2015 was a bumper reading year for me – I managed to clock up 42 books. 18 were written by women, which is a bit disappointing since I had been aiming for at least 50% female authors this year. In 2015 I learned about Brutalist Architecture, the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and why you should never read those books that are free to Amazon Prime members.
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
I enjoyed this, but then when talking to my friend Rob about it I realised that there are too many loose ends. Without spoiling it too much, it’s frustrating that the character of the Miniaturist is not really explained or explored.
Ayoade on Ayoade – Richard Ayoade
I love Richard Ayoade, and this was funny and WAY better than most books written by comedians.
Concretopia – John Grindrod
I was at the Hepworth gallery with my friend Penny, having a browse in the gift shop (in my moronic opinion the best part of any trip to a gallery or museum) and saw this book. It looked pleasing, so I treated myself – despite knowing that I could buy it online much cheaper (yes, I am like a modern day Mother Theresa – I am awaiting sainthood). This was so interesting and really changed my perspective on what many people think of as concrete monstrosities. A few days after finishing this book, I was celebrating my 40th in London and took a walk down to the South Bank and saw the buildings there with fresh eyes.
Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man – Tom Cox
This was a Kindle cheapy – I’d read Tom Cox in The Guardian and enjoyed his columns about living with cats. I’m not sure it really warrants a whole book. It’s a bit too fluffy – I got furballs.
The Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling
I finished reading this on the day that the BBC adaptation started. Both the book and the telly adaptation were good – but quite different. I normally hate BBC drama, but actually this story of small town politics worked incredibly well. I recommend both.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
I read this because it won a prize. It’s very well written, but Jaysus it’s grim and depressing.
Santa Land Diaries – David Sedaris
After reading the Eimear McBride I needed mirth, and fast!
My Struggle. Book 1 – Karl Knausgaard
It felt like every day I would come across someone writing about how brilliant Knausgaard’s huge, multi-part autobiography was, and felt compelled to see for myself. Yup, it’s good! Nothing happens – but everything happens! It’s a work of great skill – writing in such great depth about thoughts and feelings, revealing the parts of himself that authors would normally want to conceal.
How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
We’ve been here before with Moran and, funny as it was, I’m looking forward to reading something different from her soon.
How to Be Both – Ali Smith
This is so clever – much cleverer than me, who hadn’t realised that the Kindle edition has both ‘versions’ of the book back to back and ended up reading Part 1, Part 2, and then a chunk of Part 2 again before realising my mistake.
My Struggle Book 2: A Man in Love – Karl Knausgaard
It’s very hard to explain why I’ve enjoyed reading the Knausgaard autobiographies so much this year – all I can do is heartily recommend them.
The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig
I think I picked this up because of a reference to Zweig in The Grand Budapest Hotel’s credits. This guy led an amazing life – through a turbulent period of European History. Zweig and his wife committed suicide immediately after posting the manuscript for this work and so the whole thing has an extra layer of poignancy. I intend to read more Zweig in 2016.
Gods Behaving Badly – Marie Phillips
The blurb for this book sang to me – ancient Greek gods living in the modern world – but the reality was a bit disappointing. It was quite funny, but (and bear in mind that I spent eight years studying Classics) I felt that so much more could have been done with this. The end result was a bit trashy.
The Comedy Hotel – Guy Bellamy
‘Oooh now I have Amazon Prime I can read books for free!’. Yes, there’s a reason these books are here and not in the Kindle Unlimited range, and that’s because they’re shit. This was dreadful.
Eight Months on Ghazzah St – Hilary Mantel
I needed something substantial and turned to Mantel to blot out the memory of the previous book. This was fascinating.
The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
Over the last few years Sarah Waters has become one of the authors whose new works I look out for. I was really looking forward to this, and was not disappointed. Once again Waters creates a completely believable period piece with fascinating female characters. The plot had me gripped.
Monkey’s Uncle – Jenny Diski
This was clever and funny and I’m glad I read it, but I still haven’t warmed to Diski that much.
Funny Girl – Nick Hornby
I really enjoyed this – a fictional account of a young woman’s rise from Blackpool beauty queen to sitcom stardom. It had warmth and humour.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North
There seem to be a few books around at the moment with a similar theme – living life over and over – and this one was pretty good, but nowhere near as skilled as Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel
There was a lot of buzz around this book and while I enjoyed reading it, it wasn’t one of my favourites of the year. Yeah, a muted response.
Stone Mattresses: Nine Tales – Margaret Atwood
I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I DO love Atwood, so I thought that (in light of the previous reads being a bit underwhelming) I would give this a go. Good, quirky, inventive.
Expo 58 – Jonathan Coe
I’m a big fan of Coe and was looking forward to this coming out. It’s a really good romp.
Lingo: A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe – Gaston Dorren
This was really interesting and led to many of those partner-annoying conversations where you just have to keep reciting interesting facts. The only problem is that it was quite technical and now I can’t remember ANY of those facts at all!
The Ipcress File – Len Deighton
I was listening to R4 while I was making felt skulls and a programme came on about Deighton. I was intrigued to learn that the unnamed protagonist (Harry Palmer in the film) was from Burnley! With a sense of home-town loyalty I decided to read it – despite not being a massive fan of spy fiction. It was actually pretty good – although I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any shoot-outs at the Thompson Centre or secret codes hidden in the fountain.
The Emperor Waltz – Philip Hensher
Another author whose work I always keep an eye out for. I think this book got some fairly negative reviews, but I thought it was fantastic – especially the Bauhaus episodes. Like Sarah Waters, I think you can see Hensher’s academic background in his work, and he creates really believable historical background and texture.
The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett
Another book which explores lives in a Sliding Doors fashion. It was pretty readable, but nothing to write home about.
Seinlanguage – Jerry Seinfeld
Love Jerry Seinfeld. This was pretty funny, but if you’ve followed his stand-up you’ll probably have heard a lot of this before.
My Struggle: Book 3 – Karl Knausgaard
Still got a few of these to go!
The Girl With All the Gifts – MR Carey
A neat premise – the zombie-apocalypse from the perspective of the ‘zombie’ (it’s a bit more complicated than that). It wasn’t especially well-written, but was still a page-turner.
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
I initially resisted this because it felt like everyone and her dog was reading it. It was pretty enjoyable, with a few twists and turns.
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
It’s a testament to Didion’s skills as a writer that she can take us right into the heart of her own grief and pain and make it so exquisite.
Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas
I didn’t expect to read any more Tsiolkas after abandoning The Slap about fifty pages in. I still don’t think he’ll be one of my go-to authors – there’s something about his writing style that kind of jars with me – but I did enjoy this.
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
I really didn’t like this at all – I hate people blogging about what a naïve clutz they are – but all the while they’re clearly doing very well at generating interest in their blog, getting deals, etc. It just felt a bit disingenuous – like a comic persona that isn’t that comic. I know a lot of people are fans of her blog, but I think I have different expectations from a book.
1989: The Berlin Wall: My Part in its Downfall – Peter Millar
Loved this! I realised that I knew very little about what caused the wall to come down – I remember it happening, but it was just an item on the news to me back then. I think it might have kicked me off on a Cold War phase – I’m looking forward to the new TV series Deutschland ’83, and I’m also looking forward to watching Bridge of Spies.
Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay – William Boyd
Brilliant! Double brilliant because of the use of found photographs! One of my favourite books of the year.
The Martian – Andy Weir
Everyone was reading it and I thought I’d give it a go. It’s hardly a great work of literature, but it’s a good story.
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
Ooh this was a chewy one – lots of different voices, lots of dialect, lots of grit. It’s added lots of new insults to my personal dictionary (‘Get off my cardigan you bumbaclart cat!). It’s worth the effort, and it was a worthy Booker winner.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
It’s interesting that Ronson often writes about things that are on the margins of society, but this was about things in which we all (one way or another) participate. It’s a big, important subject handled with a light touch.
The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
This popped up in quite a few end of the year lists of people’s favourite books. From the blurb I wasn’t sure if it would be my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed the dreamy nature of the fantasy.
The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
Another really enjoyable book from Atwood. I think she does a really good job of writing about the future without it sounding cringey or false.
The Children Act – Ian McEwen
An economically told story, that’s well-written and has a good complex female protagonist.
Spectacles: A Memoir – Sue Perkins
I’m a big fan of Mel and Sue, and was very pleased to get this memoir from my sister for Christmas. I don’t think there are huge bombshell surprises in here, but it’s funny.
Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt
I’d enjoyed The Sisters Brothers by deWitt, so gave this one a go as my last book of the year. It’s an enjoyable romp.
So, there you have it! In terms of goals for 2016, I’m aiming to up the number of female authors, read more of the Knausgaard autobiography, and I drunkenly declared (on NYE) that I would finally get around to War and Peace (along with a million other people who have seen the trailer for the BBC adaptation). I’m always grateful for reading recommendations – what did you enjoy reading last year?