Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

What I Read in 2015

Time to take a look at the books I read last year. According to my spreadsheet, I seem to have only read 70, which is considerably down on 2014’s 95 and 2013’s 92. No idea what went wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as  long as I got something out of the ones I did read. And, by and large, I did. Once again, I’ve avoided any attempt at star rankings because they scare me, frankly, particularly when it comes to books by people I know (and, yes, I know those are the ones I really should be shouting about). Maybe one day I’ll screw up my courage and risk doing something like the Facebook friend of mine who perfectly honestly and with well-argued (albeit completely wrong – obviously) reasons gave me a one star review for Mrs Darcy. (She’s still, incidentally, a Facebook friend. I’m that grown up, people.)

Generally speaking, of course, my friends write wonderful books. That’s one of the reasons why they’re friends.

Anyway, here’s my list, with a few notes as to what made a particular impression this year.

Ali, Monica Brick Lane
Amis, Martin Heavy Water and Other Stories
Amis, Martin Money
Blissett, Luther Q
Borges, Jorge Luis Fictions
Bray, Carys A Song for Issy Bradley
Burchill, Julie and Parsons, Tony The Boy Looked at Johnny
Cleave. Chris The Other Hand
Coe, Jonathan The Rotters Club
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Valley of Fear
Crème, Lol and Godley, Kevin The Fun Starts Here
Ewen, Paul Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author
Fallada, Hans Tales from the Underworld
Filer, Nathan The Shock of the Fall
Fleming, Ian Goldfinger
Fletcher, Tom The Home
Frayn. Michael Skios
Gallant, Mavis Paris Stories
Garfield, Simon Just My Type
Gawande, Atul Being Mortal
Gebbie, Vanessa and Roberts, Lynn Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures
Gee, Maggie Virginia Woolf in Manhattan
Goldacre, Ben I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That
Gonzalez-Crussi, F. The Senses
Hadley, Tessa Married Love
Haig, Matt The Humans
Harris, Joanne Chocolat
Haynes, Steve (Ed) The Best British Fantasy 2014
Healey, Emma Elizabeth is Missing
Hersey, John Hiroshima
Hilary, Sarah No Other Darkness
James, Clive May Week Was In June
James, Clive North Face of Soho
Joyce, James Dubliners
Kurkov, Andrey Penguin Lost
Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall
Mantel, Hilary Bring Up The Bodies
May, James How to Land an A330 Airbus
McVeigh, Paul The Good Son
More, Alison The Harvestman
Mueenuddin, Daniyal In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Munroe, Randall What If?
Murakami, Haruki Norwegian Wood
Nadjaran, Nora Ledra Street
Padua, Sydney The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Parkin, Cassandra The Summer We All Ran Away
Parkin, Cassandra The Beach Hut
Powell, Gareth Hive Monkey
Pratchett, Terry Making Money
Pryce, Malcolm Aberystwyth Mon Amour
Pryce, Malcolm Last Tango in Aberystwyth
Readman, Angela Don’t Try This At Home
Rose, David Meridian
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2014
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2015
Schlosser, Eric Gods of Metal
Smith, Ali Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70s
Smith, Ali How To Be Both
Smyth, Richard Wild Ink
Stoller, Fred My Seinfeld Year
Swarup, Vikas Six Suspects
Townsend, Sue The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year
Ware, Chris (Ed) McSweeney’s Quarterly 13
Ware, Chris Building Stories
Welty, Eudora The Golden Apples
Wodehouse, PG Jeeves in the Offing
Wodehouse, PG Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Much Obliged, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen
Wynn Owen, Andrew Raspberries for the Ferry

 

Best books I read this year

The best pair of novels I read this year were Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I’ve never been a big fan of historical fiction, but these, along with Q, were a revelation. Utterly gripping. The best short story collection, by a country mile, was The Redemption of Galen Pike. I didn’t quite engage with Carys Davies’ previous collection, Some New Ambush (perhaps I should try again now), but every single story in this one was a delight. And what I really loved was the slightly old-fashioned way in which she seemed perfectly at ease with the deeply uncool idea of a revelatory twist at the end. Several of these tales wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a Roald Dahl collection – particularly the title story. Both the graphic novels I read were excellent (I really should read more of these), but I’d single out The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage for particular praise – hugely entertaining as well as nicely informative.

Series

I got to the end of Jeeves and Wooster (I’m not going to count anything by anyone other than PGW), and while they didn’t quite hit the mid-period peaks of Code of the Woosters and Joy in the Morning (two of the best books ever written), they were all terrific fun. I should have read these ages ago. I read another Bond novel, which was OK, enjoying it more for making comparisons with the film than anything else. Hive Monkey was a terrific sequel to Ack-Ack Macaque and I’ve now got Macaque Attack to look forward to in the new year. Best new discovery of the year was Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir series, which was very funny as well as a remarkable exercise in world-building – even if the world in question consisted of a down-at-heel Welsh seaside town populated by a bunch of mad druids. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these in 2016. The Best British Short Stories series continues to impress and I thought 2014 was particularly good, as was The Best British Fantasy of that year, although that series seems to have come to an end now, more’s the pity.

Nice surprises

The Rotters Club was the first Jonathan Coe I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was one of those dreaded “coming of age” novels (come on, you can play bingo with most of them). I’ve actually just finished the (even better) sequel, The Closed Circle, and if I read a better book in 2016, I’ll be very happy. Marvellous combination of pathos and humour, and a bunch of flawed characters that you can really care about. I would probably never have read Virginia Woolf in Manhattan if it hadn’t been for the fact that the lovely Maggie Gee was one of my tutors at Bath Spa last year, but I’m so glad I did, because it’s wonderful. Brick Lane was a marvellous read, too, although I would have loved to discuss the central character’s almost complete lack of agency with my tutors. Ed’s Wife was a bizarre and rather wonderful curio  that entertained and disturbed by turns (actually, no surprises there really, knowing Vanessa – but the form of it was especially unusual). Having provided a blurb for Cassandra Parkin’s short story collection, New World Fairy Tales, I really shouldn’t have taken so long to get round to reading the two novels she’s written since, but I’m very glad that I did get round to it, because they were both absorbing reads and I’m looking forward to whatever she comes up with next. Cards Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley was a lovely, touching story of loss. Finally, I read my first Murakami this year, and I’ll definitely be reading more.

Disappointments

There were a few. I’d never read anything by Martin Amis before (you’d be amazed by some of the gaps in my reading) and I thought I’d start with a short story collection that I picked up in a charity shop. I hated it. I asked Facebook for recommendations for something else to read by him and I ended up buying a spanking new copy of Money. Which I also hated. I may try once more, but then again, life is short. Of authors I usually love, I have to say that I didn’t get on with The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year at all. And it really pains me to say that I found Making Money well below Pratchett’s best.

Best single short story

As with last year, The Best British Fantasy came up with the goods here, this time with a lovely, odd story called “Triolet” by Jess Hyslop. It’s worth buying the book just for that, but there are plenty more good ones in there.

Other things I enjoyed

I didn’t see many films in 2015, but Mad Max – Fury Road was easily the best. I didn’t watch much TV either, but I loved series 3 of The Bridge – every bit as good as the first two. I also discovered (late again) Twenty Twelve and W1A – I’ve been a fan of John Morton for years, and this is some of his best work yet.

Anything else? Probably. Oh yes. Gig of the year was (obviously) King Crimson at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. But you knew that already, didn’t you.

There are probably other books I should have singled out – feel free to add your thoughts below.

In the meantime, roll on 2016. And I really should get back to finishing writing that novel.

4 Comments

  1. I was pleased to see you did read some poetry Andrew Wynn Owen’s Raspberries for the Ferry. I loved Wolf Hall too and am saving Bring up the Bodies to read later in 2016.
    For a moment I was worried you might have liked the Martin Amis books. I gave up on Money after about fifty pages.

  2. admin

    January 21, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Caroline,

    Thanks for dropping in! I really do need to read more poetry in 2016 (I say this every year). Maybe I should start with Convoy 🙂

    I stuck with Money all the way through, fool that I am. I’m actually beginning to find it a helpful process as a writer to read stuff you don’t like, though, because it forces you to analyse why you don’t like it. And that’s sometimes even more useful than trying to analyse why you do like something.

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    If you are wanting recommendations of which poetry books to read during 2016 I’d thoroughly recommend “Loop of Jade” by Sarah Howe which recently won the TS Eliot prize. Her mother is Chinese and the book is a wonderful exploration of ideas of home, growing up, contemporary China, gender relations. It has everything and I urge you to read it.
    Of course you’d be most welcome to read Convoy or my next book Voices from Stone and Bronze which will be published in May.

  4. admin

    January 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Caroline,

    Sounds fascinating – I’ll put that on my list too 🙂

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