Some people found it hard to read books last year. Not me! Though my taste wiggled around a bit from classics and predictable favourites to thrillers and celebrity memoirs.
Akin by Emma Donoghue (Donoghue has a wonderfully predictable quality. Good stories and interesting characters in fascinating places. Easy reads, yes, but comforting too.)
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino (Tolentino is one of my favourite columnists, and I was so excited when her book came out. I wasn’t disappointed, she has such interesting, nuanced insights. I get so tired of people being polarising and love that she doesn’t do that.)
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (It took me a couple of goes to get into this one, it’s so bleak and scarily real while being way over the top. Definitely worth reading when feeling strong.)
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (One of those ‘I should read the book before I see the movie’ reads. Both are good, but there is some very interesting nuance in the book, especially about the beginning of their relationship)
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
The Cat Sanctuary by Patrick Gale
Married Love by Tessa Hadley
Taking Pictures by Anne Enright (I find Enright fascinating, could read any of her books over and over again).
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Inspiring, even when you don’t want to be inspired! First book of lockdown, I do believe)
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (This reminds me I should read more of her books, it was so good! I get put off by the fact that I don’t know how to pronounce her name and always feel like I’m trying to say doughnuts. Mmm doughnuts)
Dubliners by James Joyce
Bleaker House by Nell Stevens (More lockdown reading. At least I wasn’t trapped on an island in the Faulklands, alone and surrounded by ice!)
The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer (Sticky friendships between women are always entertaining, though the children vs no children debate gets old when it’s only about lifestyle)
On the Natural History of Destruction by W.G. Sebald (Every time I read it I love it, then it falls straight out of my head.)
In the Cut by Suzanna Moore
Blind Water Pass by Anna Metcalfe
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (More and more Enright, right on)
How Pale the Winter Has Made Us by Adam Scovell (Why did I read a pale, wintery novel in summer, you might ask? Good question.)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (Learn how to have a proper conversation, geez, you can’t be fifteen forever.)
In Pieces by Sally Field (Oh Sally, how beautiful you are. I love my celebrity memoirs when the world is mush and my brain is following suit. I only just realised that’s a card game metaphor. Spades or clubs? I think we’re in the spades phase of life, looking forward to the diamonds of the roaring twenties!)
What I Learned from Falling by Claire Nelson (Don’t fall, basically, and if you do, drink your own wee.)
Paradise City by Elizabeth Day
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (Also, if you fall because your friend cut your rope, make sure you’re nice to them when you accidentally survive because one day people will make a movie about you and interview you together and how awkward would it be if you were like ‘YOU TRIED TO KILL ME! BUT I LIVED! MWAHAHA!)
Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (One of those books that makes me think ‘why do you have children if you’re never going to think about them?’ Those poor kids. Also, good to read in lockdown because so much is in a teeny tiny flat.)
The Pelican Brief by John Grisham (Disappointingly few photocopying scenes compared to The Firm, and lots of gross ‘how great does the young woman look in those tight jeans, how can I possibly concentrate on solving this case?’)
)Just Kids by Patti Smith (I’m all for romanticising 60s New York street culture, but sometimes I wonder how bad they must have smelled. All that hair, all those hairy coats, what about when it RAINS?)
The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (I might have enjoyed it more if I thought Salinger was as fascinating as other people do. At least he seems aware of how annoying he is.)
Talking as Fast as I can by Lauren Graham (More celebrity memoirs! Though it’s disturbing that I knew when she made mistakes about Gilmore Girls. I know her lines better than she does! I’m basically Lorelai, obviously, but with fewer pairs of jeans and a lower tolerance for coffee and cheeseburgers.)
Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Another good lockdown book, if ‘rest and relaxation’ meant taking lots of sedatives and trying to ignore the passing of time.)
Wood Green by Sean Rabin (Some day someone will write a book about Tasmania that doesn’t make me want to live there. This is not that book.)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (Patchett is never patchy. Gold.)
Under Solomon Skies by Berni Sorga-Millwood
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich (Ouchy ouchy, life is cruel)
The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid (Reading about Edinburgh while in Edinburgh! Always makes me think of the Lorde lyric ‘we live in cities you’ll never see on screen’, why do we mythologise some cities and not others?)
Meaty by Samantha Irby (As David Brent says, Women. Are. Dirty…and hilarious, obviously.)
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Discomfort is mainly due to constipation, which is as painful to read about as to experience. Entertaining though! And icy. And very different to the normal Dutch stories (if there’s such a thing) that I know)
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Gaah one of the highlights of the year. Though I did try to listen to Thug Life afterwards and had disappointingly not been converted to fandom.)
My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay (Ouchy ouchy, life is cruel, and people are cruel, and religion gives cruel people an excuse to be even crueller.)
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (and again and again forever, I’d like an Olive in my life please.)
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Oh Australia, you do ‘casual’ racism so well.)
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (What a riot, a bit like if Harper Lee was a lesbian.)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (So twisty and firey and why is there always a blacksheep in a family?)
Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini (Eugenics or genetics? Language is slippery.)
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (The title made me think of the posh mother in Miranda saying ‘such fun!’ all the time, but the main character was fabulous and uncliched despite what all the people around her expected from her.)
Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville
Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton (I’m getting tired of writing things on this list now, and it was probably about here in the year when I thought I should read some more difficult books because gee whizz Dolly is light on the depth and high on the pop psychology.)
Patience by Toby Litt
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (One day I’ll walk a very long coastal path, though hopefully I won’t do it because I’m suddenly homeless.)
The Wych Elm by Tana French
Me by Elton John (Drama! Sequins! I wish I had been in the room when Rod Stewart read it, since it’s basically written to make fun of him.)
Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
Bereft by Chris Womersley
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (I psyched myself up all year for this one, but it was so page-turny and pulpy that it was fine. Also, must forget that it’s Atwood and she won the Booker for it, because that makes no sense. Also there was a lot of: this is how the kids speak these days and I should know because I’m an old woman.)
I planned to read a lot more Iris Murdoch this year, but it didn’t quite happen after the first one. I found some great authors (Barbara Comyns! Daisy Johnson!), revisited favourite authors (Ann Patchett! Michelle de Kretser! JM Coetzee!), and finally read some classics I’ve wanted to read for a while (The feminine Mystique! In cold blood! Peyton Place!). It felt like I read less this year, and it turns out that feeling was right, maybe because I let myself dip in and out of books for very serious ‘study’ purposes.
- The bell – Iris Murdoch ****
- The Round House – Louise Erdrich ***** like a modern To Kill a Mockingbird, without the moral confusion of a false rape claim
- To kill a mockingbird – Harper Lee ****
- Everything Under – Daisy Johnson ***** Creepy and sad
- My thoughts exactly – Lily Allen **** so entertaining, but I never want to have a conversation with her
- The firm – John Grisham ***
- Our spoons came from Woolworths – Barbara Comyns **** Interesting, almost childlike narrator, in a very unchildlike story.
- Undue influence – Anita Brookner ***
- Astray – Emma Donoghue **** some of these were amazing, some less so
- Milkman – Anna Burns ***** I thought it might not live up to the hype, like most Booker winners I attempt to read, but this is so real it’s easy to get lost in
- Educated – Tara Westover ****
- This will only hurt a little – Busy Philipps ***
- The feminine mystique – Betty Friedan ***
- Utopia for realists – Rutger Bregman ***** wish everyone would read it, or that anyone who read it automatically got to be in charge of the world
- The descent of man – Grayson Perry *** I wanted to love it, and it was interesting, but a bit patchy
- Call me by your name – Andre Aciman **** beautiful
- Women and power – Mary Beard ****
- The life to come – Michelle de Kretser **** oh Michelle, you get me every time.
- All about love – bell hooks *** Loved it until it went a bit Christian
- Bel canto – Ann Patchett ***
- I’m your man: the life of Leonard Cohen – Sylvie Simmons **** mainly amazing because his life was amazing
- Nine perfect strangers – Liane Moriarty *** not quite as good as her others
- Peyton place – Grace Metalious **** big and messy and fascinating
- In cold blood – Truman Capote ****
- Grief is the thing with feathers – Max Porter ****
- Blind water pass – Anna Metcalfe ***
- Nine folds make a paper swan – Ruth Gilligan ***
- The guilty feminist – Deborah Frances-White ***
- The lost and forgotten languages of Shanghai – Ruiyan Xu ***
- Hunger – Roxane Gay ****
- The Juniper Tree – Barbara Comyns ***
- What Alice forgot – Liane Moriarty ****
- Fen – Daisy Johnson ***** creepy, muddy short stories
- Fierce attachments – Vivian Gornick **** complicated families, written with so much frustrated love
- The diving bell and the butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby ****
- Daughter of the desert: the remarkable life of Gertrude Bell – Georgina Howell **** again, because her life was amazing, though I think the author was more than a little biased
- Smoke – Dan Vyleta ****
- The age of iron – JM Coetzee *****
- Second-hand time – Svetlana Alexievich *****
- Picnic at hanging rock – Joan Lindsay ****
- Pride and prejudice – Jane Austen ****
- Moments of truth – Lorna Sage***
- The gathering – Anne Enright *****
- Eucalyptus – Murray Bail ****
- The island – Victoria Hislop **
- Truly madly guilty – Liane Moriarty ****
- Last exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr * or ****, so much violence, so much hatred and fear
Looking back over my list this year, I swear half of them were from a very very long time ago. Did the gods play a trick on us and make the Earth travel slower this year? I’ve done stars again, because everything deserves at least 3 stars, and because I stop reading if it’s a two-star book. I am in desperate need of a new author with a whole back catalogue of toothy meaty novels that don’t make my brain feel grotty but that I can read on a train or after work. Hit me up with ideas please, because this is the list of a lost woman.
- White lies by Jo Gatford *** Written by the woman who runs the WHQ online writers’ group I’m in. It was beautiful and slow and sad.
- The good people by Hannah Kent ****
- Run by Ann Patchett ***** Ann Patchett can be nearly perfect at times. Somehow this entire novel took place over 24 hours.
- The lost landscape by Joyce Carol Oates ***
- How to be champion by Sarah Millican ***
- State of wonder by Ann Patchett ***
- Some rain must fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard ****
- Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh **** Weird and creepy protagonist in a weird and creepy novel. Spellbinding.
- The tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris*** Great story, slightly wobbly writing.
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch ***
- The unwomanly face of war by Svetlana Alexievitch ***** Oh Svetlana, if only I could find more of your books, you would be my toothy writer any day, except when I need fiction.
- The sacrifice by Joyce Carol Oates ***
- An equal stillness by Francesca Kay ***
- The other side of the story by Marian Keyes ***
- H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald **** While reading this, I kept meaning to tell my friend Ardelia about it. She was nutty for birds of prey and this book was amazing. I never quite told Ardelia, and now it’s too late. Tell people when you are thinking about them!
- The many by Wyl Menmuir ***
- A visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan **** One of those books that turns up on best-of lists. Novel or short stories? Who cares. I love seeing how the world connects us all.
- Bodies of water by VH Leslie ***
- Into the woods by John Yorke ***** How to write stories, by a better name, told with so much love of craft that it makes you weep.
- Anything for her by GJ Minett ** Okay I lied, this is a two-star book but I read it because he was coming to a book club night.
- Here I am by Jonathon Safran Foer ***** I finally loved a Foer novel, though I don’t quite trust him enough to pick up another one.
- Rogue lawyer by John Grisham ***
- Crudo by Olivia Laing **** I love Laing and wish oh wish she had a bigger back catalogue. This is her only novel and she signed it for me. It smells like summer 2017.
- Mansfield park by Jane Austen ***
- My name is Leon by Kit de Waal **** Set in Birmingham! And told from the point of view of a young boy in the 1980s. Beautiful and sad and peppy, all at once.
- Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman **** Loneliness for the thirty-somethings. And a completely original, odd protagonist.
- A place called winter by Patrick Gale ****
- We all begin as strangers by Harriet Cummings ***
- The party by Elizabeth Day ****
- Benang by Kim Scott ***** Family history and Australian history and pain and hope and that feeling of why can’t it all just be okay?
- To all the boys I’ve loved before by Jenny Ha ***
- The cows by Dawn O’Porter ***
- Close your eyes by Michael Robotham ***
- The heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers **** It sure is, Carson, but in this the heart is also a big open sore of feeling and self-doubt.
- Bodily harm by Margaret Atwood ***
- The last anniversary by Liane Moriarty ****
- Touchy subjects by Emma Donoghue ****
- The clothes on their backs by Linda Grant ***
- Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig ****
- Difficult women by Roxane Gay **** Some of these stories were incredible, some less so.
- Patron saint of liars by Ann Patchett ***
- Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee ***
- Atonement by Ian McEwan *** I still don’t understand how the only crime is the lie, not the rape.
- The power by Naomi Alderman ***** Holy capow, read it read it read it.
- This is going to hurt by Adam Kay ****
- The story of the night by Colm Toibin ***
- I remember nothing by Nora Ephron ***
- The accidental tourist by Anne Tyler ****
- The girl with the lower back tattoo by Amy Schumer ***
- Notes on a nervous planet by Matt Haig ***
- Force of nature by Jane Harper ****
- The hypnotist’s love story by Liane Moriarty ***
- Holding by Graham Norton ***
- Scissors, paper, stone by Elizabeth Day ***
I reread a lot of books this year. Mainly it was old favourites and I was trying to figure out what made them so good (turning reading into learning, fun!). I also started off the year by reading a lot of non-fiction, which is unusual for me but turned out great. I then ended the year on a more commercial note, when I just needed something to look forward to in the evenings when my brain didn’t want to work.
I’ve already written about some of the best books, this is the whole list (not including Harry Potter x 2.3 times). This year, with stars!
- Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson ****
- Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald****
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert ***
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance *****
- 117 days by Ruth First **** After finishing this I was determined to read more about South Africa. That didn’t happen, but there’s still time!
- The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion *****
- When will there be good news? By Kate Atkinson *** I think Kate Atkinson is great. So readable but not trashy at all.
- Blue nights by Joan Didion ****
- Dreams from my father by Barack Obama ****
- The caged virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ****
- Stet by Diana Athill ***
- Born to run by Christopher McDougall ***
- Do no harm by Henry Marsh *** This is from the eighties, an account of being a neurosurgeon in Britain. It is interesting, and was a bit of a silly choice to read after my operation.
- The husband’s secret by Liane Moriarty ***
- Trio by Sue Gee **
- Revolutionary road by Richard Yates **** I knew this story from the movie, but the book is so well written it didn’t matter. Unlikable characters but in such interesting ways.
- Good me, bad me by Ali Land ***
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout *****
- The English patient by Michael Ondaatje ****
- Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee *****
- Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen *****
- The blackwater lightship by Colm Toibin *****
- Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum *** A reworking of Anna Karenina apparently, which I didn’t realise until the end. Loved about the first two thirds of it.
- On Chesil beach by Ian McEwan ***
- Station eleven by Emily St John Mandel *****
- The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte***
- The light between oceans by M.L. Stedman ***
- Blindness by Jose Saramago *****
- Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey *****
- Conversations with friends by Sally Rooney ****
- The futures by Anna Pitoniak ***
- The naïve and the sentimental novelist by Orhan Pamuk ****
- The circle by David Eggers ***
- Wishful drinking by Carrie Fisher ***
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote ***
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett **** Loved this, one of the highlights of the year. A perfect opening scene. I need more Patchett in my life.
- Reading like a writer by Francine Prose ****
- Abide with me by Elizabeth Strout ****
- The magician’s assistant by Ann Patchett ***
- The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden ****
- Swimming home by Deborah Levy *** I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time, but it was a bit disappointing. The mysterious quirky loner girl trope is a bit old, even though it was written so well.
- Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas ***
- Only daughter by Anna Snoekstra **
- Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen ***
- Frog music by Emma Donoghue **** I don’t usually read historical fiction, but I love Donoghue and this novel set in San Francisco around a 19th century murder was great.
- The misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky ***
- Negotiating with the dead by Margaret Atwood ***
- The Martian by Andy Weir ***
- Position doubtful by Kim Mahood ***** Very interesting thoughts about land and life and connections in Australia.
- Big little lies by Liane Moriarty ***
- Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout ***** The perfect novel.
- Hidden figures by Margot Lee Shetterly **** I saw the movie of this first, and then got annoyed when I read the book and realised how much had been unnecessarily changed. The writing style is very casual and a bit funny – like an aunt’s diary – but the amount of information is amazing. Also, I didn’t realise just how complicated segregation and its removal was.
- The wonder by Emma Donoghue ***
- Quartet by Jean Rhys ***
- The dry by Jane Harper ****
- The point by Marion Halligan *** I wanted to like this because it was set in Canberra, but Halligan fell for the 90s/early noughties fashion of not using speech marks, so I spent a lot of time being annoyed that I couldn’t follow who was speaking.
- The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel ***
- The good son by Paul McVeigh ****A boy growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. Often compared to Roddy Doyle, but I found it better – more sympathetic and genuine, with less caricatures.
- The end of Eddy by Edouard Louis ***** I’ve been wanting to read this all year and it didn’t disappoint. Northern French working-class boy, gay, trying to figure out the endless violence and apathy around him.
I read some great books this year but all up it was a slightly scatty, underwhelming year. For the first time in a long time I found myself finishing books and not knowing what to read next, which lead to starting and stopping many books I would normally enjoy simply because I was not prepared for them.
- The lost dog – Michelle de Kretser
- Boyhood island – Karl Ove Knausguaard. The third and most disappointing of the My Struggle series.
- We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver. I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. There were many lines that struck me, in particular: “To answer one life with a successive life is simply to transfer the onus of purpose to the next generation; the displacements amounts to a cowardly and potentially infinite delay.” Controversial, but it struck a chord with me.
- Catcher in the rye – J.D. Salinger
- Snow – Orhan Pamuk
- Adela Pankhurst: the wayward suffragette – Verna Coleman
- An evil cradling – Brian Keenan. Keenan’s experience as a hostage in Lebanon in the eighties. A story that I was too young to know about at the time but which I now find incredible.
- Why I am not a Christian – Bertrand Russell
- Story of the lost child – Elena Ferrante
- Persuasion – Jane Austen. Forever my favourite Austen.
- Climbing the coconut tree – S.C. Karakaltsas
- A spool of blue thread – Anne Tyler
- Divergent – Veronica Roth
- Room – Emma Donoghue. A highlight of the year. So absorbing that my 30 minute train trip just didn’t feel long enough.
- Sparrow migrations – Cari Noga. Another highlight and comforting that it started as a self-published novel. Several stories linked by the Hudson river crash and sparrows.
- The strays – Emily Bitto
- Hideous kinky – Esther Ford. I read this while we were in Morocco, which felt fitting. Told from the point of view of a child whose mother is a wandering hippy on the Moroccan trail in the seventies.
- Great expectations – Charles Dickens
- All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr. Every time I read a story about the second world war I think I can’t possibly read another one that sheds more light, and yet I do. There are so many nuanced experiences outside those of the camps and they continue to intrigue me.
- The door – Magda Szabo. I found this on a list of best translated fiction. It’s incredible and Emerence is a character I’ll never forget. See the New Yorker article.
- Why not me? – Mindy Kaling
- Not that kind of girl – Lena Dunham
- 20 fragments of a ravenous youth – Xiaolu Guo
- Silas Marner – George Eliot. I was only disappointed that this was so short. It is an incredibly succinct story of the interweaving of lives and how we see people.
- The garden of evening mists – Tan Twan Eng. I wanted to love this, and the second world war information about Malaysia was interesting but the actual writing I found over the top.
- First love, last rights – Ian McEwan
- The history of love – Nicole Krauss
- A little life – Hanyu Yanagihara. Everything is just so big in this novel. The violence is nauseating and the characters often frustrating, but it is a must-read.
- Insurgent – Veronica Roth
- Still Alice – Lisa Genova
- The wandering falcon – Jamil Ahmad
- A god in ruins – Kate Atkinson
- Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout was the best thing about this year! I feel like I’m lowered into her novels in a glass sphere, the characters are so real that it is easy to believe I am simply visiting them for a time.
- Purple hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Burgess boys – Elizabeth Strout
- The eye of the sheep – Sofie Laguna
- North and south – Elizabeth Gaskell
- Farewell to the East End – Jennifer Worth
- Dark places – Gillian Flynn
- In the woods – Tana French
- The girls – Emma Cline. I kept seeing this on lists of books to read in 2016, so I did. It’s a fictionalised account of the Manson murders, and it was engaging until the writing style got a bit much. Still, an amazing debut.
- Emma – Jane Austen
- Notes on a scandal – Zoe Heller. The best unreliable narrator I’ve ever read. Completely fascinating.
- A murder is announced – Agatha Christie
- Dancing in the dark – Karl Ove Knausguaard. Fourth in the series and it made me look forward to the fifth. I’m a fan once again.
- Moments of reprieve – Primo Levi
- Waiting for the barbarians – J.M. Coetzee
- The lonely city – Olivia Laing. The third of Laing’s books, and I loved it. Non-fiction about how loneliness informed the art of artists including Edward Hopper. Heart-breaking and optimistic at the same time.
- My name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
- Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue. I’m not usually one for historical fiction but this was great. Three years of a teenage girl’s life as she goes from prostitution in London to servitude in a Welsh country house.
- Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout
- Reckoning – Magda Szubanski
- A streetcat named Bob – James Bowen
- Plus all of Harry Potter, of course.
I loved so many books this year. The emphasis was on European literature – prompted by last year’s Christmas books from mum and dad. I’m also slowly discovering that there is a lot of great non-fiction around which is lyrical as well as informative.
- No Great Mischief – Alexander McLeod
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera. One of the books from mum and dad last Christmas, and so much bigger than even its enormous reputation suggests.
- We are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Kay Joy Fowler
- Yes Please – Amy Poehler. Hilarious.
- Stoner – John Williams
- The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt. I am now on the Donna Tartt bandwagon. This was incredible – art and families and the different faces we all flit between. Few writers can write about extremely changeable characters without just seeming like they don’t know who they are writing about, but Tartt definitely pulled it off.
- The Empty Family – Colm Toibin
- A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausguaard. Knausguaard was talked about everywhere this year. One of those books where I found myself holding my breath, as if breathing might distract me from the observations of daily life which he manages to make so universal.
- The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
- The Thornbirds – Colleen McCullough
- Walden – Henry David Thoreau
- My Own Way – Emmeline Pankhurst. A free kindle book I came across, written during the First World War when the suffragettes had yet to win the vote. An incredible story and so frustrating to read about, even 100 years later. Also, she makes interesting comparisons between the IRA and the suffragettes.
- The Spy who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carre
- A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou. I intend to read the rest of Angelou’s memoirs, but this was so raw and distressing that it might have to be only one a year.
- The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer. One of those characters who is so real that he has stayed with me all year, although I forget large parts of the actual story.
- The Thrill of it All – Joseph O’Connor
- My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante. Ferrante has also been written about a lot this year. Absolutely incredible to be inside this woman’s head, and the only book I’ve ever read which manages to show the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us.
- The Happy Prince and Other Stories – Oscar Wilde
- History of London – Sir Walter Besant. Fascinating. Free kindle book which was written in the mid-nineteenth century which makes it so strange when he talks about how much London has changed and modernised.
- Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe. I was distracted by this book’s reputation, and all those stupid things people say like ‘The African Novel’.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan. Absolutely amazing and deserving of the Booker. A part of the Second World War I have heard little about.
- Trip to Echo Springs – Olivia Laing. This was about the tendency for writers to be alcoholic, focusing on six American novelists of the twentieth century including Tennessee Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Laing went on a road trip tracing various parts of their lives. Beautifully written as well as interesting.
- A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
- Bossypants – Tina Fey
- The Children’s Act – Ian McKewan. I think about this a lot, though mainly because it’s set on the road where I work. I was a bit disappointed it didn’t go deeper into the issue of medical consent for ‘minors’ who are seventeen.
- Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng. Fascinating story of a family, their history and how they were falling apart even before they truly fell apart.
- Amongst Women – John McGahern
- Reading Around the World – Ann Morgan. One woman’s quest to read a book from every country in a year. Very interesting to know more about translation and the pervasiveness of English language books.
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed. Fantastic story and writing, and the movie really does it justice.
- Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
- The Mill on the Floss – George Elliott
- The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht. I’m not sure why this isn’t better known considering how great and interesting it is. A two-fold story about a modern-day doctor in an unnamed Balkan country, and her grandfather’s story of his childhood and village.
- Quiet – Susan Cain. My whole family has read this, and I found it interesting in a lot of ways. I didn’t understand why there wasn’t more about how to learn to overcome introvert tendencies sometimes – surely no one wants to be exhausted all the time?
- Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro
- Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale
- A Man in Love – Karl Ove Knausguaard. This was even better than the first one.
- To the River – Olivia Laing. Laing walked the length of the river Ouse, and recounted its history including Virginia Woolf’s fondness for it and her eventual drowning in it.
- Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante. This was even better than the first one as well.
- A Storm of Swords Part 1: Steel and Snow – George R.R. Martin
- Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky. A side of the Second World War that I had never really heard – citizens in German-occupied France, including the initial attempts to flee. Stories of refugees are particularly mesmerising these days. Also, the story about how this was written is incredible: it was discovered by Nemirovsky’s daughter in the late nineties and is only two novels of five which she planned. Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz before she could finish it, but the version I read had excerpts from her diary, showing her drive to write it when she saw her capture and death as inevitable.
- Nora Webster – Colm Toibin
- The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend
- The Sea the Sea – Iris Murdoch
- Call the Midwife – Jennifer Worth
- Alan Turing: The Enigma – Andrew Hodge
- Voices from Chernobyl – Svetlana Alexievich. Incredible first-hand accounts from Chernobyl. Alexievich writes that she felt like she was writing about the future, and that’s the impression I got as well. It is so apocalyptic it is hard to believe it happened. Also, very interesting to see how different people react to the same situation – for some it controls their whole life and identity, while others are able to put it behind them.
- Surfacing – Margaret Atwood. One of Atwood’s earliest books and one I hadn’t heard of. Except for the last few chapters when it goes mad, it was really good. A woman goes back to the remote place where she grew up to try to find her dad who is missing. The friends she goes with are a great (if annoying) bunch of characters too.
- On Writing – Stephen King
- As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
- Long Grey Beard and Glittering Eye (short story collection) – Various
- Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett
- Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
- Shadows of the Workhouse – Jennifer Worth
- The Unknown Terrorist – Richard Flanagan. I was distracted by Flanagan’s overt rage and the way he was so dismissive of everyone as though he was the only non-apathetic person in Australia who noticed things like racism and consumerism. That said, the story was interesting and a real page-turner, as the reviews all say.
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling. Technically finished this on the 1st, but I count it because it rounds out the trio of awesome female comedians (along with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler).
It was a good year of reading. I continued with Iris Murdoch, who I still love and still have loads more to read. I continued working my way through the free kindle classics and read my second George Eliot, Middlemarch, which I immediately wanted to read again. I read the oddly captivating A Girl is a Half-Formed Things by Eimear McBride. I read two slave memoirs which made me disgusted with the human race, and I Am Malala which gave me some hope again. Also, all of Harry Potter of course but I decided not to include them this time around J
- Coming through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje
- Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel. The first Hilary Mantel book I’ve read. Fascinating characters who are playing the psychic circuit in small town England, but there is something about her style that keeps me at a distance.
- The Italian Girl – Iris Murdoch. Love love.
- The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. I was a bit late coming to this series but it is a great story.
- The Nazis – Laurence Rees
- Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
- A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride. A friend had to explain to me that it begins as the thoughts of a baby, which is why it makes no sense. Seeing her thoughts develop as she grows up and goes through rather distressing experiences is fascinating.
- The Sign of the Four – Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Sisterhood – Helen Bryan. A free kindle book with a chocolate bar. Yes I am that person.
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. A classic for a reason and one I tried to inflict on my English class.
- Life After Life – Kate Atkinson. Great idea that I think was probably prompted by a metaphysics class about non-linear time. However, it’s difficult to care about characters that just keep dying!
- The Works of Simone de Beauvoir. Excerpts from her works, actually, bloody Amazon lied.
- 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup. Brilliant, and the inability of most slaves to escape is explained much better than in the movie.
- Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville
- Jimmy Jazz – Roddy Doyle
- The Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt. I keep thinking I should like A.S. Byatt more than I do, but her style is even more remote than Mantel’s, I find. Interesting, but more from a historical point of view about the Victoria and Albert Museum.
- The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran
- Middlemarch – George Eliot. So many characters! I loved all of them and immediately forgot them all when I finished. Will have to read it again and again.
- Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
- Bring up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel. For some reason I started with #2 of this series. I liked it a lot, but I haven’t gone back to read Wolf Hall yet.
- The Wine of Solitude – Irene Nemirovsky. I think I will fall a bit in love with Nemirovsky if I keep reading her. Gentle writing about France and Germany in the first half of the twentieth century.
- World War Z – Max Brooks
- Mansfield Park – Jane Austen. Poor Fanny Price! I now understand the comments made about her in pop culture. Fantastic read, and the movie unfortunately does not do it justice.
- An Unoffical Rose – Irish Murdoch
- The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass
- Hombre – Elmore Leonard. My first Western but certainly not my last. Fabulous movie as well.
- Hello Mr Bones/Goodbye Mr Rat – Patrick McCabe. Oddly written and took me a while to settle into the headspace, but very entertaining.
- The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton. If you imagine the Bennett’s with their fortune move to the States and have grandchildren, this might be their story. Very entertaining.
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. I studied this at school and loved coming back to it again.
- Star of the Sea – Joseph O’Connor. Unputdownable, which is totally a word, though I’m still not sure I liked it exactly. Possibly because of the unlikeable characters.
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley. Fantastic and not done justice by pop culture.
- Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. Unexpectedly brilliant. Why is this not talked about more?! Brilliant characters, brilliant story. So clever and so chilling and Hitchcock totally changed the ending!
- How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. Read it in a day on the couch, cackling to myself. Oh the joys of unemployment!
- Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My new favourite author, why hasn’t she written more? Also, watch her Ted talk.
- The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith. I’m not really a crime novel person and I have to accept that, even when J.K. Rowling is writing it.
- Into the Wild – John Krakauer. Made me want to buy a ute and drive into the hills. But hopefully not die. Very very good journalism.
- Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Brilliant.
- I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. A remarkable story made more amazing by the completely humble way it is told. This girl is a hero for very good reasons.
- The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton. So long and so entertaining, the style is very easy to sink into. Still not 100% sure of the story but I don’t think I’ll read it again, even though it was great.
- A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
- Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
- The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer. I got annoyed at a lot of the vast generalisations about women only wanting to read romance novels, meet Prince Charming and get married (even in the sixties that wasn’t true!) but very interesting from a sociological point of view. Equal pay had only just come in, which seems so ridiculous, and there are plenty of things that have changed which we can celebrate. The occasional nasty asides about gay and transgender people come as a shock.
It’s been a pretty underwhelming year of reading, I must say. There were a few standouts but there were some disappointments from old faithfuls as well. It was nice, however, reading or re-reading some books set in England now that I’m here.
- Chocolat – Joanne Harris
- First they killed my father – Loung Ung
- Small Island – Andrea Levy
- Harry Potter and the Half-blood prince
- The Lost Executioner: the story of the Khmer Rouge – Nic Dunlop
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- She Came to Stay – Simone de Beauvoir
- First Love – Joyce Carol Oates
- Youth – J.M. Coetzee
- My life as a fake – Peter Carey
- 9/11 Was there an alternative? – Noam Chomsky
- The Clefts – Doris Lessing
- J.K. Rowling – Marc Shapiro
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
- The Outsider – Albert Camus
- The Amateur Marriage – Anne Tyler
- Best Stories of 2006 – Various
- Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
- The Secret History – Donna Tartt
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
- Jacob’s Room – Virginia Woolf
- Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
- Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maughan
- Little Men – Louisa May Alcott
- Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
- Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- The Secret River – Kate Grenville
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
- The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- The Winter of our Discontent – John Steinbeck
- Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
- Against all Gods – A.C. Grayling
- Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
- Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser
- The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling
- The Childhood of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee
- Daniel Deronda – George Elliott
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- First book of poems – Emily Dickonson
- The Moons of Jupiter – Alice Munroe
- Buriel Rites – Hannah Kent
- Jo’s Boys – Louisa May Alcott
- Daddy love – Joyce Carol Oates
- A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
- The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Barnett
- Dumb Witness – Agatha Christie
- The Dark – John McGahern
- Tess of the D’Urbivelles – Thomas Hardy
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Child in Time – Ian McEwan
- The Time of the Angels – Iris Murdoch
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maughan
A free book on Kindle, and an incredibly good story of a young man trying to figure out what he wants from life and women.
Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser
A story set between Australia, London and Sri Lanka. The most interesting and thought provoking account of travel, both recreational and unavoidable, that I’ve read.
The Time of the Angels – Iris Murdoch
My first foray into Iris Murdoch but I think we will become much better acquainted in 2014. A story of dark relationships told beautifully and simply.
Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
A story of Pakistani families living in England. The complexity of cultural misunderstandings was interesting, though overall it was just too long.
The Secret River – Kate Grenville and Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Both great stories, generally well written although in need of editing.
Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
I do love Colm Toibin and this is one of his better ones, though not quite in the same league as The South or Blackwater Lightship.
A Whole lot of Meh:
I still can’t see the fuss about A Secret History, and this was my second reading of it. Wutheirng Heights is seriously overrated, and J.K. Rowling was trying far too hard to be edgy in The Casual Vacancy. I usually love Simone de Beauvoir but She Came to Stay, a semi-autobiographical account of the three way relationship she had with Jean-Paul Sartre and another young woman, was not her best by far. They are all readable and occasionally enjoyable, but difficult to feel anything more about.
Daddy Love – Joyce Carol Oates
She is a bit hit and miss, and this is definitely a miss. A bizarre story of a child who has been abducted. Perhaps would have worked better without the horrific details of child abuse.
The Childhood of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee
I’m a big Coetzee fan, and was excited to find his most recent book in the library. But it was just a bit odd in a very nothing sort of way for me. Perhaps I completely missed the point, or perhaps as wikipedia tells me, there just isn’t much of a point.
The Clefts – Doris Lessing
I’ve heard good things about some of Lessing’s works but this was just weird. The ‘cleft’ in the title refers to female anatomy and the story is a mythological type of thing about the first humans (who were all women). Very strange, particularly when the group sex starts.
I think for 2014 I will stop reading whatever is free on Kindle, and fork out a pound or two if I need to. Any recommendations at this point would be greatly appreciated!
Once again I’ve kept a list of the books I read this year. I love looking back at them and remembering what I was doing at the time. The Simon and Garfunkel book was read while I was recovering from an operation; Birdsong was read while I was studying CELTA; A Wasted Vigil was read during lunchtimes at a horrible job. Last year was a year of Simone de Beauvoir, short stories and vaguely middle eastern fiction. I’m running out of Simone books to read now, what will I do?
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
- The year of the flood – Margaret Atwood
- A man of parts – David Lodge
- A wasted vigil – Nadeem Aslam
- Secret Lives – various
- Rules of engagement – Anita Brookner
- The double bind – Chris Bohjalian
- Forcast: Turbulence – Janette Turner Hospital
- Gypsy boy – Mikey Walsh
- Simon and Garfunkel: Old friends – Joseph Morella and Patricia Barey
- The reluctant Mr. Darwin – David Quammen
- The marriage plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
- For the term of his natural life – Marcus Clarke
- The lost art of gratitude – Alexander McCall Smith
- All said and done – Simone de Beauvoir
- The comfort of Saturdays – Alexander McCall Smith
- I saw Ramallah – Mourid Barghouti
- North of nowhere, south of lost – Janette Turner Hospital
- The map of love – Ahdaf Soueif
- Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
- That they may face the rising sun – John McGahern
- Emily Dickinson – Rebecca Swift
- Science and Poetry – Mary Midgley
- Oranges and Sunshine – Margaret Humphreys
- The prime of life – Simone de Beauvoir
- Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
- The sleepers almanac #6 – various
- The woman destroyed – Simone de Beauvoir
- Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
- The first stone – Helen Garner
- The sleepers almanac #7 – various
- All that I am – Anna Funder
- Memoirs of a dutiful daughter – Simone de Beauvoir
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone – J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
- The line of beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
- Summertime – J.M. Coetzee
- Ragnarok: The end of the Gods – A.S. Byatt
- The comfort of strangers – Ian McEwan
- Island: The complete stories – Alistair MacLoed
- The heather blazing – Colm Toibin
- Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
- The Good Thief – Hannah Tinti
- Letters to Sartre – Simone de Beauvoir
- Surrender – Sonya Hartnett
Favourites from the year: all the Simone ones (except the letters), Island, All that I am, Oranges and Sunshine, both Janette Turner Hospital short story collections and A Wasted Vigil.
Highly recommended: Oliver Twist, For the term of his natural life, Gypsy boy.
Disappointments: The year of the flood, Ragnarok, The double bind, The marriage plot.
- Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon
- L.A. Confidential – James Elroy
- Barcelona – Robert Hughes
- Australian Short Stories – Various
- The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie
- A Fair Maiden – Joyce Carol Oates
- Speaking Volumes – Various
- Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
- Complete Short Stories – David Malouf
- Mr Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood
- Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie
- Beloved – Toni Morrison
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
- A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
- Saturday – Ian McKewan
- The Sea – John Banville
- Night – Elie Wiesel
- The Master – Colm Toibin
- Lighthouse Keeping – Jeanette Winterson
- Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
- Taking Pictures – Anne Enright
- Girl Saves Boy – Steph Bowe
- Black Dogs – Ian McKewan
- If This is a Man – Primo Levi
- Get a Life – Nadine Gordimer
- Postcards – E. Annie Proulx
- Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
- A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
- Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy
- Australian Colonial Gothic Short Stories – Various
- Undue Influence – Anita Brookner
- The Slap – Chris Tsiolkas
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
- Trans-Sister Radio – Chris Bohjalian
- Blackwater Lightship – Colm Toibin
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
- Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
- I’ll Take You There – Joyce Carol Oates
- Bereft – Chris Womersley
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
- Boyhood – J.M. Coetzee
- The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith
- The Right Attitude to Rain – Alexander McCall Smith
- Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
- The South – Colm Toibin
- The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios – Yann Martel
- The Weight of Water – Anita Shreve
- The Pilots Wife – Anita Shreve
- The Children – Charlotte Wood
- The Reason of Things – A.C. Grayling
- The Careful Use of Compliments – Alexander McCall Smith
- All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy