Last year I reviewed just five books on the blog and read just 46, just shy of one a week. This year I smashed that by reading 62 books and reviewing 28 of them – and only two of the books were re-reads.
62 books – what were they and who wrote them?
48% were written by women and around 24% by people of colour and non-western writers. As a reminder of why I keep track of those figures, it is all too easy (although harder in recent years!) to just read books written by white men. While a number of those books are fantastic (Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg, which I read this year, for example), as in all things, diversity is never a bad thing. I get a huge amount of enjoyment out of reading diverse books, about different cultures, from different perspectives, tackling different themes, and what is the point of reading if it is not to learn new things anyway? Lesson over – although I would encourage everyone to take a look at their reading in 2016 and try to read new things!
Having said that, I didn’t actually seek out any particular female or non-western writers but was influenced by books reviewed on some fantastic blogs, such as The Writes of Women, and of course, the Man Booker longlist. Reading the longlist took up a large part of my reading this year and I am so, so pleased I did as I discovered some new-to-me writers and some fantastic stories.
I always find this hard, as I don’t just pick books up of the shelf and so tend to enjoy every book I read as it comes well-recommended. Disappointments are much easier! But I think I can do some narrowing down…
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – this was my best “sports” book of the year. I read this at the very start of the year and it feels like so long ago now. It is really incredible book for anyone with a vague interest in running – one of those books that as you read it, you half can’t put it down and half really really want to put it down and go for a run!! It is filled with information about really inspiring people and is just generally all about a love of running – plus some interesting facts and a key riposte who anyone who tries to tell you not to run a marathon as “our bodies just weren’t designed to run that far “.
The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman wins my award for best original book of the year. A science fiction novel, it kept me gripped from start to finish with its interesting premise, inventive dialect, and beautiful turns of phrase.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara wins the awards for both best new-to-me author (I went on to also read The People in the Trees which was a completely different story, with a completely different style of writing, but was still brilliant) and most emotional read. Which is quite impressive in a year in which I re-read Where the Rainbow Ends (see below).
It’s the story of a bunch of university friends making their lives in New York city, and is also a deeply personal look at tragedy, depression, and whether a person can ever be “saved”. Writing this has made me want to read it again but I think I will have to wait until I am in a really, really, really good mood 😀
The best historical fiction award goes to The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. While I loved A Brief History of Seven Killings (once I’d gotten into it, and got used to the dialect so I could understand what was going on!) I do prefer James’ previous book, a novel about slave women on a plantation in Jamaica. The story is so deftly drawn, the violence so severe and yet so every-day, the dialect so clever and rhythmical – it is a fantastic novel.
I don’t even know where to start with Where the Rainbow ends by Jameson Currier. It’s just the most incredible book – although it could fit into all the categories above I think it actually defies categorization. It’s an epic novel and a deeply personal one which follows the life of one young gay man in New York through the devastating AIDS crisis and as he works out what family, love and faith mean to him. It really brought home to me just how awful the AIDS crisis was – young, hopeful, fun-loving men, who, as a result of homophobia had friendship groups made up mainly of other gay men, who had often been ostracised by their families and so their true families were their groups of friends… And everyone died. So devastating, so awful – this book makes me cry and cry and cry.
And finally, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg wins an award for being the biggest surprise and the most personally important book. I had been slightly sucked in by the criticisms I had read of this book and expected to be a little underwhelmed, to be interested but find lots of flaws in what she was saying. Instead, I found an incredibly well-researched book, littered with detailed endnotes and interesting facts, filled with information and advice that was useful and valid for my life and my specific job role. I actually came away really inspired to work hard, do well in my career and that it would be possible to do all of that and have a family – and hopeful that in future it will only get more and more acceptable for men to take paternity leave and do the bulk of the child-rearing.
Overrated books / worst books
As usual, not many of these but choosing them was a lot easier than choosing my best books!
Love with a chance of drowning by Torre de Roche was definately the worst book I read all year, no competition. I still enjoyed it as any depiction of life at sea makes me really nostalgic, but I really did not think this was a well-written book….!!
The Green Road by Anne Enright and Lila by Marilynne Robinson were both really overrated in my opinion. They were both on the Booker prize longlist, and while they were both enjoyable and definately not “bad” books, I just felt they were nothing special. I couldn’t help but compare The Green Road to Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and I just SO much preferred A Spool of Blue Thread. I loved Marilynne Robinson’s Home when I read it about five years ago but just couldnt see why Lila had made it on to the Booker longlist. I finished it with absolutely nothing to say about it, either good or bad.
Blog posts on books
Last year I wrote a little bit about all of the books I had reviewed but I think the list is too long this year so I will just stick to listing the runners up for best books of the year. For all the other books reviewed, click here.
And thats it!! Lots of fantastic books read and I’m looking forward to discovering lots of new authors in 2016!