Well, it’s nearly over and I’ve decided to do my review of the year while my Goodreads Reading Challenge is at a nice round figure of one hundred books.
I’ve read some fantastic books this year, but my reading has tailed off slightly since the summer. This is because I’m making art in the evening, rather than reading. Time is precious and unfortunately something has to give.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that 2016 has been a dreadful year, which has made reading even more important to me as a means of escape. It’s wonderful that there still many books and authors out there for me to discover, and this year I have found a new favourite author and a new favourite book.
Looking over my year of reading, I’m slightly ashamed that I haven’t read more modern fiction. Perhaps this is because I’m so often disappointed by contemporary literature, falling for the hype and then feeling completely out of touch when I haven’t enjoyed it. I also haven’t read much poetry in 2016, because I haven’t been writing poetry. However, A Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe stands out for me, as does anything I’ve read by Selima Hill.
A year of non-fiction
This year I have enjoyed Paul Theroux’s travel writing and Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. However, my particular favourite has been Simon Garfield’s To the Letter. Not only is it an accessible and fascinating history of letter writing and the postal services in England and America, it has actually proved life-changing for me. To the Letter inspired me to start making mail art and I now have penpals in the USA, Canada and Germany as a result. I owe my friend Ray a big ‘thank you’ for introducing me to this book and for rekindling my interest in the art of letter writing.
A year of women writers
I haven’t made it a mission to read so many female authors in 2016, it just seems to have happened that way. This year, I have acquired a taste for the novels of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, have finally got round to reading something by the incredible Janet Frame and have ‘discovered’ the short stories of Lucia Berlin. Janet Frame’s books aren’t readily available in the UK and so I intend to track down more of her work in 2017, via AbeBooks and other secondhand sources. Having read Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women, I’m saving Barbara Pym’s other books for a rainy day, as there’s something so cosy and cheerful about their world of curates, middle-aged spinsters and cauliflower cheese.
My favourites of 2016
2016 is the year I fell in love with Jean Rhys and read all of her novels, apart from After Leaving Mr MacKenzie. I also read her short stories, letters and a biography. It would be impossible to pick a favourite of her books, as I think they’re all wonderful. However, I don’t think that everyone will read her work and feel the same way about her as I do. I just relate to her bitterness, misery and loneliness on a really personal level and she articulates it all so beautifully!
Having said this, after careful consideration, I think my favourite book of 2016 is Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. I’m old and jaded and it’s difficult to excite me, but this novel made me sit up and take notice. It is grim and violent, though beautifully written and strangely uplifting.
Didn’t quite make it
The first book I read this year was The Blue Fox by Icelandic author, Sjon, and this deserves an honourable mention – the stark poetry of this novella has sustained me all year and I may well re-read it in 2017.