian novel, scandalously yet to find a translator, can lift your literary credibility by several notches.

But that would be dishonest. The truth is, there is more to life than books. Keeping up with each week's masterpieces, however "compelling" or "timely", can seriously interfere with the business of living. For this reason, I plan to recommend to busy people like myself the publications which have given me most pleasure this year by remaining unbought and ignored – my Unread Books of the Year.

2001 has been a vintage year for the non-reader. For those weary of the military fantasising to be found in the daily press, the latest SAS yarn by Andy McNab will have been one to avoid, while a spate of celebrity memoirs – by Frank Skinner, George Best, Betty Boothroyd, Robbie Williams and Jim Davidson – has offered hours of contented non-reading for anyone allergic to egotism presented in tired, often second-hand prose.

My personal nomination for unread showbiz volume is Pamela Stephenson's biography of husband Billy Connolly. It is a useful rule of thumb that anything written by someone who reduces Michael Parkinson to helpless, ingratiating laughter on his show should be avoided, but Pam and Billy went one better by including the obligatory child abuse story.

I would have liked also to have recommended Julie Burchill's essay on David Beckham, but have to confess that I was caught unawares by a newspaper serialisation and found it rather good. Another moment of weakness found me listening to Stella Rimington's MI5 memories on the radio – an account so hilariously dull and self-important as to make it oddly compelling.

The year's fiction has offered a feast for non-readers. Margaret Drabble's The Peppered Moth has to be a leading contender as is, rather more mysteriously, Number9dream by the fashionable David Mitchell. New books by Nick Hornby and Pat Barker have slipped through the dragnet – as an admirer of their past work, I was disappointed not to have steered clear of these latest disappointments – but I have been particularly pleased to have held out against Tony Parsons's One for my Baby.

On the publication of his last book, Parsons wrote in The Spectator, quoting at length from his alleged fan mail and describing how he, with his agent and publisher (all men) had gone through his manuscript making the female characters more attractive and sympathetic in order to appeal to women readers. Who could resist resisting the work of an author who works with that degree of dedicated cynicism?

Others have made a late run into contention for my Unread Books of the Year – Paul McCartney's poems, Harry Potter, yet another Rumpole from John Mortimer – but my last nomination is for an author who has made me laugh in the past but whose bullying puns are now as amusing as cluster bombs, Kathy Lette. The last time I read one of her novels, the phrase "a stiff upper clit" made me drop the book and run, blushing, from the room. Promoting her latest, Nip 'N' Tuck, she has given the joke another outing, describing it as "clit-lit". It has to be a must for non-readers everywhere.

terblacker@aol.com

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