What I Read in 2016

Round about this time of year I usually post a list of all the books I read in the previous year, along with some fairly bland comments on what I liked and (if I’m feeling particularly brave) what I didn’t like. So here we go.

I only read 60 books this year, down from 70 last year, which was in turn a steep drop from the dizzy heights of 95 in 2014. I’m not entirely sure what to blame for this – possibly the stint I did as a first stage judge for the Bath Short Story Award, or possibly my involvement in the quixotic poetry venture Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis (now deceased, or at least in indefinite hibernation). Either way, I’m intending to read more in 2017, and I’ve joined Vanessa Gebbie’s Read 100 Books in 2017 Facebook Group in order to force myself to get a move on.

One interesting revelation I did have this year was that reading bad books is just as useful for a writer as reading good ones. Because reading a bad book forces you to think about why it’s so bad. What would you do to fix it? Are you making the same mistakes in your own work?

Here are those 60 books. Some of them were bought new, some of them were sent to me by publishers, one of them was borrowed, some of them had already been bought by members of my family and quite a few were random acquisitions from charity shops (which I always try to follow up by making a proper purchase – if I like the author, of course). Embarrassingly, despite the fact that I bought several books of poetry, I only got round to reading one of them. Must do better than that this year. I’ve also realised that there are only four books in the list by non-white authors, which is something else I need to work at.

Aaronovitch, Ben Rivers of London
Ali, Monica Alentejo Blue
Barbery, Muriel The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Barley, Nigel Island of Demons
Bath Short Story Award Anthology, 2015
Bath Short Story Award Anthology, 2016
Beadle, Jeremy J. Will Pop Eat Itself?
Blandford, Richard Flying Saucer Rock and Roll
Bowman, WE The Ascent of Rum Doodle
Brayfield, Celia Sunset
Bridport Prize Anthology, 2015
Bryson, Bill The Road to Little Dribbling
Cartwright, Netta The Many Lives of Zillah Smith
Chabon, Michael Wonder Boys
Coe, Jonathan The Closed Circle
Cope, Julian Japrocksampler
Cox, Tom The Lost Tribes of Pop
Davis, Lindsey The Silver Pigs
Davis, Lindsey Shadows in Bronze
deWitt, Patrick Ablutions
deWitt, Patrick Undermajordomo Minor
Ellis, Brett Easton American Psycho
Frayn, Michael Towards the End of the Morning
Freud, Esther Hideous Kinky
Fuller, Claire Our Endless Numbered Days
Gayle, Mike My Legendary Girlfriend
Gordy, Berry To Be Loved: An Autobiography
Hadley, Tessa The Past
Haruf, Kent Plainsong
Haruf, Kent Eventide
Hawes, James A White Merc With Fins
Hawes, James Rancid Aluminium
Hensher, Philip King of the Badgers
Hershman, Tania Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open
Johncock, Ben The Last Pilot
Knausgaard, Karl Ove A Death in the Family
Lambert, Charles The Children’s Home
Lewycka, Marina We Are All Made of Glue
Logan, Kirsty A Portable Shelter
Logan, Kirsty The Gracekeepers
Mars-Jones, Adam Lantern Lecture
Mayhew, Becky Lost Souls
McEwan, Ian On Chesil Beach
Munro, Alice The Love of a Good Woman
Perry, Grayson Playing to the Gallery
Perry, Sarah After Me Comes the Flood
Porter, Max Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Powell, Gareth Macaque Attack
Pryce, Malcolm The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth
Rao, Mahesh One Point Two Billion
Ronson, Jon So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
Shukman, Henry Travels With My Trombone
Stickley, Joel and Wright, Luke Who Writes This Crap?
Stickley, Joel 100 Ways to Write Badly Well
Stokes, Ashley (Ed) The End
Townsend, Sue Number Ten
Vigen, Tyler Spurious Correlations
Ware, Chris Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth
Welsh, Irvine Trainspotting
Williams, John Stoner

This year’s big discoveries (for me, obviously) were Alice Munro and Kent Haruf – both very low-key and unfussy writers who seem to be able to bring out some real truths about their flawed but realistic characters. Will be reading more of them in 2017. I also thoroughly enjoyed James Hawes’s first novel “A White Merc with Fins”, but the follow-up, “Rancid Aluminium” turned out to be a bit of a mess. (The film of it is supposed to be one of the worst British films of all time, incidentally, and I quite fancy watching it some time.)

Biggest disappointment was probably Stoner, which everyone was raving about a few years back. No idea what the fuss was about, although the fact that the protagonist is a creative writing lecturer may have had something to do with it, I guess.

Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” was a non-fiction highlight, and I also found Berry Gordy’s autobiography fascinating. My cousin-in-law Netta Cartwright’s “The Many Lives of Zillah Smith” was a fascinating insight into a totally different (and often-maligned) way of life.

Claire Fuller’s “Our Endless Numbered Days” was probably the best debut I read, and I’m looking forward to her next. I also thoroughly enjoyed Mahesh Rao’s “One Point Two Billion” (not technically a fiction debut, I guess, but it was his first collection of short stories).

I continued with Malcolm Pryce’s excellent Aberystwyth series, and I also got going on Ben Aaronovitch and Lindsey Davis (both form favourites of other members of the Pinnock household) – I’ll definitely be working my way through more of those in 2017. And I also got stuck into Karl Ove Knausgaard (the second one in the “My Struggle” series, “A Man in Love”, was the first book I finished this year). The premise for “My Struggle” isn’t enticing – basically a disagreeable Norwegian bloke describing his life in microscopic detail – but it’s oddly compelling and I can see why he’s such a cult figure.

The book I probably enjoyed the most this year was Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor – a weird fable with Freudian undertones that really should have got more attention. And my favourite short story of the year was Anne O’Brien’s winning story from the Bath Short Story Award, “Feather Your Nest”. I actually picked this one out myself during the first stage reading process, so it was good to see it go all the way to the top.

Drop me a line below if you see anything in the list you’d like to talk about, or if you’d like to suggest something I really ought to be reading this year.

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