I read 114 books this year, including audiobooks. I thought it would be fewer than that, because I don’t feel as though I’ve done enough reading at all. I did a fair bit of re-reading, but it’s been a tough year and I’m not at all surprised that I went for comfort reading.
Discoveries of the year
Jodi Taylor’s St Mary’s books, about historians who do their research by time travel and have many adventures along the way. I raced through these, enjoying the history and sci-fi blend to start with, but then increasingly the character development. I found Max an engagingly flawed heroine and it made a real change to read a series in which the women are allowed to take as many risks and get just as beaten up as the men.
In a darker, more serious vein, there’s Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series. Lamb heads up the Slough House division of MI5, which is where the losers and failures are sent until the pointless admin drives them out of the service altogether. Caught right in the middle of internecine battles between MI5 and MI6, Lamb’s ‘Slow Horses’ (a pun on Slough House) turn out not to be completely useless after all. These burn slowly, but they’re quietly gripping. I’m two books in and pleased to see there’s a fourth volume on its way in 2017. I don’t know how I’ve missed Herron up to now, as he also writes detective novels set in Oxford, but I’ll definitely be reading more.
I defy any woman to read the title essay in Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit and not identify with it. Solnit originally wrote the essay in 2008 for the Los Angeles Times, and says it’s been the most reposted of all her works. It’s not hard to see why. In the essay, Solnit describes an incident in which a man tells her all about a very important book that’s been published that year on a subject she has mentioned, while repeatedly ignoring Solnit’s friend telling him ‘It’s her book’. He finally gets the point, but despite realising he’s talking to the author and despite the fact he’s only read a review of the book… he keeps talking. It’s a classic account and explanation of mansplaining, before the term was invented.
Rediscoveries of the year
Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist. I first read these when I was in my mid-teens and I can’t remember when I last read them but it’s got to be about 15 years ago. Magician is certainly the strongest and I’d have stopped there but… you can’t stop in the middle of the story, can you?
Unless you’re re-reading Dune, of course. This stood the test of time but as even when I first read it I remember the series getting progressively weaker, I was content to stop it there.
Let’s just be thankful I wasn’t tempted back to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, shall we?
Autobiography of the year
No, it’s the not the only biography I read, because I enjoyed Graham Greene’s A Sort of Life as well. But, I’m a partisan judge and Springsteen’s Born to Run is my winner. As a fan, it was fascinating to read about the early struggles and the background to the albums that have been the soundtrack to my life. It felt like a fairly open confessional, and a couple of interviews I’ve heard suggest that’s true. The only thing on my bucket list is a coast to coast drive of the US, with a Springsteen soundtrack.
Surprise read of the year
Holding, by Graham Norton. I’m ambivalent about Graham Norton himself, but generally sceptical about celebrity authors. Still, I heard him on R2’s bookclub and the book sounded interesting enough to get me over the scepticism hurdle. It’s a murder mystery, set in a nowhere town in Ireland. The local Garda officer usually doesn’t get to do anything more exciting than direct traffic outside the village fete. Then the discovery of a body up at a building site turns the town upside down. I enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery, but I was really sold on the characters. There were backstories aplenty, and that’s what brought it all to life.