Not a comprehensive list of the books I read this year, but a list (in no particular order) of the books that made the biggest impact on me this year. Some are books bought new, some second hand, some borrowed from friends, some borrowed from the library. Some I have wanted to read for a long time, some I didn’t know I wanted to read until I saw the cover or got a recommendation.
(To see all the books I read, you can stalk me on Goodreads.)
- Cass Moriarty – The Promise Seed
A grumpy old man, a messed up young kid. An unlikely friendship. Some horrific cruelty. I read this book on my commute and at one point spent the whole day worried about the characters because I had to leave off reading at a real cliffhanger moment. Not many books leave you worried about the characters as if they were real people that you know.
2. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
I was a little bit dubious about this one, thinking it was more of a young-adult novel, but – thanks largely to the extensive 80s references – I did enjoy it. Who can resist a dystopian future novel?
3. Women Who Blow on Knots – Ece Temelkuran
Four women – virtual strangers – meeting in Tunis and embark on a road trip from Tunisia to Lebanon. The descriptions made everything seem so vivid, it’s as if you were there. Sometimes fast-moving, sometimes surreal, and sometimes the women get on our nerves. But when I hear Amy Winehouse now I still think of the sun beating down as we drove through the desert in the jeep … except that I wasn’t actually there, that was the book. And it’s for moments like that, this book needs to be turned into a movie.
4. The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
A group of women awaken from drugged sleep to find themselves in an isolated fenced-in outpost in the Australian outback. The one thing they all have in common is they were all involved in sex scandals with rich and powerful men, and the punishment for their inconvenient presence is for them to be “disappeared”. Their jailors are there to keep them in line, but the camp’s strict discipline and power structures start to disintegrate when food supplies fail to arrive.
5. Hair Everywhere – Tea Tulic
Less like a novel, more like poetry. Short chapters but evoking such clear images and feelings. The stories are loosely centred around a mother with cancer, but cover childhood memories, hospital visits, familial relationships. Beautifully written.
6. Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback – Robyn Davidson
It was the 70s, and it wasn’t so unusual for people to do things like move to Alice Springs and learn how to train camels so they could take a long-distance trek across the desert. It’s probably more unusual that it was a woman who did it. Robyn Davidson’s story crosses not just miles of desert, but wide ranges of emotion – anger, sadness, frustration, but also happiness. And like any good story these emotions are all mixed up together so you don’t know what will hit you next. Wonderful descriptions of the Australian outback – so often depicted as a lifeless desert – as a living and life-giving place.
7. Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies – Hadley Freeman
A book that lets me connect with my long lost youth and got me searching out some films I hadn’t seen in years (or ever!). With chapters on Dirty Dancing, The Princess Bride, Ghostbusters and Steel Magnolias, this book explains why the eighties were a great decade for film, any why films like these would not get made these days. Keep something handy to take notes while you’re reading – you’ll be wanting to go back and see some of these films.
8. Feminist Fight Club: An office survival manual for a sexist workplace – Jessica Bennett
The title tells you all you need to know. But the reading is joy. You’ll laugh. You’ll say, “Hey, I recognise that behaviour.” You’ll think: I could do that; I should stop doing that; and, Ooh, a playlist! Draw inspiration from Riot Girls from history. Use the handy tear-out-and-keep sheets to make pledges (but not if it’s a library book, OK?). Share the book with friend or a colleague. But read it and do something.
And if you’ve ever had a stranger on the street tell you to smile, this book advises the best retort:
9. A Song for Issy Bradley
I was alternately laughing and crying while reading this book. A heart breaking family tragedy balanced with moments of humour which often happens at dark times, all framed within the context of the Mormon belief system. Different chapters are told from different family members’ perspectives, so you as the reader are the only one who has the whole picture. Each character is sympathetically drawn, so even those you feel less interested in you have warmed to by the end.
“We want what you have.” Postcards start arriving through letterboxes on a south London street. Is it a prank? An art project? Some kind of clever advertising from estate agents? All of London is here – the young and the old; the rich and the poor; the sick and the healthy; the new immigrants and the old immigrants (both feeling like outsiders). These are characters you’ll know – you’ll have seen them or met them or passed them by without thinking. But here they are, all bound up together on Pepys Road. It’s a chunky big book, with a wide diversity of characters, but all of them separate and distinct and with their own story to tell.