Yep, I’m doing this again! Gird your loins…
MR Carey: The Girl With All The Gifts
This book is like crack. I read it really, really fast and couldn’t stop! Then I heard that the main character (a badass middle aged black woman) is being played by Gemma Arterton in the movie adaptation, and now I feel angry whenever I think about it.
Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
This woman’s books really don’t deserve the soppy covers they get. I was put off reading her for years because the covers of all her books made me think they’d be saccharine. Then I finally read this and loved it and wished I’d thought of the idea (a really smart take on “what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?”, essentially) first. It’s great.
Amber Benson: The Witches of Echo Park
I seem to remember that this author is also an actress who was in Buffy, or something. I didn’t know that when I bought it. I bought it because the idea sounded awesome (a coven of witches in contemporary LA, HELLO). I ditched it about thirty pages in because the writing was about the worst I’d ever seen in a published book. Seriously, it was like having my fingernails pulled out. I now show it to my Write Like A Grrrl! students as an example of How Not To Write Sentences.
Chris Banks: Bonfires
Things I can remember about this book: I think the poet is Canadian. I think I thought it was OK at the time. I seem to remember it has a weird cover. Make of all that what you will.
Tracey S Rosenberg: The Naming of Cancer
Ooh, this one’s easy! I reviewed it here!
Francine Prose: Reading Like A Writer
She’s quite pompous: there are some fairly rude retorts written at her in the margins of my copy. BUT her advice is genuinely really useful. The Dialogue and Sentence chapters are especially good.
Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star
I absolutely loved this when I read it, because I thought that the writer was a woman of colour. Then I found out that she’s white, and she’s said some mildly clueless things about the book’s approach to race. Now I just have all the feels about it. All of them.
Beauty Tips for Girls by Margaret Montgomery
This author is an absolutely lovely lady — I have it on good authority from many people who have met her. The book is not my personal cup of tea, but I was happy for her when it was published, and when so many other folk seemed to like it.
Marie Howe: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
I didn’t like it quite as much as What The Living Do, but that book is actually perfect. This one’s still pretty freaking amazing. I want to be Marie Howe when I grow up, including having her amazing hair.
Kayla Czaga: For Your Safety, Please Hold On
I am getting harder and harder to please when it comes to poetry. I liked this fine, but it didn’t set me on fire. Nice cover design, is the main thing I remember about this ten months on.
Kathleen Jones: Norman Nicholson, The Whispering Poet
I absolutely love Norman Nicholson and I absolutely love Kathleen Jones’ books, so this was a no brainer. It was great. It made me go on a NN pilgrimage, it was so great!
Annie Proulx: Close Range
Short fiction! I keep telling myself I need to read more short fic. God Annie Proulx is horribly talented. Every sentence is bloody perfect. Every story is totally gripping. I love her and hate her in equal measure, the talented cow.
Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism, ed. Rachel Thain Gray
I followed the fortunes of this project all year, went to its launch, and met many of the cool ladies who contributed to this anthology. It’s thought-provoking, handmade, and gorgeous. Well done, GWL and Rachel!
The Collected Poems of Norman Nicholson
How to be inspired to write poetry: wait til spring, then go to Cumbria, stay there, and read nothing but Norman Nicholson for the best part of the month. I feel like I wrote the best part of my second-collection-in-progress in March, thanks to Norman!
Mary Oliver: Dream Work
Yes, again. Springtime means Mary Oliver. You just can’t get through spring without reaching for her.
Frances Leviston: Disinformation
Another effortlessly talented smartypants. I basically agree with the entirety of Dave’s review. Reading this made my brain hurt, but in a good way.
Hallelujah for 50ft Women: poems about women’s relationships with their bodies, ed. The Raving Beauties
Great poems, slightly cissexist introduction.
Mark Doty: Deep Lane
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better, he went and got better. This book is perfect. PERFECT I TELL YOU. I wanted to eat it. I wanted to swim in it. I read it about once a week for six months… but the first time was the best. Buy it, read it, do it now.
Mark Doty: My Alexandria
Mark Doty: Sweet Machine
After I finished Deep Lane I was just in the grip of Doty fever. Addicted, I tell you! PS: Hey look! In April I read only poetry! Nice.
(Photo credit. I love this pic of Jo Bell!)
Laura McBride: We Are Called To Rise
I got this ’cause I had two ‘three for two’ books in Waterstones and needed a third. It was a punt, but it turned out to be great. Holy crap it was good. Just good, strong, confident storytelling. And gripping. A little predictable at the end but I really didn’t care. Bonus: its structure helped me figure out how I wanted to structure my own novel. Yay!
Sophie Cabot Black: The Descent
This is a book with two (or three? I forget) sections, the poems in each of which seem to be lots of variations on the same theme. The first section, with poems all about travelling through wildernesses, is bloody great. It was weird how much I liked that section, only to massively dislike the section that was all love poems. It felt like two massively different poetry collections in one. But hey, it won a ton of awards, so what the hell do I know?
Patricia Young: Here Come The Moonbathers
Re-reading this for about the millionth time. Whenever I read this book I wish I was back where I was when I first read it: on the deck of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry with a beer, sailing towards a month-long Canadian roadtrip. Sigh.
Polly Clark: Kiss
I can remember absolutely nothing about this collection, six-or-so-months on, except that there was a naked lady on the cover. That’s not good, but I think the fault lies with me, not the book.
Jo Bell: Kith
I read this at the same time as the book above, and enjoyed the similarity of their titles. I remember lots about this one, though: mainly, the poems are all very short and a good number of them made me snort-laugh. I read them on a sunny long weekend in my aunty’s little Lake District cottage and they were perfect for that time and that place. There’s one amazing poem that really stuck with me, about Jo waking up in her narrowboat and realising that the canal had frozen overnight. Simple and gorgeous.
Helen Macdonald: H is for Hawk
Bored the pants off me. Got about… sixty pages in? If that? Then thought… next.
Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers
I was on holiday (see above) and wanted something totally un-taxing. This was a re-read, and I possibly enjoyed it even more second time around. It reinforced my opinion that people who hate on Malcolm Gladwell are suuuuper dull and rather joyless individuals.
Rufi Thorpe: The Girls of Corona Del Mar
Self-absorbed, messily written, totally unconvincing, and somehow also pretty dull. In my line of work, I meet young women who have real actual problems in their lives. This asshole narrator needed to get a grip, frankly. (Maybe she was supposed to be annoying and eventually got her comeuppance, but I’m afraid I ditched out early.)
Peter Carey: Amnesia
What an utterly odd book. It was totally not about what its blurb said it was about. But it was really rather funny (and much funnier, I’m sure, if you’re Australian and get all the in-jokes) and I enjoyed it. May seek out more Carey in future (recommendations of particular titles welcomed!).
The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition
I can’t say too much about this ’cause I’m featured in it (!!!) but I can say it also features folk like Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn and Vicki Feaver, so yaknow, that gives you a sense of things. (Also, it’s not just poetry, it’s a mix of genres, but I put it under poetry ’cause the poetry section includes Little Old Me!)
Caitlin Doughty: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematorium
This is a memoir/rumination on death by a female funeral director, and it’s absolutely bloody brilliant. Very funny, very poignant — I read it on a very wet two-day work trip to Oban and it made my seven hours of train travel fly by. My only criticism would be, occasionally some of her controversial-y, non-PC-y humour felt like it was punching down, not up. See what you think.
Jennifer Egan: Look at Me
BRING OUT ANOTHER NOVEL ALREADY PLEASE JENNIFER. In order to worship at the altar of your absolutely perfect writing, I am having to re-re-re-re-re-read all your novels, and there aren’t enough of them. GET ON IT.
John Updike: The Witches of Eastwick
I decided to have a summer of re-reading some faves, hence the one above. You may be surprised to learn that a ranty intersectional feminist like myself counts an Updike novel among her all-time top ten, but I do. I mean, it’s HILARIOUS that whenever a person with breasts walks into a room, he needs to tell us (or indeed, remind us, if they’re a main character) exactly what size, shape, and colour that person’s breasts are (often with flower-related similes). But once you get used to just chortling at that and moving on, it’s all fine.
Karen Solie: The Living Option, New and Selected Poems
Oi Karen! You could also do with bringing out another book, please. You’re another one I keep having to re-re-re-re-read ’cause I want more of your writing magic! Get it together, ladies!
Mark Doty: Deep Lane
I wrote down in my book-reading diary that I’d re-read this one in July… but basically I never stopped reading it. I’ve dipped back into it so many times this year. But I think this re-read was to prepare me for MD’s reading at the EIBF, and for meeting him afterwards (!!!! he was so kind. So kind. I shall post more about our meeting in my year-end round-up post shortly!).
R. Swinburne Clymer: Nature’s Healing Agents
Michael Howard: The Witches Herbal
I bought these two books at the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, and they have proven totally invaluable… I’m writing a bunch of poems about witches and witchcraft to go in my second collection, you see. The Herbal book is particularly great, and surprisingly, I’ve been able to make use of it when foraging, too. I was sad to hear that its author died this year. He was very involved in the Museum of Witchcraft, aka one of my favourite places in the world.
Katherine Howe: The Penguin Book of Witches
See above. This is probably the most useful reference book you could ask for when writing about witches. So many original sources, presented and explained with handy notes. Also, it was fun reading it on the bus… no one wanted to sit next to me.
Blake Snyder: Save The Cat
It turns out everyone knew about this amazingly useful little book except me, ’cause I try to recommend it to writers now and they’re all like, “yeah, beat sheets. Use ‘em all the time!” Why did no one ever tell me about this oh-so-handy guide to plotting?! It says it’s for screenplays but it applies pretty well to novels. Helped me loads.
Michael O’Byrne: The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure
I am writing a crime novel. Or actually, I prefer Emily St John Mandel’s version, which she referred to when I saw her at the EIBF this year (more on that later): “a novel with a crime in it.” Therefore, I felt this book was worth its weight in gold… and it came at a very good time for me, when I was getting tons of writing done and (as you can see) not reading much else.
Susan Hill: The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read
Did you know that the lady who wrote The Woman In Black, and other terrifying creepy things, also writes lovely, whimsical short fiction? It’s true. I bought this collection waaaay back when I was about fifteen and the brilliant writing blew my tiny mind. I needed to teach a seminar on Modes of Narration in September and immediately reached for this book (and the title story in particular) ’cause she’s so brilliant at Free Indirect Speech.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Thing Round Your Neck
This was for the same Modes of Narration seminar. Best use of second person since Italo Calvino.
Naomi Shihab Nye: Tender Spot
I saw her at EIBF, reading alongside Mark Doty (can I just say DREAM TEAM?), and then bought the book from her afterwards. I’ve been reading it super slowly ever since (still not done), trying to savour it like a really expensive box of chocolates. Needless to say, it’s great.
NB: I should say that from here on in, things get very sparse. The reason is, I got my job as Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne and Esk Writers. I work 17.5 hours a week in that job, and on some weeks, as many as ten of those hours are reserved for reading the writing of T&E members in order to offer critique. So I’ve been reading loads this winter! Loads and loads of exciting, as-yet-unpublished novel manuscripts and poetry collections and single poems and short stories… I just can’t write about them here. Yet! Wait for it! Some of them are coming soon to a bookstore shelf near you!
Greta Stoddart: Salvation Jane
I picked this up in a second hand bookstore in Whitby, to have a quick flick through. Ten minutes later my brother came searching for me to find out what I’d got so engrossed in.
Claudia Rankine: Citizen
Again… what Dave said.
Douglas Coupland: Hey Nostradamus!
Someone told me a while back that I ought to read this book, because elements of it are similar to the novel I am currently writing. I can’t remember who that person was, but THANK YOU SO MUCH. You totally get my taste in books! This was my fiction discovery of the year, though it faced strong competition, especially from Station Eleven (see below). It was just gob-smackingly brilliant. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started reading, and it just kept surprising me and surprising me and surprising me, right down to the absolutely stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, poignant, heart-stopping ending, which had me weeping buckets. I read this in two sittings: it was one of those books where you just go screw it, I’m not doing anything else today, I just have to read this til I am done. Douglas Coupland, where have you been all my life?! Miss Wyoming next…
Emily St John Mandel: Station Eleven
Yes, I fiiiiinally got around to reading it. I bought it way back in the year: remember me saying I was buying 3-for-2 books back in May? It was one of those three. In June I booked a ticket to go and see ESJM at EIBF and told myself that’d spur me on to read it. Then the event, which was ace, came and went in August. I find it hard sometimes to get myself psyched up to read the book everyone’s raving about, you know? And then usually I kick myself when I finally do read it, as I did with this one. Holy wow. It’s every bit as good as everyone says, and more. Just don’t do what I did and read it when you’re feeling flu-y. Oh, and if you get chance to go and see ESJM speak/read? Go. Her EIBF event was so great. She’s very eloquent, whip-smart, very funny, and I could listen to her lovely Canadian accent all day. But don’t do what I did… read the book before you go.
A few final stats:
Total books read: 45 (down on last year’s 51. OMG SO LOW RIGHT? Meh. You know how every book blogger is telling you they read three books a week for the whole year right now? Unless they sat on the panel for a major book prize, or worked as a reviewer for a big publication, it’s likely they’re fibbing. PS: if you’re measuring the worth of your life by how many books you’re reading per year, you need to get a grip, and also remember that the ability to read at all is a massive privilege and bragging is vulgar. Here endeth the lesson.)
Total fiction: 16 (down on last year’s 17)
Total poetry: 19 (20 if you count reading Deep Lane twice. Waaaay down on last year’s 32)
Total non-fiction: 10 (way up on last year’s 2! Hooray!)
Books by men: 13 (down on last year’s 16)
Books by women: 30 (down on last year’s 35)
Books by multiple authors, or by an author whose gender I don’t know: 2
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