My Year of Reading

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 constituent 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
Cleave, Chris Incendiary
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
Gleick, James Faster
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
Greer, Bonnie Entropy
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
McEwan, Ian Atonement
McGough, Roger Melting into the Foreground
Malcolm, Janet The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Milligan, Spike The Essential Spike Milligan
Mitchell, David Ghostwritten
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
Sobel, Dava Longitude
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro A Drifting Life
Thayil, Jeet Narcopolis
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
Wilson, Anthony Riddance
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.


New discoveries

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.]

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