Monday, 26 December 2016
My Books of the Year
Where do I start? Bar the odd exception, I have enjoyed what I have read this year. The misses have either been books that have been languishing on my shelves at home for way too long or have been monthly reads for my book club. So what was the best of 2016.
I really hadn’t read much fiction this year, it was around 25% of my total. My favourite though had to be Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams First read this decades ago, and picked it up again and fwll in love with the humour, wry observations and the geek references that have permeated themselves into the culture. Other fiction that really made an impression was my first book by the talented V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic. Dark imaginative and really good. Will be reading her others in 2017. Finished the latest in the Rivers of London series, The Hanging Tree by the larger than life Ben Aaronovitch. Peter Grant is back in London, and still in trouble, another good solid read and can’t wait (but I’ll no doubt have to) for the next one in the series. One that was also very good was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Will read the second at some point though I understand that we might have to wait a while longer for the third…
Those of you that know me will know that I read a lot of natural history books. Three that I read this year and thought were excellent were The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel, The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks and Arboreal: A Collection of Words from the Woods edited by Adrian Cooper. All of these should have a place on your bookshelf at home. They are all beautifully written, poignant and relevant to our point in time. Other notable natural history include Winter: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons edited by Melissa Harrison a wonderful seasonal collection and The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy is really good too; and is a reminder of how much we have lost with the advent of modern farming.
Travel writing is one of my passions, there is a whole world out there that we can discover in between the covers of a book. Some really good ones that I have been fortunate enough to read are An Octopus in My Ouzo by Jennifer Barclay, a moving account of the trials and tribulations of life and following on from Falling in Honey. Another worth of note is Climbing Days by Dan Richards, it is a tribute to his great aunt Dorothy Pilley who was a female climber in the 1920’s. He undertakes some of her famous climbs in Europe including ascending the mighty Dent Blanche in the Alps. Really enjoyable book, and I actually had the privilege to meet him in October this year. The publisher Summersdale specialise in quirky travel books, and one of them was It's on the Meter by Paul Archer & Johno Ellison which describe the slightly (ok very) mad journey that they took around the world in a London taxi. Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker is very readable too, as he describes his stratospheric job piloting the huge 747’s round the world.
I have managed this year to read the longlist for the Wainwright Prize, as well as the shortlists for the Royal Society and Ballie Gifford prizes. I find these prizes a great ways of discovering new books and new authors, the only problem is my TBR gets ever longer. Three of note from those prizes include Weatherland, a beautiful book by Alexandra Harris on the artistic response to our ever changing weather. The Most Perfect Thing by Tim Birkhead is a fascinating scientific account of just what makes a egg and how they turn into our feathered friends. For more general non-fiction, East West Street was a person journey to the city of Lviv, the birth place of Philippe Sands grandfather as well as the men who created the phrases ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’, two statement that sadly we still have to use in this modern world.
Almost there. One of my favourite artists is Andy Goldsworthy who creates the most amazing transient natural art. Managed to get hold of a copy of his book Wood from the library; it is fantastic. If you haven’t seen his work; spend some time on the interweb looking for it. Another that I found a little gem is Snow by Marcus Sedgwick. It is about his favourite winter substance with a carefully woven narrative on experience and folklore. Finally any book by Neil Gaiman is a treat, none more so than The View from the Cheap Seats, a collection of essays, speeches and other non-fiction. A brilliant collection and possibly the best way of having an insight into the mind of the master storyteller.
Can I pick just one? No. All of what I have read this year has added a rich seam to my reading journey so far. Bring on 2017.