I have to open with an apology for the gap between posts. Our laptop died and I couldn’t face trying to post using my phone, but thanks to a very generous wad of cash from santa we’re back in the 21st century with a shiny new (red!) laptop. I’ve got the Goodreads app on my phone, so our lack of technology hasn’t effected my ability to keep track of my reads this year, or indeed to post on Instagram a slightly obscene amount (sorry).
My year in books 2015:
I read 51 books. Annoyingly close to the big 52 (one a week). I feel like I read a lot of very average books this year which made me score everyone a bit over generously on Goodreads, which means that when I go back through all the 3-5 stars some of them really weren’t that great. Of the low scorers I think the latest Franzen was probably the biggest disappointment. I’ve always found some of his writing incredibly cringe-worthy (he’s definitely written the worst sex scenes I’ve ever read), but I would still call myself a big fan, so I was disappointed to find Purity almost entirely awful. It reminded me a lot of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot in that I came to it having enjoyed everything I’d previously read by the author but found that he really struggled to write from the point of view of a woman in her early twenties and it all just felt a bit silly. Once I’d got far enough into the Franzen to hit the complicated soviet Germany plot I found it more interesting, but it all felt really trashy and the usual slightly daft Franzen plot was pointless without his usual amazing characters. If you want to read Franzen read The Corrections. Don’t read Purity.
So, onwards to my top 10.
- Karl Ove Knausgaard – My Struggle Book 1,2,3,4,5.
I guess I’m a Knausgardian (sp?). I wasn’t crazy about the first book, but by book 2 I was completely hooked. I’ve really enjoyed his brutal honesty of his experience of being a parent to young children, but also his descriptions of childhood, adolescence and his family life. I don’t particularly like him as a person, he comes across as a pretty massive arsehole both in his actions and in his apparent belief that everything which has happened to him is in some way important. But I don’t think it’d work nearly as well if you weren’t allowed to dislike him. He’s brilliant. The books are so funny too. I’m completely addicted. I read book 5 as a proof which isn’t published until later this year and I don’t think the next book has even been translated yet so I’m going to be waiting a while for my next fix!
2. John Braine – Room at the Top
I bloody love post war literature set in the North, and I knew I’d like this when Guiseley was mentioned in the first sentence (it’s a few miles from my house). I found the dialogue brilliant, and I seem to remember crying at it which wasn’t expected!
3. Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird
I re-read this in order to run a reading group at work (Waterstones) on her ‘new’ book Go Set a Watchman, which was finally published this year. And I’m so pleased that I did – it’s brilliant. I remembered so little from reading it as a teen (which is hardly surprising because I can barely remember what I read this year), and I’d hugely recommend books you read in your teens which you think might survive a second read now because I got so much more out of it. Which makes me think that the publication of GSAW is kind of a shame because it doesn’t even compare.
4. John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath
Oh wow, the bleakest of bleak. The shocking inescapable poverty of the lives described was just too sad at times, but an absolutely beautiful book.
5. Tom Drury – The End of Vandalism
If you like Fargo you will probably like this book. It has the exact feel of a Coen Brothers’ film – humour, dread, eccentric and odd. I love smalltown America nearly as much as Northern England.
6. Marlon James – The Brief History of Seven Killings
I’m not really a person who reads Booker winners just because they’re Booker winners. In fact the award often goes to books I have little interest in. I’m never going to read Wolf Hall. But this book is really really good. I was pre-warned about swearing and violence, of which there is a lot, but I hadn’t been prepared for quite how much I’d have to concentrate while I was getting used to the different voices the story is told from. My only criticism would be that the book could easily have finished much sooner, and I was far less interested in the last section of the book set in New York than I had been in the various stories from Jamaica.
7. Keith Waterhouse – Billy Liar / David Storey – This Sporting Life
I’ve muddled up these and the John Braine in my head, but I definitely enjoyed them too. I’d love to read this style of fiction written by a women, suggestions please!
8. Hiromi Kawakami -Strange Weather in Tokyo.
I have a confession to make. In my day job at Waterstones we’re encouraged to draw customers attention to a few titles each week. One of those books was the newest paperback Murakami – Colorless Tsukuru Tzaki, which I read in hardback last year. But in my head I muddled up that book and Strange Weather in Tokyo, and have been selling the Murakami to people when I was actually talking about SWIT. I’m really not the right person to write summary’s of my reads of 2015, my memory is shocking. But this book was great. A lovely delicate love story which made me want to visit Japan and eat noodles.
9. Lydia Davis – The End of the Story
I find Lydia Davis’ short stories wonderful, but quite hard going. I quite like a good old fashioned plot which I can follow. I found her novel much easier, which says a lot about her stories as the novel has no real plot or dialogue. It’s about a relationship, and has some beautiful, poetic lines.
10. Jim Shepard – The Book of Aron
A book about the holocaust, told from the point of view of a Jewish boy living in a ghetto. This book is predictably incredibly sad, but the reason I enjoyed it is that it’s not sentimental. The boy’s life is brutal, almost entirely without hope, and of other books I’ve read this year it reminded me most of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
I’ll stop there because this is taking me ages.