There are only two days left of 2015, and I am unlikely to finish any of the novels I am currently reading before the 1st January 2016, so it seems an opportune moment to review the books I have read this year.
According to Goodreads, I read 107 books in the past twelve months – apparently, that’s 23,006 pages. However, in actual fact, I abandoned a few of those books without finishing them. Two that spring to mind are Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
I learned two important lessons here: don’t believe the hype and don’t buy a book because you fancy the author. Station Eleven had been raved about on BookTube and I was completely sucked in by the hysteria. However, I found the novel completely unbelievable and emotionally immature. I struggled on with A Death in the Family until the half-way point. Knausgaard writes very well and the opening pages are wonderful, but his obsession with recording the minutiae of everyday life drove me insane. His description of making a cup of tea (something I do on average about six times a day) was the last straw and it was immediately banished to my charity shop pile. (Had my copy been graced with a photograph of the author on the cover, I may have kept it).
Rather than wittering on, I’ll pick a few random category headings to speed things up a bit:
Classics I’ve Always Meant to Read But Never Got Round To
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Both wonderful writers: loved one, hated the other. Ethan Frome is about as dreary a novel as I’ve ever read and I loathed it. Brighton Rock is psychologically nuanced, suspenseful and utterly brilliant.
Exciting New Discoveries
I had many new reading experiences this year, the main difference from previous years being that I read a great deal of poetry (but I’ll cover that in a separate heading). My biggest surprises were Peirene Press, a publisher I’d never come across before, and how much I enjoy reading European literature. My other discovery, the short stories of Breece D’J Pancake, has a melancholy side to it, as he unfortunately died before writing anything else.
I’m very new to poetry and know very little about it in a technical sense; I don’t even possess the vocabulary to discuss it academically. However, I really enjoyed everything I read by Heather Christle and Selima Hill this year and thankfully they have written a great deal more that I haven’t yet read. (Don’t you hate it when you’ve read everything written by a favourite author or poet and there’s nothing to look forward to? I do).
Which is a neat segue into a special mention I have for Michel Faber. This year I read Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things and thought them excellent novels. I sincerely hope he writes another, as I only have The Crimson Petal and the White left to read.
My Favourite of the Books I Read in 2015
An incredibly difficult choice, and The Blue Room almost had it, but in the end I had to go with Morvern Callar by Alan Warner. I think it goes to show that if you really identify with a character, and they are like a living, breathing person to you, then the author has done their job well. I wanted to know what happened next to Morvern and still think about her occasionally, as I would about a real life friend.
That’s all for this year. I want to write more pages than I read in 2016, but I never consider time spent reading a good book as time wasted. Hopefully, all the words I’ve read this year are enriching my writing in ways I don’t yet understand, but that remains to be seen.