In terms of time, February has been better. I struggled at one point with blogging and reading but all considered I managed to get a fair number of books read. As much as it’s been raining recently, there was one day when I sat outside in a t-shirt. Our overall good weather and lesser colder temperatures are still here.
All books are works of fiction.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland – A trio of exploring gentlemen discover a land of women and decide to journey there to see how primeval it must be. A very good commentary of early 1900s society.
Ricarda Huch: The Last Summer – Lyu decides to aid the plotters and assassinate the governor who has closed the university. Great early 1900s novella.
Tom Connolly: Men Like Air – Three British and one American man in New York, living their lives, getting the flu, ending strange relationships, and working in art galleries. Difficult to summarise, I’ve opted to show the comedy element; this is a fab book.
I really appreciated Herland. I think ‘love’ is a strong word because there are some problems with it – in a modern context at least it can be a bit uncomfortable but I found it to be well structured and created, the use of extremes in the trio of male visitors and the relative balancing Perkins Gilman aimed for in making the more moderate character her narrator. Due in part to the sudden ending (one of those ‘where is the next page?’ situations) I moved straight on to the sequel, With Her In Ourland which can be found at Feedbooks. This sequel seems to be less read and studied but with good reason, I believe: as much as you might want to complete the story, it’s more a set of thoughts than a novel. I very much enjoyed the Huch and the Connolly, too. The Huch was a nice quick read that boosted my feeling of accomplishment as well as added to my goal of reading older books. The Connolly was rather clever and contained so much.
None this time.
Spring is certainly on its way.
What book did you most enjoy in February?
Unlike Terry Pratchett’s Death, ours on earth has no fondness for cats. We lost relatives of both the human and feline kind this month. One thing I am glad for: I trusted my intuition when it told me to use the free day I had to draft and schedule posts for the rest of the month. Knowing my blog has been continuing in my absence, that something is working to routine, has helped a lot.
All books are works of fiction.
Amanda Craig: The Other Side Of You – Finding his aunt dead in the flat, Will runs away, discovering an abandoned garden in the middle of a nice square where he can live and take care of the plants. I’ve read a lot about Quick Reads books – short and easy stories to aid literacy – but never read one; this particular story is somewhat based on Beauty And The Beast so it’s an interesting mix of reality and fantasy.
Evie Wyld: All The Birds, Singing – Running away from problems at home, Jake ends up on a remote British island looking after a sheep farm where someone is reducing her flock. Didn’t like this much at all – few answers, the dual narrative was written far too vaguely, and there’s neither plot nor development.
Josephine Johnson: Now In November – As the Great Depression looms over America, Marget and her family take up residence at a farm that will leave them constantly in debt. Originally published in 1934, this is a semi-forgotten Pulitzer Prize winner and whilst very good – not unlike, in atmosphere, to the Brontës and their moors – it’s definitely one to keep for a slow afternoon.
Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel – A ninety-year-old looks back on her life as she fights off attempts to put her in a home. This is a Canadian classic from the 1960s so whilst it fits the trend we have going at the moment, the younger years of the woman are Victorian; a good book if difficult to read (due to the character).
Nicola Cornick: The Phantom Tree – When Alison runs away from those she is staying with as an unwelcome guest, she finds herself in the future and sees a way out of the restricted life she’s living. A good Tudor time travel book.
It would be difficult to pick a favourite this month. The two older books, the Laurence and the Johnson, were ironic, for me, in their subjects. I enjoyed the Cornick but it wasn’t as good as her previous. Considering what I said earlier this month I should point out that I’ve Marlon James’ prize winner and Tom Connelly’s Men Like Air on the go. I decided it was finally time for me to read James on the evening of the inauguration – on a day when I was constantly expecting the media to say ‘fooled you!’ suddenly the idea of starting such a daunting and long book didn’t seem so unrealistic after all. I’m finding the accenting difficult in that way that when an accent is written out some words will be hard to decipher and require some thought – I think I’ll enjoy it best by making it a long-term read. The Connelly I picked up in a moment of reading enthusiasm and it gripped me from the first page.
None this time.
There are still things to come but I’m hopeful that February will be a little better. One thing that has been very good is that the post-Christmas reading slump I thought might persist has gone.
What was the last book you finished and did you enjoy it?
This year I read 71 books, completed two I’d started late 2015… and I’ll be carrying over the now-always-carried-over Vanity Fair (begun in 2012; I’m hoping to restart it) and two others. I made a big effort on the general diversity front, aiming for more male writers, more writers of colour (a number I’ve noticed has gone down since I started blogging), more older books and more translated fiction. I have to admit that this time that latter category was boosted by review copies. Around early autumn I decided to start keeping numerical stats and applied them both to this year’s list of books and retrospectively. It’s proved a good decision so far – it’s reminded me to read my own books. I’m looking at writing a stats post for the past few years’ worth of books.
In forming this list I’ve had the opposite difficulty to every other year – each December I find myself with a lot of ‘best of the best’ books to choose from. Last year I had so many I decided to just list them all. This time, I’ve had trouble. Whether it’s due to a natural personal reading progress, particularly in context with reviewing, or whether it’s down to the books themselves… I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both with an emphasis on my ratings. Have I given less books 5 out of 5 this year due to ever more experience? I think I may have. I do feel a lot more in tune with literature in general than I did 6 years ago, and then there’s the inevitable thing where when you’ve read a lot of books, new ones that tread the same ground won’t seem so ground-breaking. Whatever it is, the fewer books on the best of list are ones without compare, if I may use some flowery language, and I think they’re absolutely awesome.
As always, books that have been reviewed have a line underneath them and the title links to the review. Up until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you’d prefer to skip all that, click here to view my personal favourites.
The Best Of The Best
Ayelet Gundar-Goshen: One Night, Markovitch – A man with an unremarkable face and his friend with the amazing moustache decide to join men heading to Germany to save Jewish women from the Nazis and bring them home to Israel. Full of humour, this is no less a book with a lot to say. It was even better than I’d hoped.
Cathy Rentzenbrink: The Last Act Of Love – The story of the event and aftermath of the author’s brother’s accident as a victim of a hit-and-run. A superb book.
Dan Richards: Climbing Days – Discovering his great-great-aunt was a mountaineer, Richards sets out to learn more and follow in her literal footsteps. Utterly superb.
- Linda Stift: The Empress And The Cake
- Keith Stuart: A Boy Made Of Blocks
- Marie-Sabine Roger: Soft In The Head
- Marie Sizun: Her Father’s Daughter
- Philip Pullman: Northern Lights
- Philip Pullman: The Subtle Knife
- Sara Taylor: The Lauras
- Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: Season Of Crimson Blossoms
- Andrew McMillan: Physical
- Dan Richards: The Beechwood Airship Interviews
- Elizabeth Fremantle: Watch The Lady
- Jessie Greengrass: An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk According To One Who Saw It
- Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
- Magda Szubanski: Reckoning
- Nicholas Royle and David Gledhill: In Camera
- Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes: breach
- Paula Hawkins: The Girl On The Train
- Philip Pullman: The Amber Spyglass
- S J Watson: Before I Go To Sleep
- Samantha Sotto: Love & Gravity
- Sarah Ladipo Manyika: Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun
- Susanna Kearsley: Mariana
- Tahmima Anam: The Bones Of Grace
- Alex Pheby: Playthings
- Amy Liptrot: The Outrun
- Ashley Stokes (ed.): The End
- Benjamin Wood: The Ecliptic
- Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Designing Your Life
- Elizabeth Fremantle: The Girl In The Glass Tower
- Elnathan John: Born On A Tuesday
- Frédéric Dard: Bird In A Cage
- Jonathan Ames: You Were Never Really Here
- Lucy King: Say It With Diamonds
- Mavis Cheek: Dog Days
- Max Porter: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers
- Midge Raymond: My Last Continent
- Rachel Elliot: Whispers Through A Megaphone
- Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Harmless Like You
- Sue Gee: Trio
- Suzanne O’Sullivan: It’s All In Your Head
- Thomas Hardy: Far From The Madding Crowd
- V H Leslie: Bodies Of Water
- Zadie Smith: Swing Time
- Alan Titchmarsh: Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour
- Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Violets And Other Tales
- Cheryl Strayed: Wild
- Chigozie Obioma: The Fishermen
- Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford
- Jemma Wayne: Chains Of Sand
- Kate Walker: Indebted To Moreno
- Kirsty Moseley: Worth Fighting For
- Louisa Young: The Heroes’ Welcome
- Pamela Hartshorne: House Of Shadows
- Paul McVeigh: The Good Son
- Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood, and Dan Richards: Holloway
- Claire Watts: Gingerbread & Cupcake
- Colette Dartford: Learning To Speak American
- Elizabeth Chadwick: Shields Of Pride
- Helen Slavin: Crooked Daylight
- Holly Black: The Darkest Part Of The Forest
- Jo Bartlett: Somebody Else’s Boy
- Rick Yancey: The 5th Wave
- Shan Sa: Empress
- Xiaolu Guo: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers
This year has been very different. Happenings have resulted in my reading a lot more literary fiction, literary non-fiction, and so on. It’s made me think back to that first year I documented my reading, 2009, and those first couple of titles I read that were literary fiction – not knowing about that category at the time I labelled them historicals and I wasn’t keen. I didn’t understand them. It’s funny to think that I appreciate them now.
In regards to my retrospective stats, I’m going to write a comparitive post within a month or two so I won’t go into too much detail here, but my reading skewed towards women a little less this year which I’m very happy about and will be working to improve further this new year. New-to-me authors ruled the year; the vast majority of books I read were by authors I hadn’t read before. Some great new finds but I do feel I need more balance. The oldest book I read was Cranford – published as a serial between 1851-53. The newest book I read, Samantha Sotto’s Love & Gravity, is set to be published early February.
I found it hard to write up this quote in my usual style, so here’s the extract from the book, The Subtle Knife, concerning Lyra’s first impressions of Will:
She tiptoed to the window. In the glow from the street lamp she carefully set the hands of the alethiometer, and relaxed her mind into the shape of a question. The needle began to sweep around the dial in a series of pauses and swings almost too fast to watch.
She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion.
Do not tell Deborah of Cranford that women are equal to men because she will not listen – she believes women are superior. And if you join Joseclin and Linnet’s household, from Shields Of Pride, you will find yourself playing medieval football with a pig’s bladder and it will be messy.
Yaacov Markovitch of One Night, Markovitch is pleasantly surprised to learn his visa-wife is a fan of agricultural literature – she’d said she’d read a great deal about Israel’s oranges. What he doesn’t realise is she’s read a four-line stanza.
If you wish for people to not visit, take a leaf from Dan Richards’ relative – mentioned in Climbing Days and wear a hat whilst in the house so you can say you’re off out… though it might not work in our present day so much.
Getting beer in stock either for the babysitter or the kids is absolutely fine when you’re absolutely desperate for time away with your wife, or, at least, so thinks Matt from A Boy Made Of Blocks.
In the next few days I’ll be posting my film round-up and goals for the year.
What were your favourite books from those you read last year?
Happy new year! It always seems strange having this round up just before my yearly one, but without it a few books would get completely lost and – in many ways more importantly – I want to shed particular light on this month because the books were particularly great.
Claire Watts: Gingerbread & Cupcake – Simon hoped to travel over the summer, Lily hoped for a last ‘summer of love’ but when both plans fail and Simon’s family tearooms take a dive in the ratings, they find themselves spending time with each other. A nice fairly short young adult book.
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Harmless Like You – After the death of his father, Jay must go looking for his absent mother; Yuki struggled with who she was meant to be, falling into bad relationships, always hoping to be a good artist. A good book about identity, art, race, and family.
Samantha Sotto: Love & Gravity – The cracks in the wall start happening in Andrea’s single digit years and although no one believes her she comes to look forward to the rare sightings of the historical boy, a budding scientist, on the other side of her wall. A great time slip/travel novel that makes use of a mystery box of letters recently found amongst Issac Newton’s possessions to tell its story.
Zadie Smith: Swing Time – A nameless narrator tells us the story of her life; her on-off best friend and their jealousies and triumphs, the work she did for a western celebrity with an idealised project for ‘Africa’, and a childhood with a mother determined to better herself. This book is a bit too packed full of subjects, structured in a strange way, and has a disappointing non-ending, but the reading experience is pretty awesome.
Being December, I had more time for older books and books from my shelves. I had been wanting to read Buchanan for a while and Sotto’s book, whilst a review copy, was one I’d been looking forward to ever since I finished her previous in 2011. Watts’ book, too, I’d looked forward to – I’m still to review her previous book, that should be happening February or thereabouts; it’s stunning. My favourite? The Sotto just about wins.
None this time.
Here’s to good books helping us all get through that post-Christmas dullness!
Which of your last 2016 reads were favourites?
Phew! November done. Thus ends my oh-my-God-I’ve-so-much-to-read couple of months (though I’m writing this in advance so still crossing my fingers!) This month has been chocker block. When I’ve said to family and friends ‘I’m sorry but I have to read’ as much as it may have sounded like ‘I need to wash my hair’ to the non-readers, I meant every word. This month has seen our second literary event at The Notes Cafe, with nearing triple the promotion and time requirements, and included the reading and preparation for our Young Writer Of The Year award shadow judging. The short books balanced out by the tomes.
And I’ve loved every minute of it. Here’s what I crammed in but gave full attention to this month; I think this is the first time I’ve covered all three ‘types’ in one month – non-fiction, fiction, poetry:
Magda Szubanski: Reckoning – The star of Babe and Kath And Kim recounts both the story of her life and the way her Polish relatives fought back against the Nazis. Superb; Szubanski is a keen writer and there’s a lot of information about the Second World War in here that gets forgotten.
Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards: Holloway – Macfarlane takes a trip to visit a holloway with Roger Deakin and, after Deakin’s passing, visits the holloway again with Donwood and Richards in tribute. This is a very short book of what I can only describe as prose poetry, a love letter to nature, together with Donwood’s etchings; a lovely escape.
Benjamin Wood: The Ecliptic – Ellie, an artist struggling to create something from the heart, lives at a creative refuge on an island off Turkey and everything is great until a much younger resident arrives with his very different ideas. A fantastic study of creativity but the ending’s a bit samey and the narrative quite anachronistic.
Elizabeth Fremantle: Watch The Lady – Penelope Devereux and her family support Scottish King James VI’s claim to the throne of England but they must go about it carefully, in the same way Penelope must go about her romantic relationships in a time when the monarch’s permission had to be sought in order to marry. The characters in this leap off the page, the plot, however complex in its political manoeuvrings, is secondary, and in this case that’s perfect.
Elizabeth Fremantle: The Girl In The Glass Tower – Lady Arbella Stuart’s life is controlled by those who would see her on the English throne and in rebellion she limits herself at meals and decides to marry who she will. This book looks at another of the possible successions; it’s a bit weaker than the above but still very compelling.
Jessie Greengrass: An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It – A collection of short stories based around the themes of intervention and choice. Super.
Max Porter: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers – When his wife dies, a man who is writing a book on Ted Hughes finds a Crow at his door, a bird who will help him and his sons through their grief. Poetry in prose.
Paul McVeigh: The Good Son – Growing up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Michael Donnelly attempts to work out who he is whilst war wages outside in the street. Not bad – it’s a particular book with a balance of profound and your average coming-of-age.
Andrew McMillan: Physical – A collection of pieces on the male body and sexuality. Awesome.
It would be difficult to pick a favourite this month.
None this time.
I can’t quite believe it’s only two weeks until I put the blog on its 2 week Christmas hiatus. Still a couple of books to recommend to you before then and that all important award result! (Our Shadow Panel winner was announced yesterday.)
What have you been up to this month?