2016: My year in books

This weekend 2016 drew to a close. It was a year of change and confrontation in the world at large and personally it’s a year that’s been heading towards great change for me as well with the takeover of the company I have worked for at the end of June and my subsequent (and not unexpected) redundancy at the end of November.

I’ve been determined to use this year to explore, expand horizons and experience some new things and I have also applied this philosophy to my reading. My commitment was to read one book a week (that’s 52 books) this year and in an effort to broaden my horizons, I signed up for the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge on Good Reads. It’s a list of 40 prompts – stuff like a novel that takes place in summer, a YA (young adult) award winner, a book recommended by someone you just met, a dystopian novel, a book more than 100 years old etc – designed to encourage exploration outside your normal habits. I discovered new favourites like Veronica Roth’s Divergent (a romance set in the future) and The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (a book translated into English) as a direct result of using these prompts to search for books I might not have found otherwise.

With much more time to read than expected towards the end of the year I well and truly overshot my target, ending the year with 75 books under my belt. Of these nine (or 12% for the mathematically-inclined among you) received a ‘coveted’ Gidday 5-star rating.

January started promisingly with three – March Violets by Philip Kerr, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute and Mr Mercedes by Stephen King. Uncovering the next three was done at a much steadier pace with 5-stars awarded to Ferney (James Long) in May, Divergent in August and Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith) in November. And then just as it began, the year ended with another 5-star trifecta in December – Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, The Keeper of Lost Causes and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.

At the other end of the scale, I only awarded one 1-star rating – Snowpiercer vol. 1 (my first, and most likely last, graphic novel) – and six 2-star ratings (which basically means that I finished them and they therefore avoid the ignominy of a single star) which totals just over 9% of my 2016 reading.

When you add those two percentages and consider that almost 80% of the books I read sat in the 3-4 star region, I’d say that rates as a pretty entertaining year.

I also learnt a few things from this year’s literary exploits:

  • I don’t think graphic novels are for me although given this was a survey of one, this is probably not the most well-researched opinion I’ve ever held.
  • I like Le Carre much better on screen than in print with my reading of The Night Manager getting a 2-star rating vs my absolutely loving the BBC adaptation.
  • The two Man Booker prize winners I read this year – 2016’s The Sellout and 2015’s A Brief History of Seven Killings – were not a patch on 2014’s winner, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Far North which remains one of my all-time favourites.

(If you want to have a sneaky peek at all 75 reads from 2016 and what I thought, you’ll find it all on Good Reads here.)

And last but not least, stretching my reading habit has reaffirmed my love for it. The opportunity to experience the worlds of others whether real, fictional or somewhere in between is an absolute joy. It’s also an awesome privilege and I am incredibly grateful to my parents for the many bedtime stories, the constant encouragement to read out loud and for letting me take a book everywhere we went, the latter being a habit that remains with me to this day.

Anyway, on to 2017.

I’ve upped my annual target to 60 books.

I have signed up to the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge again, am already halfway through ‘a book about an interesting woman’ (The Cavalier Queen by Fiona Mountain) and have identified my next on the list as ‘a book with one of the four seasons in the title’ (The Winter Over by Matthew Iden).

I will also be continuing with my lovely V&A book group so need to read Rudyard Kipling’s Kim by the time we meet in February and am seeing author Michael Chabon interviewed later this month so am keen to get his Kavalier and Clay under my belt before that.

So I’m off to tackle all of these new literary adventures before time gets away from me.

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Sand sculpture from Sand Sculpting Australia‘s Lands of Imagination on the Frankston Foreshore from December 2016

But in the meantime I wish you a 2017 filled with many joys and wonderful adventures, whether they be literary or otherwise.

May: Between the bookends

The month of May has the dubious privilege of being book-ended by bank holiday weekends here in the UK and it has to be said that the weather on both occasions was worthy of a patio session or two. But true to form, the temperatures in between have dipped considerably so this month I have found myself veering between layering up from my Spring wardrobe and delving back into some light woollens.

But the flowers (and other green things) were out and about…

…and so was I, starting with two contemporary dance shows at Sadlers Wells.

The first was from one of my favourites, Rambert, and their triple bill – the moody seamlessness of Terra Incognito, a dichotomous look into the mind of Macbeth in Tomorrow and the exuberant joy of the Brazilian Carnival in A Linha Curva – left me breathless and thrilled. Then I went to my first Nederlands Dans Theatre show. Actually it was Nederlands Dans Theatre 2, the 2 referring to the company’s troupe of ‘up-and-comers’ – if their extraordinary programme was anything to go by, the main company might just blow my mind. They were awesome.

Staying with the stage, a friend and I went to see Kit Harington (yes he of Game of Thrones fame) in Doctor Faustus. It’s a story I know, having seen the play for the first time on a school trip to the Adelaide Festival in my teens and it also provides the overarching serial killer narrative in the movie Seven. This was edgy, swinging between being absolutely hilarious and intensely shocking. There was even a nod or two to modern times woven into Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 script. It’s received quite polarised reviews but I really enjoyed it. It probably helped that Mr Harington spent quite a long time on stage in his underpants. After all, I’m only human.

I also heard Chris Anderson speak at the Institute of Directors last month. Who is Chris Anderson? He’s the CEO and curator of TED and has been doing the rounds promoting his book, TEDtalks: The official TED guide to public speaking (as opposed to the Talk like TED tome that has been doing the rounds since 2014). In any case, spending an hour listening to him speak and handle some Q&A before I started my work day definitely gave me a bit of pep in my step.

On the food front, I cooked my first BBQ – ever…

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…I went to a masterclass on being good to your gut with Eve Kalinik

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The goodie bag

…and then topped the month off with a visit to a free chocolate museum in Brixton which, being underneath a chocolate cafe, meant that Aussie-K and I were inspired to indulge after our visit – the gingerbread hot chocolate was absolutely delicious.

In literary news, the best of the five books I read this month was Ferney, a ‘time-slip’ novel by James Long. It may have been published in 1998 but right here in 2016, it earned itself a big fat five-star rating from yours truly. An inspired recommendation that I’m glad I took on…and there’s a sequel. *squeals with joy*

And speaking of time-slip, I managed to find some time to slip across the road from work to enjoy a bit of sunshine…

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The view from the grass in Victoria Tower Gardens

…and sculpture.

It’s really just as well that the month ended with a long weekend – June is beckoning.