Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

My Year of Reading

About this time a year ago (or perhaps a little while before that) it struck me that I wasn’t reading enough. My to-be-read pile was getting higher and higher and there were still loads of things out there that I felt I really ought to read in whatever time was left to me. So I started reading more, and according to my stats I managed to read 89 90 91 books last year. I didn’t keep very good records, so it’s entirely possible that one or two of those may have been read in 2012, but I think it’s close enough.

Here’s the full, completely un-star-rated, list:


Aldiss, Brian (ed) A Science Fiction Omnibus
Auslander, Shalom Hope: A Tragedy
Boyce, NP Veronica Britten
Bray, Carys Sweet Home
Brown, Dan Digital Fortress
Burroughs, Augusten Running with Scissors
Cain, Susan Quiet
Cameron, Ash Confessions of an Undercover Cop
Carter, Angela The Bloody Chamber
Casselle, Paul Blue Skies Over Dark Days
Chabon, Michael The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Child, Lee The Visitor
Conan Doyle, Arthur A Study in Scarlet
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Sign of Four
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon
de Witt, Patrick The Sisters Brothers
d’Lacey, Joseph Blood Fugue
d’Lacey, Joseph Splinters
Fisher, Carrie Wishful Drinking
Fleming, Ian Casino Royale
Fleming, Ian Live and Let Die
Fleming, Ian Moonraker
Flynn, Gillian Gone Girl
Fox, Kate Watching the English
French, Mike Blue Friday
Frost, Toby A Game of Battleships
Garfield, Simon The Error World
Glashan, John John Glashan’s World
Govinden, Niven Graffiti My Soul
Grimwood, Terry Soul Masque
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harrod, Andy Living Room Stories
Harrod, Andy Tearing at Thoughts
Hartley, David Thresholds
Higgs, JMR The Brandy of the Damned
Hogart, Simon and Monk, Emily Don’t Tell Mum
Honoré, Carl In Praise of Slow
Horsley, Ross My First Dictionary
Hunt, Stephen The Court of the Air
Ishiguro, Kazuo When We Were Orphans
James, Christina In The Family
James, Clive The Dreaming Swimmer
Joyce, Laura Ellen The Museum of Atheism
Kane, Paul Creakers
Kerr, Calum Lost Property
King, Claire The Night Rainbow
Lanchester, John Capital
Larsen, Reif The Selected Works of T S Spivet
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
Mahmutovic, Adnan How to Fare Well and Stay Fair
Marek, Adam The Stone Thrower
Mason, Amy The Islanders
McGregor, John This Isn’t the Sort of Thing that Happens to Someone Like You
McMillan, Ian Dad, the Donkey’s on Fire!
Okotie, Simon Whatever Happened to Harold Absalom?
Page, Ra (ed) Lemistry
Parikian, Lev Waving, Not Drowning
Parker, Matt The Exploding Boy
Pendragon, Arthur and Stone, CJ The Trials of Arthur
Ridgway, Keith Hawthorn & Child
Ronson, Jon Out of the Ordinary
Ronson, Jon Lost at Sea
Rowling, JK The Casual Vacancy
Royle, Nicholas (ed) Murmurations
Satrapi, Marianne Persepolis
Saunders, George Tenth of December
Schlosser, Eric Reefer Madness
Singh, Simon Fermat’s Last Theorem
Smyth, Richard Bum Fodder
Spiegelman, Art Maus
Stack, Steve 21st Century Dodos
Stack, Steve Christmas Dodos
Tarrant, Padrika The Knife Drawer
Taylor, Jonathan (ed) Overheard
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole: The Capuccino Years
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weaver, Dave Jacey’s Kingdom
Wener, Louise Goodnight, Steve McQueen
Wheen, Francis How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World
Williams, Tony All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten
Wodehouse, PG Carry On, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Very Good, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Thank You, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Right Ho, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG The Code of the Woosters

 

I don’t propose to make many recommendations (some of the people here are my friends, for heaven’s sake) but there are one or two things that are worth saying.

 

Series

Why, oh why, have I never read any of the Jeeves and Wooster books before? Utterly sublime. I think “The Code of the Woosters” may well be the funniest book I’ve ever read. I have most of the rest queued up, and I’m looking forward to continuing with them in 2014.

Gideon Defoe’s “Scientists! …” are wonderfully daft, and I’ve read all but one of them this year.

The Bond books are bloody weird, aren’t they? “Casino Royale” reads more like a cry for help than a spy novel. Still, they seem to be getting better, and I’m going to carry on for a while.

I’ve read most of the Holmes books before, in a fragmented way several decades ago, but it’s nice to read through them in sequence. They still hold up pretty well, although hasn’t “A Study in Scarlet” got an odd structure? Didn’t expect that at all. Suspect Conan Doyle hadn’t quite worked out his formula yet.

I hadn’t read an Adrian Mole book for years, although I’d picked up a copy of “The Prostrate Years” cheap a while back. I was just about to pick this one up when I realised I needed to catch up with the previous two. “The Capuccino Years” was a bit of a disappointment but “The Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a wonderful return to form, as is “The Prostrate Years”, which was my first book of 2014. They’re brilliantly balanced between humour and pathos, and it’s extraordinary how Townsend makes you care about a character who frankly needs a slap most of the time. I really do hope he’s OK.

 

Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, obviously. See also Jeeves and Wooster above.

 

Disappointments

Yes, there were a few. “Capital” was full of clichéd characters with implausible motivations. I really wanted to love “T S Spivet”, but it fell apart completely at the end. “Hope: A Tragedy” started so well and had such a brilliantly tasteless premise, but I got highly irritated by the main character by the time I’d finished. Maybe I was supposed to. And I really didn’t engage with “The Bloody Chamber”, I’m afraid. I really found it a struggle to wade through all those dialogue-free pages. I’ll try more Carter in 2014, though. I really want to like her work.

 

Nice surprises

“The Casual Vacancy” had me riveted. Yes, it takes a while to get going, and yes, some of the adult characters are a bit clichéd, but it’s the kids that carry the story and if there’s anyone who knows about how to write adolescent characters, it’s JKR. Lanchester, take note please. This is how to write a fat, state-of-the-nation novel.

The best thriller I read this year was “The Visitor”. Child has a very spare, uncluttered writing style. I like him a lot and will read more of him.

I loved “Hawthorn & Child”, despite seriously divided opinions among Twitter folk I follow. It’s kind of an anti-detective story. Go into it with no pre-conceptions about what a story should do and you’ll learn something. Then again, you may hate it.

“The Sisters Brothers” was pretty magnificent, too, so two scores to Granta Books there.

Oh, and George Saunders is a genius. I didn’t know this before, but I do now.

 

There are probably things I’ve failed to mention, but feel free to comment, put me right or laugh at my bizarre tastes.

[UPDATE: Just realised that with stupendous irony, I managed to leave out Susan Cain's "Quiet" in my initial list. One of the most important books I read all year, which genuinely gave me a new perspective on life.]

[UPDATE #2: Also realised I forgot John Glashan. One of the greats of cartooning.]

8 Comments

  1. Wow – that’s quite a list. I think I’m a year behind you in the thought processes as I have also decided I need to read more – I used to read all the time, but I seem to have slowed down over the last few years and it’s not good enough!

    And if you’ve found a love for PGW and happen to be in London in the not-too-distant I can recommend the stage play ‘Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense’. http://www.jeevesandwoosterplay.com/
    Maybe not everyone’s taste but we loved it and husband is a big PGW fan.

  2. admin

    January 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Ooh, that sounds fun.

    The odd thing I’ve found is that I think I’ve got better at reading this year. Didn’t realise it was a skill :) Will be interesting to see if it helps with the writing…

  3. Agree about Capital and Quiet was a major find for me.

  4. admin

    January 6, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Quiet is indeed a wonderful book. First time I’ve felt it was OK to be introverted and not some kind of problem to be overcome.

  5. Jonathan – I doff my cap! Carter’s not to everyone’s taste but one of her novels I can recommend is Nights at the Circus – I promise lots of dialogue, a woman with wings and a beautiful scene involving a dancing bear.

  6. admin

    January 6, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    OK, you’re on :) That was the one I was thinking about trying next, so I guess I’ll add that to this year’s list.

  7. Mark Clementson

    January 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    A fine achievement. Around 30 perhaps for me. But I did write a lot. Lowest point was ‘Gone Girl’ – Utter nonsense. I too read some PGW, but not for the first time. Finally got round to ‘Catcher in the Rye’ this year. Fav book Margaret Atwood’s ‘Robber Bride’. I have already read three books in 2014. I am two books away from the Casual Vacancy. Will let you know if I agree.Best to you JP.

  8. admin

    January 7, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    “Gone Girl” almost made it to the list of disappointments, but the sad truth is that, despite the fact that it was – as you so rightly say – utter nonsense, I enjoyed the ride. Even if the wheels did come right off at the end. I read Catcher in the Rye so long ago that it’s about time I read it again – at least when I feel I’ve caught up enough to start reading things again. And Atwood is definitely on my list of people I should have read by now but haven’t for 2014. Impressed that you’ve read three already this year – I’ve only read two so far.

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