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|
|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|
|Fletcher, Tom||The Home|
|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|
|Haynes, Steve (Ed)||The Best British Fantasy 2014|
|Healey, Emma||Elizabeth is Missing|
|Hilary, Sarah||No Other Darkness|
|James, Clive||May Week Was In June|
|James, Clive||North Face of Soho|
|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|
|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.
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.
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.
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.