When Goodreads asked readers to set themselves a reading challenge for 2017, I thought why not make it a round figure? 100 seemed plausible at the time. But as it turned out, not quite achievable, although I’m not far off.The challenge did mean keeping better track of what I have read, and it’s fun – at least for me – to look back on the year and consider what I read and why.
Only a couple to mention this year, but really worth while. Into the Blizzard by Michael Winter is the human story behind the fate of the Newfoundland regiment in the First World War. Outrun by Amy Liptrott is about the author’s love/hate relationship with Orkney. Both beautifully written, these are also books you can dip into and out of without losing the thread, which is an added bonus. Finally the Jane Austen writers club by Rebecca Smith is a ‘how to’ write book using Jane Austen’s writing as examples. Most writing books will cite books I personally haven’t read, which doesn’t make the examples that helpful, but focusing on one writer, her life and work, is extremely helpful, and quite illuminating and encoraging.
Dystopia/ horror/ sci fi.
It may be a sign of the times, but I found myself reading several dystopian thrillers this year. I read The Girl with All the Gifts simply because I was going to see the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival where he was paired with Joe Hill, and realised a few pages in that it was a Zombie Apocalypse book, which would normally fill me with horror (and not in a good way) but… I was already hooked by the central character and I have to say, it was a cracking read. Likeable young girl is strapped to a wheelchair – why? (Joe Hill, incidentally, is turning into his father in that as he becomes more famous, his books get longer and longer and perhaps a little weirder. NOS4R2, my first read of the year, was over 800 pages long and pretty weird in places, though classic horror).
I also forced myself to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, having put this off for some time, and it was unremittingly horrific as expected – though a fantastic piece of writing nonetheless. But Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – although similar to The Road – was immensely uplifting.
I remember reading The Rapture by Liz Jensen when it came out – which as far as I remember was in that ilk, but the Ninth life of Louise Drax is very different – more like Curious Incident.
Another Edinburgh Book Festival purchase was Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. She writes ghost stories set in cold places, and this one – set in the Himalayas – did not disappoint.
There are some brilliant writers out there and it was a pleasure to finally be introduced to Elizabeth Wein’s writing. Code Name Verity is a moving story of female friendship set against the Second World War – it had me in tears. The prequel The Pearl Thief which came out this year, has rightly been nominated for the Carnegie. I also – it shames me to confess – had not read Terry Prachett before, and so I resolved this year to address this crime, starting with Mort, which was laugh out loud funny. Now another huge backlist to work my way through….
And my other new find this year was Mark Watson. Yes the comedian, but also a bloody good writer. Eleven is faultless. Great writing, fabulous characterisation and excellent plotting. And he has a backlist as well…
My final discovery of the year was again thanks to Edinburgh Book Festival. Chimamanda Ngosi Adiche. I started with Purple Hibiscus. Bloody hell it’s good.
And finally, although the author is not new to me, this book is. Bought at the launch at Ullapool Book Festival, James Robertson’s To Be Continued is the funniest thing I’ve read for a long time.
Anyone who is even slightly interested in books will realise that Philip Pullman has, after a twenty year wait, brought out a prequel to His Dark Materials. Although exact sales figures have’t been released, it is said to have sold more than 100,000 copies at launch. Buying it prompted me to re-read the Dark Materials Trilogy. When I first read this about fifteen years ago, my favourite was The Subtle Knife and that hasn’t changed. The new book La Belle Sauvage, is a tighter, more one-dimensional read, a modern children’s book, so perhaps less interesting, although it felt as if Phillip Pulman must have been asked several questions about daemons over the years, and has attempted to answer them here, which I found pleasing as this concept has always utterly fascinated me.
For various plots of my own, I also re-read Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters, and Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell, and found both of these as pleasurable as the first time round. Any wannabe writer should really read Fingersmith and marvel at her story-telling abilities.
Being in a children’s book group also meant revisiting some classics, and it was interesting to see what stands the test of time. The Owl Service by Alan Garner was one of my favourite books as a young adult, and I must have read and re-read it numerous times, but what a disappointment it was to re-visit it now! It has not survived the passage of time well. The same cannot be said of A Bear Called Paddington – still a delightful read with such a light touch. However I find myself wondering how I coped with The Wonderful O by James Thurber when I was young. Quite a literary style, but I remember it as an exciting read.
For the bookclub I re-read Everyday by David Leviathian and still adore this book. I would like to force everyone I know to read it.
Best new book of the year.
James Robertson’s To Be Continued.
Best read this year:
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity
Worst read of the year:
Very sad to say The Owl Service, especially as this was one of my favourites growing up