Cleopatra at Cleopatra Loves Books did this meme recently, and I enjoyed reading her answers. Thought I might have a go at it myself with books I read this year.
A book with more than 500 pages.
Dune by Frank Herbert. I liked this, although I have to say that the plot was a basic SFF “reclaim my rightful kingdom” plot and the characterisation didn’t really happen. I can’t believe how good the world building was, though. Seriously. I drank so much water while I was reading this, and I was so grateful for every sip. Having access to clean, cool water suddenly made me feel like one of the wealthiest people in the world (which I guess is accurate if you think about it).
A forgotten classic
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I don’t know if this counts as a forgotten classic overall, but it isn’t widely read in the UK. This is another one where I loved the rich descriptions of the setting, and in this case the character development was also stellar, though I didn’t like the ending. I did love the way that Cather explored the random hodge-podge of countries and cultures that made up the American Frontier at this time.
A book that became a movie
I just read The Martian by Andy Weir and it was one of my favourite books of the year. LOVED IT. I can’t wait to see the film, and I’m hoping to do a book-to-film review once I have.
A book published this year
Ah, yes, always a weak spot of mine. However, I did read Motherland by Jo McMillan. John Murray Press kindly sent it to me for review, and then I never reviewed it. The problem is that it was just sort of okay, neither brilliant nor awful, and so there wasn’t a lot to say. I can fill the square, though \o/
A book with a number in the [sub]title
I found Manna: Two Views of Humanity’s Future, a very short novella written by the founder of HowStuffWorks.com, surprisingly engaging. A friend recommended it to me, and it was better than I expected. It’s an interesting look at a possible future AI revolution, with strongly socialist tendencies—taking the current micromanagement that occurs in so many institutions and companies to a chilling ultimate conclusion. It’s available as a free ebook at Brain’s website, and I would recommend it for the ideas it discusses, although fair warning to you—it’s not a great work of literature, and it isn’t written like one.
A book written by someone under thirty
Apparently I haven’t read any of these this year. Give me recommendations!
A book with non-human characters
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch contains many magical, mystical beings. I think my favourites are the river demi-goddesses, particularly those associated with Mother Thames. They’ve been given personality traits associated with various areas of London, and I think that’s a very clever way to characterise them. Moon Over Soho is the second book in the PC Grant series, and I enjoyed it much more than the first. The creepy hyper-sexualisation of literally every female character is scaled down massively. Peter Grant even manages to have a friendship with a woman without constantly running an internal monologue about how she won’t sleep with him. Admittedly this is because her face has been torn off by supernatural beings, but honestly, that’s still personal growth from the first book.
A funny book
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was wonderful. It wasn’t perfectly in the style of Wodehouse, but it was an excellent homage to his writing and to the characters he created, especially the beautiful odd couple friendship between Jeeves and Wooster. It kept me company as I did hour upon hour of tedious data entry. In fact, given that the cold winter rain is back, it might be due another listen.
A book by a female author
How the Girl Guides Won the War, Janie Hampton’s non-fiction book about the Girl Guides, was absolutely fascinating. It wasn’t as coherently narrated as I might have liked, but the stories contained within were more than worth the effort required to follow them. I’ve honestly always been a bit dismissive of the Guide movement, having been a [Girl] Boy Scout instead. This book won me over. It tells the stories of often very young teenage girls who were involved in WW2, playing roles in everything from the underground Polish resistance to carrying messages for MI5. Well worth a read.
A book with a mystery
I have been anticipating Gaudy Night for over a year. I finally read it this past September, and it was everything I had hoped and more. In Harriet Vane, DL Sayers managed to create one of the most compelling, interesting characters I’ve ever read. The mystery within is unusual, convoluted and sometimes chilling. Also, I have a very strong soft spot for books set at Oxford or Cambridge, and there was lots of lovely colour and detail from the weird world of Oxford academia. As a bonus, reading this made me incredibly grateful to be a female academic now and not eighty years ago, when I would have had to fight so much harder just to be taken seriously. It’s not perfect, but we’re so much closer to equality than we were then.
A book with a one-word title
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is by far my favourite book of the year. It might be my favourite book ever, if it can topple Middlemarch. It’s quite a sad book in which nothing much happens (this is a genre I love), and it just came into my life at exactly the right time. I was feeling lonely and generally a bit low. This gorgeous novel was exactly what the doctor ordered. John Ames, the narrating character, has so many beautiful things to say about loneliness and the blessing that comes from being in a church family. This book pointed me back to my relationship with God over and over (which is impressive considering that it’s mainstream rather than Christian fiction), and it was incredibly encouraging. I’ve seen a lot of reviews from non-Christians who seem to like it too, so please don’t think you have to be a Christian to enjoy it!
A book of short stories
I’m reading Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, at the moment. It’s our book club pick for December. Christmassy short stories from the Golden Age of crime–what’s not to love? My favourite thus far is the Father Brown story The Flying Stars by GK Chesterton, but I still have three left to read.
[Free square] Favourite reread
You have no idea how much I am enjoying rereading all my Nancy Drews. My most-loved of these is Secrets of the Nile, in which Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys team up to travel to Egypt and unravel a bomb plot. There are sarcophagi, entirely predictable red herrings, and one surprisingly well-written scene that aggravated my claustrophobia. Gorgeous.
A book set on a different continent
Technically, the continent The Man in the High Castle is set on doesn’t exist. It takes place mostly in the Pacific States of America, an alternate universe US in which the Nazis won WW2 and a fascist Japanese empire spread over much of the world. That’s a very different continent (one which mercifully never came to be).
A book of non-fiction
I recommend Nick Robinson’s Election Notebook if you have any kind of interest in British politics. People constantly say that the Beeb is partisan (either right- or left-wing, depending on your view), but I thought Robinson mostly did a good job of not disclosing his own personal politics in this. Fascinating insight into the run-up to this year’s election. Towards the end, it also deals with Robinson’s cancer diagnosis and his treatment, which he raced through startlingly quickly in order to report on election night.
The first book by a favourite author
Nothing to report here.
A book you heard about online
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry was another of my favourite books of the year. I heard about it through Ashley’s review at Climb the Stacks, and I absolutely loved it. 900+ pages and yet it flew by. It’s one of those rare, magical books where the superb character development does not adversely affect the pacing of the plot (and vice versa).
A best-selling book
Honestly? I don’t follow book charts very well, and I’m not sure if any of the books I’ve read this year were bestsellers. I did listen to (comedian) David Mitchell’s memoir Back Story a while ago. If anything I’ve read this year was a bestseller, it was probably that. Recommended, although probably only if you’re already a fan of his style of comedy.
A book based on a true story
The Call the Midwife books are officially all classed as memoir, but it does seem that Jennifer Worth sprinkled the original anecdotes with a healthy dose of imagination—so “based on a true story” is probably a more accurate description. Recommended, but only if you think you can stomach some truly gory and disturbing childbirth narratives.
A book at the bottom of your to-be-read pile
Actually, I can’t think of anything. I’ve bought and borrowed loads of books this year, despite the fact that my TBR remains just as long as it was in January. Maybe next year I should pause the book-buying until I’ve read a few more of my unread books.
A book your friend loves
I read the first two Hunger Games books this year, which quite a few of my friends love. They are very compulsive reading, and I can see why they are so beloved. Enjoying reading books in which children have to kill each other for sport just made me feel grubby, though (as it was intended to).
A book that scares you
I avoid scary books with the skill and talent other people put into avoiding life-threatening allergens.
A book that is more than 10 years old
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is another sad book in which nothing much happens; another that will probably be a favourite forever. The way that the narrative voice, so measured and controlled and full of artificial calm, reflects the plot—stunning. Heartbreaking. I keep trying to force (encourage) my friends to read this so that someone will talk about it with me. No joy yet.
The second book in a series
I reread the Wind on Fire books this year—or the first two, at least. (Still waiting for the right lazy afternoon to tackle the third). With their tightly-focussed plots and fierce female leads, they remind me of everything I loved about reading as a preteen.
A book with a blue cover
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh—a memoir of his time working as a neurosurgeon. Very interesting. However, a warning! Do not read this if you are a nurse in the NHS. Do not do it! You will want to throw it out of the window. I am sure Marsh is an excellent doctor, but he represents everything that is awful about working with surgeons. He is outrageously arrogant, intensely focussed on tiny details and unable to see the bigger picture, completely convinced that his patients are the most important in the hospital, and totally unwilling to respect the contributions of any other member of staff. The only thing that saved this exceptionally irritating book from death by defenestration was the fact that it was on my Kindle. If you are not a nurse in the NHS, crack on. Neurosurgery is incredible and this is a very well-written look inside the human brain.
21/25, including the free square–I don’t think that’s too bad really 🙂
NB: Other than the reading bingo image, all images in this post are taken from Goodreads. The WordPress editor has changed and I haven’t figured out how to add links to pictures yet.