Tag Archives: books

The Books I Read in 2014

2014 was the year of big whopping books – something that it is easy to forget when reading them on a Kindle. My total number of books is down on the previous year (36 in 2014, 42 in 2013). In mitigation, as well as reading whoppers such as The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, I also moved house – but this is where the Kindle really came into its own, as while all my books were (and still are) packed away in boxes, I had a good selection of things to read when I wasn’t stressing out or throwing all of my junk away or trying to make my old house sell-able.

Inspired by Woodsiegirl, whose excellent statistical analysis I discovered last year, here are few stats before I start:

Books by men = 20, Books by women = 16

Books read for first time = 35, Books read in a previous year = 1 (Where’d You Go Bernadette)

Books read on Kindle = 33, Hard copy books read = 3

Tough Shit: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob who Did Good – Kevin Smith

I always feel compelled to read things by KS and to watch his films, despite the fact that he is starting to annoy me a little bit. I didn’t enjoy this very much – although I did really like Red State, which I only got around to watching recently.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Everyone raved about this book, and I did really enjoy it and was gripped by the story. I’m not sure how much of it has really stayed with me though. Almost like disposable literary fiction.

Stoner – John Williams

I was SO fashionable in 2014, reading all of the books that everyone else was reading. This falls into the category of good but totally depressing. A man strives and lives and dies. His miserable life is largely the fault of his wife (!).

Kangaroo Dundee – Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns

Brolga

I make no apologies for loving Brolga (a man who has dedicated his life to rescuing little Joeys from the pouches of road kill kangaroos). This book was a very welcome birthday gift. It had lots of photos of cute kangaroos in it 🙂

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

I did enjoy this at the time, but in some profound (possibly Buddhist) way it has all slipped away from me – as if the words were washed away on the tide.

A Place of Greater Safety – Hilary Mantel

Reading this made me realise that I actually knew very little about the French Revolution. This book was completely terrifying in its imagining of the paranoia and violence that divides and weakens the revolutionaries.

MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

I think I need to read the whole trilogy again, I found myself getting a bit lost. It was still really good, though.

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

After hearing David Sedaris on R4, I decided to read some of his work. He’s quickly become one of my go-to ‘comfort’ authors – he’s like the nice mug of cocoa of authors. And I don’t mean that to be derogatory at all.

An Experiment in Love – Hilary Mantel

This was interesting – the first Mantel novel I have read that is set in a (relatively) contemporary period. It wasn’t one of my favourite books of the year. She’s much better with ye olde folks!

Hello, I Must Be Going – Charlotte Chandler

An account by a woman who spent time with Groucho Marx in the final years of his life. It does give some insight into the man, but I’m not sure it was really necessary to know that stuff. I kept thinking ‘Why am I reading this? I’d be better off watching a Marx Brothers film’.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Night-Circus-UK-cover

Yes! One of my favourite books of the year. Magic!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

I enjoyed reading this, and it has repeatedly popped into my brain ever since – especially when my boss texts me and tells me that I have to go and contribute to our company’s social media site so that we are ‘more visible’.

The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Steve Baxter

I like the idea behind this – that it is possible to ‘step’ into a parallel world, and that people keep stepping and exploring and colonising these ‘new’ lands. I liked the idea so much that I overcame my aversion to having a Terry Pratchett book on my reading list. It didn’t entirely live up to my expectations, although I appreciate that there are so many ideas that can stem from the basic premise that I would be extremely lucky if it explored the things that I wanted it to. I have the follow-up novels stashed on my Kindle.

Naked – David Sedaris

Argh! I’m moving house and our removal company can’t do the day we need tears hair out and then settles down to a nice cup of Sedaris

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple

Argh! I’m moving house and what will we do with the cats while we’re moving?? tears hair out and then settles down to a book that I loved back in 2013

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

Not unpleasant, but not really that much to write home about.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

A big, whopping, prize-winner. Like a nice big bowl of All-Bran; good for you, a little bit chewy, hard work at time, but gives a self-satisfied sense of having done something worthwhile. Doesn’t help with bowel movements, though.

Fatherland – Robert Harris

Fatherland

Still on my quest for good alternate histories, I realised that I couldn’t avoid the old Nazis. Most alternate history writing seems to centre on Nazis and detectives – I decided that I might as well go for the daddy of all Nazi writers and read a Robert Harris novel. There were Nazis (they won the war!) and a detective (hmm perhaps these Nazis aren’t as great as I initially thought). Many thrills ensue.

The Mistress’ Daughter – AM Homes

I like AM Homes, and I enjoyed this autobiographical piece.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon

Another alternate history (Jews are settled in Alaska, a detective solves a mystery). It was a bit dull.

One Summer: America 1927 – Bill Bryson

Bill-Bryson-One-Summer-America-1927-hardback

One of my favourites of the year. Picks a year, then looks at all of the things going on in it.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick

Alternate history – Nazis, but no detectives.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

Would you like (vegetarian) marshmallows and squirty cream with that hot chocolate? Yes please!

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

Questions don’t always get answered in Murakami’s works (or not in a way that I can always detect, anyway) and I was slightly concerned that this book – which centres around a man’s need to know why his childhood friends stopped seeing him – would leave me hanging. Thankfully I got some answers, along with some more questions. To be honest, with Murakami I always enjoy the journey, even if I don’t reach a particular destination.

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

I love the variety in Mitchell’s work – he really seems to be able to turn his hand to anything. Previous works have had a mystical/magical element, but this went all-out sci-fi in parts. It was a really enjoyable romp.

Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics – Mark Kermode

To be honest, this was something a bit fluffy to read between two longer books. It was ok.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris

I loved the idea – an emotionally closed-off dentist discovers that someone has created a new online identity for him. One of the most enjoyable books I read this year.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys – Viv Albertine

Viv Albertine

Really interesting from a few different angles – firstly, an articulate memoir of someone who was right in the middle of the London punk scene and, secondly, as an account of a woman striving to succeed in a man’s world. It’s sad that Albertine fought so hard to make a space for herself in the macho punk environment, but then lost herself in love and marriage and babies. Thankfully she found herself again, and there’s definitely an important message (especially for me, on the cusp on 40) about reinventing oneself.

We Were Liars – E Lockhart

I didn’t realise that this was Young Adult fiction until I had finished it. I know a lot of adults like reading it, but I felt a bit tainted. It was a pretty good story, but fairly simple and unchallenging.

Tipping The Velvet – Sarah Waters

I’ve been meaning to read some earlier Waters, after loving The Little Stranger. She’s a very intelligent writer who is able to evoke a really strong sense of the era that she’s depicting. There’s a lot of interesting material here about music hall, Victorian attitudes to sexuality, and the growing union movement. I’m curious now about the TV adaptation of this that was made a few years ago because, on top of all the fascinating historical details, it’s just a really good story.

Yes Please! – Amy Poehler

This was a bit weak. I think Amy Poehler is hilarious, and I enjoyed the way she writes about her background in (and obvious love of) improv, but this book felt like a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

I picked this up at a second-hand book stall. Connelly travels around all of the British shipping areas. A fun read, although at times it felt as if he was having to force a story out of nothing.

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

This has been on my to-read list for years. The title has always put me off – like I’m never really in the mood for something with the word ‘Slaughterhouse’ in it. I’m so glad that I did finally pick it up, though.

Us – David Nicholls

It feels like Nicholls is becoming more of a substantial author with each book. I absolutely adored this, and will probably be buying copies of this as presents when it comes out in paperback. It reminded me a little bit of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Even though he’s too old to play the main character, Jim Broadbent was in my head all the way through. That can never be a bad thing.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

I’m in two minds about this book. I really admire Dunham – she’s achieved an awful lot, she’s honest, and she’s a great role model in many ways for young women. Perhaps I’m getting old, but she’s SO self-absorbed, and she’s from such a privileged background that I find it hard not to be a little bit annoyed by her. I was slightly perturbed that we share a recurring dream – a much-loved (but in reality long-dead) pet has been forgotten about and is rediscovered in a filthy and uncared-for state. Unlike Dunham, I don’t have a therapist I can call in the middle of the night, so I’m not sure what this means!

Wilson – Daniel Clowes

WILSON_FC_COLORS

My only graphic novel of the year. This was a really moving story, told with great economy.

2015 will see the opening of The Grimshaw Library (i.e. I will finish painting the fabulous wall of shelving that I had built in December) and I will finally be able to unpack my books – many of which have been in boxes since about 2004.  I have absolutely no idea whether I will fill all of the shelving or have some embarrassing empty spaces.  Either way, my self-imposed book buying embargo (because of the house move) was broken on January 4th, with a very nice looking book called Concretopia, about building in post-war Britain.

What books have you enjoyed reading in 2014? What have you got lined up for 2015?

Stuff and Nonsense

TV shows about hoarding have recently replaced my previous addiction to TV shows following the police around (before that I was a bit obsessed with shows about completely anal Australian Customs officials).  Although I was once briefly involved in a police car-chase (I hadn’t noticed the flashing lights behind me, as I was very engrossed in belting out a Blondie song while driving – which may have also contributed to the fact that I was doing double the speed limit), I have much more in common with hoarders than I do with cops and robbers.  I feel very attached to my stuff.  I have a lot of stuff.  I also have a very small house which I would like to sell.

The hoarding shows on TV seem to work on the premise that people keep stuff to fill a void in their lives – usually caused by the death of a loved one, divorce, or abuse – but I can’t really say that that applies to me.  I do think that being a student for many years may have contributed to the stash – firstly because I lived like, well, a student and it was perfectly acceptable to have kitschy nick-nacks adorning every spare surface because that’s really the only way one can personalise a rented space.  Secondly, I lived for years on no bloody money and every treat from family and every 3 for 2 book deal was valued and special.  When I finally entered the workforce and had spare cash I started treating myself to books; I’ve never been one for flashy holidays and things like that, but being able to read a book review and then go out and buy it (in paperback, of course, I’m not blummin’ Rockerfeller) seems to me to be the ultimate luxury.

There is also the clothing issue.  The older I become the harder it gets to throw clothes out – partly because I now know the fickleness of fashion and am pretty sure that everything I own will at some point be ‘in’ again.  Ah if only I had kept my puffball skirt and my collection of batwing jumpers in zany prints.  Now there’s a bit of 90s grunge revival going on and I’m bringing a few of my old favourites back out from the back of my wardrobe.  Only a few though, since I was a lot thinner before I went to university and lived on pizza for the best part of a decade (and it was the best part of a decade – Lucky’s pizza was delicious!).  But perhaps I’ll lose a lot of weight when I successfully manage to stop eating crisps/complete a 500cal fast day without cracking/discover a form of exercise that doesn’t make me want to fucking kill myself.  Then those size 12 corduroy trousers bought in a variety of colours from Top Shop will fit me again.  So I really shouldn’t throw them away.

I also blame ‘the parents’.  I’m not saying that I grew up in a dirty home, but I did learn that stacking shit up in cluttered piles was a valid form of tidying up.  Evidence for the Prosecution – returning home from school one day, I pottered around the house for almost an hour before my mum got home and pointed out that we had been burgled.  Evidence for the Defence – I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the house was on fire or had been transported to a strange land, inadvertently killing a witch, as I was that kind of kid.  My bf grew up in a very tidy home, his parents even had a special folder in which they kept receipts and warranties for all major purchases.  Everything had its place.  Unfortunately my bf will put a carrier bag filled with receipts and bills and old tissues and out-of-date throat lozenges and reams of paper on which he has practised writing Japanese characters up in the loft, rather than sort it out.  So maybe I can’t blame the parents.

And now I’m trying to sort it all out, but when I watch shows like The Hoarder Next Door I can hear myself in their justifications for keeping an old dog-eared copy of The Daily Express – “But I may want to look at it one day”, “No, I must keep this broken ornament because it belonged to X”, “I’m SURE that this will come in useful”.  Even though I see myself in them, I also find myself shouting at the telly “THROW THE SHIT AWAY, YOU MENTALIST! YOU HAVEN’T USED IT FOR FIFTEEN YEARS YOU WILL NOT MISS IT”.  I really need to take my own abuse advice.  So now there are books and clothes going to the local PDSA shop (I am hoping that this will lead to the gentrification of my neighbourhood, with the people of Bramley suddenly embracing literary fiction and shunning tracksuits for my donated corduroy wonders) and the really crappy stuff is going in the bin.

I’ll never be a minimalist, but if I can get rid of enough stuff to make my house look normal, then I can sell it and buy a bigger house that I can fill with even more shite tastefully decorate and display the things that are actually important to me.