The decision to keep a book journal was one of my better moves this year. Having only started in March, my year to date total is 60, which implies my total read was probably in the region of 80-90. Not too shabby. Could do better, if there wasn’t quite so much choice on TV, methinks, and how many hours wasted on Spider Solitaire when I could have had my nose in a good book? I’m going to aim for 100 next year, not least to diminish the ‘pile to read’ a bit.
There are always a few old favourites to resist. This year I re-read Eleanor and Park – TWICE. Probably the best YA romance I’ve ever read, knocking John Green into a cocked hat. Also re-read were Pride and Prejudice because who can get through a year without having some Austen to cheer them up? Actually I re-read it trying to think about how she handled point of view, and it was a revelation. So deft- especially when she had no role models, and to think she was only out of her teens at this point. Other revisits were also all children/YA – A wizard of Earthsea – so beautifully written, and I’m resolved o revisit some more Ursula Le Guin this year. Marianne Dreams – a childhood favourite by Catherine Storr. No idea how many times I’ve read that one, but the pages are falling out… And finally, thanks to a workshop at Edinburgh Book Festival, I went back nearly twenty years to Walk Two Moons (by Sharon Creech – another one with an interesting narrative thread)
Having discovered Horns by Joe Hill last year, I read a second one of his – Heart Shaped Box. Truly spooky, but also well plotted and with some fabulous twists. Half way through, I found myself thinking, goodness this is just like the early, great Stephen King stuff, so it was amusing to discover that Joe Hill is actually his son. What a great mentor to have.
Speaking of which, a year of reading cannot go past without some Stephen King. This year started with Finders Keepers, which I realised was a sequel to something, but actually it was fine – it worked well as a stand alone. I then discovered I actually had the first book on my kindle Mr Mercedes. (The problem with Kindle – you can’t browse so easily!). Both books are tense, tight, and with great characters. Looking forward to the next in this series going into paperback. Oh yes, and just to cap off the horror, I re-read Carrie – still an excellent read, and such an interesting narrative device.
No shortage of crime to read this year, and a new find – Sophie Hannah – loved A Room Swept White, so am looking forwar
d to working through her back catalogue (They’re on 3 for 2 in Blackwells as I write, so guess what I did yesterday). The best crime read of the year though, was Christopher Brookmyre’s Black Widow – which won the Scottish crime book of the year – well deserved.
Ok, so horror, thriller and crime probably overlap quite a bit, but having three categories allows me to have a few more favourites. And there isn’t really anyone to beat Barbara Vine (Aka Ruth Rendell). This year I found three new ones (new to me that is) – A dark adapted eye, Grasshopper, and The Minotaur. Close call, but the Minotaur wins. Claustrophic, a truly nasty mother who would be perfectly accepted in society nonetheless, and yet she manages to create children who are monsters. As with all Barbara Vine, the path to the inevitable, horrible end, is compelling.
Some amazing stuff out there, from both sides of the Atlantic, big ideas, big concepts, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – barely on the bookshelves before being picked up by Tim Burton. Although I enjoyed the concept (a book written around a collection of old photographs) I didn’t bother reading the sequel. Kathryn Evan’s More of Me another great concept picking up prizes, and it certainly was novel, and gripping, but my favourite YA of the year was closer to home, small publisher, no huge concept, but totally gripping – Victoria Gemmell Follow Me.
Not always easy to see the cut off between children and Ya, but there is some great stuff out there, and the more we can sub-divide genres, the more shelf space we create in bookshops! Read some cracking new children’s books – Beetle Boy MG Leonard, Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens Alex McCall, Accidental Time Traveller, Janis Mackay, Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, but actually my favourite read was an old classic which I’ve not read before When
Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. Understated, beautifully written – loved it.
A broad category, and hard to see where it begins and ends, but there are a few which definitely fit into this, and which stood out. Claire Fuller Our Endless Numbered Days about a girl who is brought up in the wilderness by her father – an apocolypse nut – believing the rest of the world is dead. Also really enjoyed Lucy Robinson The Day we Disappeared – a woman in hiding from someone or something. Gripping.
i adore Bill Bryson, and so I was desperate to read Road to Little Dribbling. As usual I had to read it in a separate room to avoid annoying people when I collapse into giggles. Bill Bryson is the only reader who actually gives me a stitch from laughing, and this didn’t disappoint… however. I have to be honest, on occasions he sounds a bit Grumpy Old Man instead of innocent abroad, and the premise – a trip from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, was badly navigated. Three quarters of the way through and he was still in Norfolk (which is hardly en route, incidentally). Still we can forgive him most things, and it was still a tremendous read.
I was also thrilled to see Alexei Sayle at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and bought both of his autobiographies – Stalin Ate my Homework and Thatcher Stole my Trousers. Stalin..covers his life up until leaving school and it is laugh out loud funny, as well as a real insight into the creation of Alexei Sayle. Thatcher covers the years when he was trying to break out as a stand-up comedian, including his time with the Comic Strip. However, there were occasions, when I found it, not only unfunny, but almost spiteful – hard to tell whether it is caustic humour not translating well onto the page, or whether he was really being nasty, but either way… Maybe your heroes always disappoint in the end…
The best non fiction of the year was, in fact, something I thought would be unreadable. Forensics by Val McDermid, tells the story of how this aspect of crime solving has evolved over the years. Fascinating, and somehow the gruesome bits are just – well, interesting.
So which one wins overall? Hard to pick one, but I think in the end it was Our Endless Numbered Days, narrowly beating Heart Shaped Box into second place.
Worst book of the year? The Year of Open Doors ed, by Roge Glass. A short story collection. There were a couple of stories to redeem the collection (By Doug Johnstone and Alan Bissett) but otherwise I found it tedious and hard-going. Scotland is not all miserable, impoverished Glaswegians being rained on, though you would find it hard to believe otherwise if you make it to the end of this collection (which sadly, I didn’t). The only book I put down, unfinished, in the entire year.