2016 reading list

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 here.

  • 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
  • And all of Harry Potter, of course.

See previous years’ lists here.

 

For the Love of Books

Greenwich Book Festival Part 1

Yesterday I went to the Greenwich Book Festival, a two-day series of talks and readings in the Old Royal Naval College. I’m always a bit uncomfortable at these things, as I am anywhere where people are rhapsodizing about anything in particular. There is just so much in the world to love, and hate, that spending two days on anything seems a bit tunnel-visioned. I do love books, however, so I tried to ignore my misgivings.

cropped-cropped-2014-03-01-17-07-43-1.jpg

Greenwich – where photos look like oil paintings

The first talk I went to was about small independent presses and how they are in a ‘silver age’ and it struck me more completely than it has before how little control we have over what we read. I fully believe in the power of books to change our minds, our thinking, our lives. They develop empathy and push our experiences out of the immediate here and now and into an entire range of possibilities, and impossibilities. Through books I have met 19th century blacksmiths and 21st century zombies, Russian widows and Indian musicians, hermits and politicians and brain surgeons. I have been there while people fall in and out of love, have children and lose children, forget themselves and journey through self-discovery. There is an incomprehensible magic in being allowed into all these lives.

2016-05-28 14.33.13

A beautiful desk I stared at while listening to the talk. When did they stop making writing desks slanted?

And yet, how many people have we been denied because a business model doesn’t think their story will sell? The three owners of independent presses spoke about how they do what they do for the love of literature, while large publishers have enormous overheads to cover and as such, can only publish commercially viable fiction. And yet they were saying that they personally choose what their press publishes. The ten books they release a year is entirely in their hands and dependent on their taste, and while there are many of these small presses  there is no way they can cover all the good fiction that’s around.

So while they were busy bemoaning the evils of Amazon, I was thinking thank god we have another option now. Thank god I could release Andie and Caroline into the world because it is where I think they belong, and not because they will make anyone mountains of money.

Now I must try to navigate the self-publishing waters to try to find these mysterious characters whose lives might have been dismissed by people in The Business but who I, nevertheless, want to meet.