Category Archives: books

The Books I Read in 2017

2017 was a good year of reading for me – 43 books, of which 24 were written by women!  Although I’m still using my Kindle quite a lot, a job move in the summer meant that I was in close proximity to a good Blackwells with lots of enticing 3 for 2 offers.  I love a good 3 for 2, and I never quite forgave Waterstones for shunning them; I love that I will buy two books that I really want to read and then use the third book as an opportunity for a bit of literary risk-taking.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry This received a LOT of hype and, while I enjoyed it, there wasn’t that much going on with it.  It sort of fizzled out for me.

Fun House – Alison Bechdel An inspired birthday present from Chris, who reckoned that this would be a good choice for a graphic-novel loving feminist; he was completely spot-on with this.  I’d heard of the Bechdel Test, but hadn’t realised that Alison Bechdel is a great writer and artist.  Totally recommend this!

Absolute Pandemonium – Brian Blessed YOU CAN READ THE WHOLE BOOK IN BRIAN BLESSED’S BOOOOOMING VOICE!

Jerusalem – Alan Moore This was a bit of a whopper – slightly concerning when the reviews had been mixed, at best.  I really enjoyed this, despite the fact that it needed a more thorough edit.  There are some fantastic ideas in this book, and the characters and imagery have stayed with me.

The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante I read the first volume last year on Kindle and then requested all of them for my birthday.  I’ll say more on them later…

The Power Naomi Alderman – I enjoyed this, but it’s not as substantial as reading Atwood.

Thatcher Stole My Trousers – Alexei Sayle

So Much for That – Lionel Shriver

The Noise of Time – Julian Barnes This is a fictionalised account of Shostakovich’s struggles under Stalin.  Very moving.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante

Huey Morgan’s Rebel Heroes – Huey Morgan

Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History – Richard Evans I’m still a bit obsessed with alternate history, so went all meta on my own ass!

Middlemarch – George Eliot I had never read this, or any George Eliot for that matter, and really enjoyed it.

An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir – Ariel Leve

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 – Lionel Shriver This was a great apocalyptic romp!

Wind/Pinball – Haruki Murakami

The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante I enjoyed the quartet as a whole; loved the growing politicisation of the characters and the increasing anger at the patriarchy.  The final novel felt a bit rushed (perhaps I just wanted to spend more time with the characters).

American Gods – Neil Gaiman I enjoyed this, and also the TV series.

Number 11 – Jonathan Coe

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

The Underground Railroad – Colston Whitehead 

This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

The Lauras – Sara Taylor

Dominion – C.J. Sansom

Swing Time – Zadie Smith I had really been looking forward to this. I was a bit disappointed – it lacked depth.

In Search of Lost Time. Volume 1: Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust Surprisingly readable! I was hooked from the first page; Proust describes a particular experience of falling asleep that I had thought was just one of my own peculiarities.  To be fair, I became less engrossed as I waded through; it’s a bit of an endurance test.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone – Olivia Laing

Garden Cities – Sarah Rutherford

Alan Partridge: Nomad – Alan Partridge

Autumn – Ali Smith

A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman I think this was my least favourite – not funny, just bitter and a bit pointless.

The Allegations – Mark Lawson

Man with a Seagull on His Head – Harriet Paige

A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip – Alexander Masters

Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

How to Survive a Plague – David France I think that this was my favourite book of the year! It looks at the AIDS crisis of the 1980s from scientific, historical, and personal perspectives.  The utter abandonment of the gay community by the US government should never be forgotten; likewise the grit and determination of young AIDS activists – many of whom had non-scientific backgrounds – is an example to us all in these dark days.  I really can’t recommend this enough.

Forest Dark – Nicole Krauss

All at Sea – Decca Aitkenhead

Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails – Sarah Bakewell

Women and Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard

Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel

So, that’s my 2017.  How did you do? Any recommendations for me?

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What I Read in 2016

Well, ignoring the fact that 2016 saw a chain of events begin to unfurl that is likely to bring about the end of civilisation, the last year was a pretty good one for reading.  It wasn’t a fantastic year for me personally – spending much of it coping first with a bullying manager, and then the fall-out from dealing with that (he has been dealt with!).  Books provided an excellent refuge from all of that.  I also took on a couple of whoppers – War and Peace and Ulysses – which I am rather proud of.  23 of the 41 books I read were written by women – hurray!

I have been keeping my book diary for over ten years now – it’s funny to look at the early entries, where time and space seemed plentiful:

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Compared to the desperately tight scrawl of fearful middle-age:

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Anyway, on to the books:

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – Marie Kondo – I got as far as clothes, and threw out about 8 bags of clothing that didn’t spark joy!  As far as books and knick-knacks go, she can do one!!
  2. SPQR – Mary Beard – Making up for all those Roman History classes that I spent in the pub.
  3. A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson – I nearly didn’t buy this, as I didn’t like the cover (a dead rabbit), but absolutely loved this. It’s linked to another brilliant Atkinson novel: Life After Life, and I recommend both.
  4. Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill
  5. A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler
  6. The Complete Eightball Vol.1 – Daniel Clowes
  7. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler
  8. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – I have to admit that reading this was both prompted and aided by the the excellent BBC adaptation.
  9. A Book for Her – Bridget Christie – funny!
  10. Purity – Jonathan Franzen – not my favourite, but still really readable.
  11. The Big Short – Michael Lewis
  12. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
  13. A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton
  14. The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie
  15. Not My Father’s Son: A Family Memoir – Alan Cumming
  16. A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  17. The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
  18. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits – David Wong
  19. Dancing in the Dark: My Struggle Book 4 – Karl Ove Knausgaard – I’m still working my way through the My Struggle series, and still enjoying them.
  20. Nod – Adrian Barnes
  21. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark – Anna North
  22. My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante – I was curious about the hype, and now I’m hooked – I’ll be reading more of her work in 2017.
  23. The Kindness – Polly Samson
  24. Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
  25. Ruby – Cynthia Bond
  26. Slade House – David Mitchell
  27. The Deaths – Mark Lawson
  28. Time and Time Again – Ben Elton
  29. 2666 – Roberto Bolano
  30. American Housewife – Helen Ellis – I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but these were really funny.
  31. The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  32. The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote – Dan Micklethwaite
  33. Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body – Sara Pascoe
  34. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
  35. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  36. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary – David Sedaris
  37. The Complete Eightball Vol.2 – Daniel Clowes
  38. Ulysses – James Joyce – This was a bit like reading a novel in a different language and  at times I felt lost.  I’m glad I read this, though, because it’s so radical for its time.
  39. Bonkers: My Life in Laughs – Jennifer Saunders
  40. The Actual One: How I Tried and Failed to Remain Twenty-Something Forever – Isy Suttie
  41. The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

This year has begun promisingly – just started reading The Essex Serpent.  So, 2017 – any reading recommendations?  Any more whoppers that you think I should try?