If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that I’m prone to wittering on about books every so often. Sometimes this is inspired by an author interview or literary festival. At other times something I’ve read will have seized my imagination or evoked such a swell of nostalgia that it’s inspired me to some wordsmithery of my own (like in my recent post, Sacred Places).
Reading is one of my passions – in fact if you asked me the one thing I would never give up, it’s reading – and 2017 has been a stonking year on the reading front. In January I set myself a target of 60 books for the year…and ended up reading 118. (Website for the book-ish Goodreads informs me that equated to 43,369 pages. Phew!)
I use Goodreads to rate and review everything I read and to follow some other like-minded souls. I also participate in the Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge, an annual list of at least 50 themes to read against – last year’s included a book set in a hotel (I found Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford) and a book from a genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of (I discovered paranormal fantasy via the Goodreads-recommended The Rook by Daniel O’Malley) – that pushes me to look ‘off radar’. Rating and reviewing also helps the Goodreads algorithm-thingy to shape their recommendations for you – I have found some wonderful, off-the-beaten-track novels this way.
My average Goodreads rating in 2017 was 3.7 stars – which falls somewhere between good and great on the Gidday scale of literary love. Here’s a pie chart for the statistically-minded amongst you:
The good news is that I finished everything I read last year, so no-one was awarded the ignominious 1-star rating reserved for the ones that I can’t / won’t finish. However, that’s not to say that there weren’t disappointments. I gave nine books 2-star ratings and of those there were four – Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Emma Cline’s The Girls, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies and Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles – that I hope I never set eyes on again.
At the other end of the spectrum I awarded 5-star ratings to 21 reads…
…and 4-star ratings to 51 reads. That means 72 books – or 61% – of last year’s literary exploits ranked somewhere between fabulous and life-changing.
I revisited some of my favourite writers in 2017. There were heart-pumping thrillers from Dan Brown (The Lost Symbol), David Baldacci (The Guilty) and Matthew Reilly (The Great Zoo of China). Robert Harris and Bernard Cornwell brought the conquests of ancient Rome and the Vikings to life in Imperium (Cicero #1) and Warriors of the Storm (The Saxon Stories #9). And there were poignant past-meets-present tales from Barbara Kingsolver (The Prodigal Summer), Joanne Harris (Different Class) and Kate Mosse (Sepulchre).
I also discovered some new favourites. I romped happily through Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in January then returned for seconds in April with The Final Solution. Australian writer Jane Harper had me feeling nostalgic for the hot, dusty smells of the Australian outback with her debut, The Dry while Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent turned out to be a luscious mix of myth, social mores and a woman ahead of her time. Robin Sloan introduced me to Mr Penumbra and his extraordinary bookshop while A.S. Byatt’s masterfully-drawn cast of characters held me in their thrall throughout The Children’s Story. All five writers are on my to-read list for 2018.
It wasn’t all about fiction either with 18 of my reads tackling subjects across history, politics, food, technology, psychology, society and the future of humanity.
I spent some time immersed in tales of the future reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (scarily prescient given it was published in 1970) as well as Noah Yuval Harari’s much publicised histories of today and tomorrow, Sapiens and Homo Deus. I delved into politics with Nick Clegg’s Politics: Between the Extremes and on the social psychology front, devoured Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind with relish. Mark Stevenson’s We Do Things Differently was a fascinating look at some of the forward thinkers – and tinkerers – of our time while Jay Rayner’s exploration of his (and our) relationship with food in A Greedy Man in a Hungry World gave me a lot of food for thought (just couldn’t resist that pun). And reading The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan) in January and From the Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple) in December meant that I inadvertently book-ended the year with tales from the Byzantium…and got my travel juices going.
I read about some women of note too: Royal women like the wife of Charles I, Henrietta Maria (Cavalier Queen) and Katherine Swynford, the paramour of John of Gaunt. I read about literary women, such as poet Emily Dickinson (The Lonely House) and author Jane Austen, as well as women succeeding in the world of men – from Pope Joan in the 9th century, through to Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures) and businesswoman Karren Brady in the modern era.
There was also some unexpected weeping in my local cafe over prize-winners A Little Life and Fugitive Pieces. And the compelling stories told by Liane Moriarty in Big Little Lies and Jay Asher in Thirteen Reasons Why inspired some comfy-couch time and box-set binge-ing in an effort to recapture what I loved about the books.
What a year it was.
And now you know why, when you ask me, “read anything good lately?” I pause. It’s such a big list to choose from. So it is with this post that I offer you my answer.
“Yes, yes I have.”
So fill your boots and enjoy peeps – and don’t forget to return the favour.
Have you read anything lately that shook your world?
I have provided links to Amazon UK for all my recommendations. It seemed the most common place to send you to access reviews and/or purchase. Of course other websites are available as are bookshops – and don’t forget the shelves of your local charity shop – if that’s your bag. And if you happen to be on Goodreads, you’ll find me here…make sure you pop by and say gidday!