Last year I read 95 books. I was a little disappointed at this, because I really wanted to break the 100 barrier. I suppose I could have got a bit closer by counting all four volumes of “Dancers at the End of Time” as separate items, or indeed breaking up Lydia Davis’ collected stories into their consistent volumes. But then I might have had to rule that some of the shorter pamphlets and Kindle Singles didn’t really count as proper books either. So I’ll stick with that 95, with a note to myself to do better in 2015.
The books are a mixture of random stuff I’d had lying around for years, stuff I bought specially, stuff that I happened on in charity shops and – this was a new feature for 2014 – set texts for my Creative Writing MA. I’ll leave you to guess which.
Here we go. No star ratings, because (a) I can’t be bothered rating every single one and (b) I find it very awkward when there are books by people I know in there. I mean, obviously everyone I know is worth at least 6 stars, but some are worth 7 or 8, if you see what I mean.
And yes, I know there are two Dan Browns in there, and probably his worst two as well. Humour me.
|Armitage, Simon||Book of Matches|
|Atwood, Margaret||The Handmaid’s Tale|
|Barden, Jenny||Mistress of the Sea|
|Barden, Jenny||The Lost Duchess|
|Barrett, Colin||Young Skins|
|Benson, Fiona||Faber New Poets 1|
|Birnie, Clive||Cutting Up The Economist|
|Boo, Katherine||Behind the Beautiful Forevers|
|Bradley, Lloyd||Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital|
|Briggs, Raymond||Ethel & Ernest|
|Brown, Dan||Deception Point|
|Brown, Dan||The Lost Symbol|
|Bryson, Bill||Notes From a Small Country (re-read)|
|Calvino, Italo||The Complete Cosmicomics|
|Chabon, Michael (et al)||The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist|
|Conan Doyle, Arthur||The Hound of the Baskervilles|
|Cook, Lin (ed)||Something Like Fire: Peter Cook Remembered|
|Cope, Wendy||Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis|
|Coutts, Marion||The Iceberg|
|Davis, Lydia||The Collected Stories|
|Dickinson, Ash||Slinky Espadrilles|
|Didion, Joan||The Year of Magical Thinking|
|Duffy, Carol Ann||The World’s Wife|
|Engel, Matthew||Eleven Minutes Late|
|Fleming, Ian||Diamonds are Forever|
|Fleming, Ian||From Russia With Love|
|Fleming, Ian||Dr No|
|Frost, Toby||End of Empires|
|Gaffney, David||More Sawn-Off Tales|
|Gebbie, Vanessa||The Half-Life of Fathers|
|Gilman, Charlotte Perkins||The Yellow Wallpaper|
|Gough, Julian||CRASH! How I Lost a Hundred Billion and Found True Love|
|Gough, Julian||BANG! The Great Somali Goat Bubble|
|Grant, Linda||I Murdered My Library|
|Gudgion, Geoffrey||Saxon’s Bane|
|Haynes, Steve (Ed)||The Best British Fantasy 2013|
|Hilary, Sarah||Someone Else’s Skin|
|Johnston, Jennifer||This is Not a Novel|
|Johnston, Jennifer||Grace and Truth|
|Karlinsky, Harry||The Stonehenge Letters|
|Kellaway, Lucy||Who Moved My Blackberry?|
|Kerridge, Richard||Cold Blood|
|Kurkov, Andrey||Death and the Penguin|
|Larkin, Philip||The Whitsun Weddings|
|Larsson, Stieg||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo|
|Larsson, Stieg||The Girl Who Played with Fire|
|Larsson, Stieg||The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest|
|Littler, Richard||Discovering Scarfolk|
|Logan, Kirsty||The Rental Heart|
|McBride, Eimear||A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing|
|MacDonald, Helen||H is for Hawk|
|McGough, Roger||Melting into the Foreground|
|Malcolm, Janet||The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes|
|Milligan, Spike||The Essential Spike Milligan|
|Moorcock, Michael||The Dancers at the End of Time|
|Moore, Alison||The Pre-War House and Other Stories|
|Powell, Dan||Looking Out of Broken Windows|
|Powell, Gareth||Ack-Ack Macaque|
|Priest, Christopher||The Dream Archipelago|
|Pryor, Richard||Pryor Convictions|
|Ridgway, Keith||The Spectacular|
|Rohan, Ethel||Out of Dublin|
|Ronson, Jon||Them (re-read)|
|Rose, David||Posthumous Stories|
|Royle, Nicholas (Ed)||The Best British Short Stories 2013|
|Sage, Lorna||Bad Blood|
|Schalansky, Judith||Atlas of Remote Islands|
|Sedaris, David||Me Talk Pretty One Day|
|Simpson, MJ||Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams|
|Smith, Ali||The Accidental|
|Tatsumi, Yoshihiro||A Drifting Life|
|The Fiction Desk||New Ghost Stories|
|Thompson, Ben||Ban this Filth!|
|Thompson, Harry||Tintin: Hergé & his Creation|
|Thorne, David||I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs|
|Toibin, Colm||The Testament of Mary|
|Tolkien, JRR||Mr Bliss|
|Townsend, Sue||Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years|
|Turnbull, Bill||The Bad Beekeepers Club|
|Vale, Brenda and Robert||Architecture on the Carpet|
|Watson, Mark||Hotel Alpha|
|Weaver, Dave||Japanese Daisy Chain|
|Winchester, Simon||The Surgeon of Crowthorne|
|Wodehouse, PG||Joy in the Morning|
|Wodehouse, PG||The Mating Season|
|Wodehouse, PG||Ring for Jeeves|
|Wodehouse, PG||Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit|
A few observations…
I continued my journey through P.G.Wodehouse and continued to find it rewarding, with the exception of “Ring for Jeeves”, which was well below par, proving that you need both halves of the double act present to make the comedy work.
I’m still working manfully through the Bond books. They’re certainly improving, but not quite the classics I’d been hoping for.
I was very sad to get to the end of Adrian Mole and even sadder to know that there won’t be any more now.
Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected
This year’s prime contender has to be “The Handmaid’s Tale” – an absolutely terrific sustained piece of dystopian fiction.
“Making Tea for Kingsley Amis”, as well as a classic that I should have read by now, was also easily the most entertaining poetry book I read this year. Which brings me on to…
I read more poetry books than ever this year, and many of them had some excellent moments. Generally speaking, though, I must confess that I’m still struggling find the kind of stuff that really appeals to me. I always come away feeling a bit of a lightweight. Possibly because I am.
Biggest discovery of the year was Jennifer Johnston. I literally bought “This Is Not a Novel” for 50p, and then only because a charity shop was selling off books at two for a pound and I needed something to go with “Eleven Minutes Late” (God, I sound a cheapskate). I love her style: very spare, straightforward and not a single word out of place. I intend to read a lot more of her work in 2015.
I’m also looking forward to reading more Ali Smith. “The Accidental” was the first of hers I’d read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could certainly read more of Colm Toibin, too.
I’d had the “Atlas of Remote Islands” lying around on a coffee table for several years and I’m so glad I got round to reading it. It’s one of the most evocative books I’ve ever read. It’s also a thing of beauty.
“The Silent Woman” was the biggest surprise. It was one of the MA set texts and I wasn’t looking forward to reading it at all, knowing little of either Hughes or Plath beyond the stuff that everyone knows, but it’s one of the most riveting non-fiction books I’ve ever read. A fascinating insight into a whole strange world of literary fandom and factionalism.
Anyone else out there read and enjoyed / hated any of my 95? I’d be fascinated to hear what you think.
[UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the best short story I read last year, by a country mile, was Simon Bestwick's "Dermot", in "The Best British Fantasy 2013". Utterly chilling and morally challenging story, brilliantly told.]