Books – 2016

Books Read: 12 months of reading in 2015 and plans for 2016

A brand-new place to share my eccentricities…

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Currently Reading

  • Virginia Woolf in Manhattan: Maggie Gee (fiction)
  • The Sense of Style: Steven Pinker (non-fiction)
  • A Greater Place of Safety: Hilary Mantel (audiobook – historical fiction)

Reading Goals of 2016

  • Read one book a month off my bookshelf that I’ve not read yet – old purchases, long-forgotten leather-bound classics, things I’ve not been able to get into yet (e.g., Blood Meridian, Thoreau, Tom Jones, E.L. Doctorow, Knut Hamsun, maybe even Brothers Karamazov or War in Peace)
  • Read (and finish!) all my book club books – so ashamed, there are several books I’ve not been able to put on my list below as I didn’t finish them.
  • Read a few of these from the Brain Pickings ‘Best of 2015’ (well worth signing up to the newsletter here if you’re not on it already – fantastic weekly reflections)

Books Read in 2015 – An even 30, though not in chronological order (favs in bold)

30. Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (fiction)

One of my favourite books of 2015 – got it in just under the wire. Unusual plotline, complex relationships and well-drawn characters, makes good use of the chosen narrative style – well-described world. I’ve added some more Tartt for 2016.

29. Last Night in Manhatten by Emily St John Mandel (fiction)

I plan to read some of the others by Emily St John Mandel as I enjoyed Station Eleven so much. This one did not live up to my expectations. Continued exploration of the ‘wandering’ theme.

28. The Snow Queen by David Cunningham (fiction)

Read this back in January – this story moved one along at a good pace. Interesting character reflection and behaviour in an unusual situation. Was the ending a surprise?

27. Diddakoi by Rumer Godden (young adult fiction)

Recommendation from a friend to explain why she was going on holiday in a gypsy caravan. I still like reading a good kid’s book – they’re not just for kids. Always amazed by how we are shaped by the books we read early on in life.

23-26. Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K LeGuin (fiction)

Lovely to re-read this. Fully enjoyed it the second time around and plan to read some of the later Earthsea books now too.

22. Blazing World by Suri Hustvedt

This novel is a pastiche of views on the main character, Harry (Harriet), collected from her own and other’s reflections. Wonderful play with point-of-view, intermingled with art theory and theories of perception.

21. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

After reading lots of books in last year’s Guardian First Book Award about Alsheimers and brain tumours, I’ve waited awhile to read this one. Thoroughly enjoyed this lighter-touch look at aging, hedged around a mystery.

20. Thinking About It Only Makes it Worse by David Mitchell (essay)

Not as funny as I was expecting – I love David Mitchell’s comedy but had never read his political essays. I enjoyed his previous book immensely.

18-19. Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Surprised that I liked these so much as I’m not usually fond of historical fiction. Thomas Cromwell made for a fascinating narrator and lead character with his memory charms and likeable, but ruthless business sense, and funny! Reminded me of my husband a bit – ‘Talking you sir is a bit like being hit by a brick wall’.

17. A Winter Book by Tove Jansson

Quite different from Summer Book, this is a series of little essays. Not exactly pessimistic, but not optimistic either – perhaps realistic. From the author of Moomins, which I may read at some point.

16. Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle (essay)

A much-loved book – Madeleine explores ideas of faith and humanity. This book always centres me.

15. Everland by Rebecca Hunt (fiction)

A journey to the Arctic…where past and present collide. A mix of historical fiction and pure fiction. The writing and story carried me through.

14. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (fiction)

American gothic and magical realism – This book captured my imagination and got a good rating from the whole book group. Well-written with a unique plot.

13. Sixty Days & Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson (fiction)

This is the third book I’ve ready by this author – and I’ve got two more on my shelf. Well-imagine with developed characters. Plot-driven and nice, conversational style.

12. Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker (non-fiction)

Interesting investigation on the use of pronouns in conversation and writing – what they tell us about the speaker. Some interesting exercises here: http://secretlifeofpronouns.com/exercises.php.

11. Negotiating with the Dead: On Writers and Writing by Margaret Atwood (essay)

Only wish there had been more of this one. I am a sucker for writers writing about writing.

10. Neurotribes by Steve Silberman (non-fiction)

Promised to be about how we all think differently, but rather a decent history of autism research. Particularly surprising aspects for me were about the effect of WWI and WWII on research and treatment of those deemed mentally ill.

9. Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (fiction)

Follows the wife of Engels during the rise of communism.

8. Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (fiction)

Interesting idea, executed descriptively.

7. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (fiction)

A cult classic of it’s time. The book club picked this up to read as we couldn’t decide on a ‘classic’ – we’d all read different ones.

6. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane (fiction)

A fun read for anyone who loves books…

5. On the Map by Simon Garfield (non-fiction)

Interesting tale of the history of maps…and where the ‘wilds’ used to be. Here be dragons…

4. The Circle by David Eggers (fiction)

This may be fiction, but it feels like it could all happen tomorrow – about the ways that social media are ingressing into our lives and leaving little private space. What could be the end result?

3. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

What a name for an author, yet it fits this book’s strangely gritty, yet beautifully haunting plot. A dystopian novel for the modern age, underlaid with powerful ruminations on what is best about being alive.

2. Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta

A slightly shallow look at the difficult relationship between evangelical Christianity and life, set in upstate New York. About the Abstinence teacher in name only – though I did think those were the best bits.

1. Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This more-interesting-than-usual coming of age story about Nella, a young married woman living in 17th century Amsterdam, will keep you reading at a good clip. Unusual and well-drawn characters fill out this novel, making up for the scarcity of the miniaturist.

Beautiful Books I Would Recommend

  • Goldfinch: Donna Tartt (fiction)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle: Shirley Jackson (american gothic)
  • Burial Rites: Hannah Kent (Icelandic historic fiction)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman (science fiction/magic as it should be)
  • I Capture the Castle: Dodie Smith
  • Station Eleven: Emily St John Mandel (distopian fiction)
  • Swan, What Song?: Veronica Paterson (poetry)
  • Young Skins: Colin Barrett (Irish short stories)
  • Night Guest: Fiona McFarlane
  • Yellow Birds: Kevin Powers (prose like poetry)
  • Gossip from the Forest: Sara Maitland (fairie stories and the forests of Britain)
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