2015 Reading Highlights and 2016 Reading Resolutions

Well I had planned to post this follow up to my reading by numbers post around New Year, but between one thing and another I ran out of time! So it’s a bit late and 2015 already feels a very long time ago, but anyway, here’s my reading highlights from the past year.

1. Best Book of 2015: For entirely subjective reasons, I’m going to go with The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett as my favourite overall.

2. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2015The Girl with All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey. I read this for book club, and to be honest probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise as I’d assumed it was another fairly bog-standard teen dystopia. I was very, very wrong about that – it’s a fresh, literary and extremely well-written take on the zombie survival genre.

3. Book You Recommended the Most to People in 2015The Wicked and The Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. This is the best comic book/graphic novel series I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve been pressing them on everyone I know. Volume 3 of the trade paperback is out next month, hurrah!

4. Favourite New (to me) Authors Discovered in 2015: Kieron Gillen (The Wicked and the Divine), Clare North (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Touch), Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings)

5. Most Hilarious Read of 2015How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran – had me crying with laughter throughout!

6. Most Thrilling Unputdownable Read of 2015The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Clare North. I almost raced through the entire thing in one sitting, and enjoyed it so much I immediately went out and bought Clare North’s second book, Touch.

7. Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2015: Very difficult to judge this one – I’ve read some books with some very beautiful cover art this year! I’m actually going to go with On Liberty, by Shami Chakrabarti, as I like the boldness and simplicity of it. (I also have a massive fangirl crush on Chakrabarti after seeing her speak at a conference this year!)

8. Most Memorable Character of 2015: Tough call, but probably Holly Sykes from The Bone Clocks.

9. Most Beautifully Written Book of 2015: Another tough one! I’m gonna go with The Goldfinch, by Donna Tart. I just love her writing.

10. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2015H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (this was also in the running for “most beautifully written”, above!). This is a truly extraordinary meditation on bereavement and grief, wrapped up in a fascinating exploration of hawking. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s ever been bereaved and struggled to explain how it felt and what it does to your life.

11. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2015 to Read: I haven’t really read any “classic” literature this year! I’d probably go with Fragile Things, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman published in 2007, just because it’s been on my wishlist for several years but I hadn’t got hold of a copy until this year.

Reading Resolutions

Before I set some reading goals for this year, I’m going to have a look back at my 2015 resolutions and see how I did…

  1. Finish the year with fewer than 100 books on my TBR list… Um, no! I managed to finish 2015 with 129 books on my TBR list, more than the 104 I started the year with!
  2. Explore books by more diverse authors… Last year I read 7 books written by people of colour, and and one translated book. That’s pretty poor if I’m honest, but at least I’ve started to pay attention to it now. The same thing happened when I started making an effort to read more books by women – I didn’t realise how badly skewed my reading was in favour of male authors until I started counting them!
  3. Read at least five books that are 600 pages plus… Almost! I read 3 books that were longer than 600 pages (the longest being A Feast for Crows, George RR Martin, at a whopping 976 pages), and the next two longest were 592 (so close!) and 576 pages. I’m going to give myself a pass for this one, as taking my five longest books together, the average page count is 732 pages.

So out of three resolutions, I’ve… almost managed one. Ah. Ok, let’s see if I can set some more realistic goals for 2016!

  1. Seriously, stop buying so many goddamn books. I need to be more realistic about the books I pick up and when I will actually have time to read them! I’m going to set myself the same goal as last year: try to end the year with fewer than 100 books on my TBR list. Let’s see if I actually manage it this time!
  2. Read at least 10 books by people of colour, and/or in translation.
  3. Review more books!

Re no.3: I’ve been thinking a lot about how hard writers work to get an audience, and how difficult it is to compete for attention and book sales in an increasingly crowded market. I have a few friends who are writers, and I follow a lot of writers on Twitter, so I’m aware of how hard they work. The most consistent advice I’ve seen for writers on promoting their books is to rely on readers to do it for you – nothing sells like word of mouth!

I didn’t actually post any book reviews here in 2015 (although I did a couple on the Leeds Book Club blog), and I kinda miss reviewing books. I also know how helpful a good review is, particularly for less well-known writers, and especially somewhere like Amazon where most people will look for book reviews! I’m therefore going to make more of an effort to blog book reviews here, and post reviews of books I enjoyed on Amazon. This is partly for selfish reasons – I enjoy reviewing, and I also want writers I like to do well so they’ll continue to write books – but also I do love recommending books to people, and reviewing is really an extension of that!

I’m actually going to start my third resolution right now, as I read some great books over the Christmas holiday that I’d love to shout about! So look out for my next blog post, I promise it won’t be a three-week gap this time…

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2014 Reading Highlights and 2015 Reading Resolutions

Following on from yesterday’s reading by numbers, here’s what caught my attention in 2014…

1. Best Book of 2014: A tough call! I’ve read some excellent books in the past year. I think it’s got to be either The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, or How to be both, by Ali Smith (the latter completely robbed of the Booker prize this year!). If I had to pick one… probably Kavalier and Clay, just because I found it so immersive.

2. Least Favourite Book of 2014: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding. I loved the previous Bridget Jones books (and refuse to describe them as a “guilty pleasure” – I don’t feel guilty about it, and don’t think anyone should feel guilty about enjoying any books), but this felt like a real let-down. It had its moments, but didn’t have the sharpness of the previous books.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2014: Divergent, by Veronica Roth. I’d been really looking forward to reading this, as I love a bit of YA dystopia, but I just couldn’t get into it.

4. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2014: Augustus, by John Williams. When this was picked for book club I thought it’d be very dry and I’d struggle to get through it, but quite the opposite was true – I couldn’t put it down, and devoured it in a few days. Very highly recommended – most of the book club raved about it too, it was one of our best discussions!

5. Book You Recommended the Most to People in 2014: We are all completely beside ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. Loved this, bought it for a couple of people for Christmas too.

6. Favourite New (to me) Authors Discovered in 2014: Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, Alice Munro. Also Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling, who I’m including here because I finally read her adult fiction this year, having grown up on Harry Potter, and loved it!

7. Most Hilarious Read of 2014: Looking at my list, I don’t really seem to have read anything particularly funny in the past year, or at least not anything that’s stuck in my mind as a funny read. I shall have to address that in 2015!

8. Most Thrilling Unputdownable Read of 2014: The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

bernadette9. Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2014: Where’d you go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. I picked this one up purely because of the cover, and happily the contents were a good match!

11. Most Memorable Character of 2014: Definitely Scarlett O’Hara, from Gone With the Wind. Although a lot of this book was incredibly racist, which made parts very difficult to read, I did love Scarlett’s unrepentant selfishness and toughness. She’s not at all likeable, which surprised me – I didn’t really know much about the book before I read it, so I’d assumed Scarlett as the heroine would be one of these impossibly perfect and gentle ladies you find in Victorian fiction. She’s not of course – she’s a cast-iron bitch (which I absolutely mean as a compliment), and I loved her for it. After I’d finished it I filled my Tumblr with choice quotes from Scarlett, like this one:

I’m tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I’m tired of saying ‘How wonderful you are!’ to fool men who haven’t got one-half the sense I’ve got, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they’re doing it.

Marvellous.

12. Most Beautifully Written Book of 2014: How to be both. I just adore Ali Smith’s writing.

13. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2014: We are all completely beside ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. It hit me right in the feelings.

14. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2014 to Read: I didn’t read too many older books this year, so I’ll have to go for Gone With the Wind – which I mostly enjoyed, despite the unbelievable racism (seriously, I cannot stress enough just how racist this book is, even allowing for the time when it was written), and I do think Scarlett O’Hara is a fabulous creation.

2014 Reading Resolutions

I thought I’d look back and see how I did on last year’s reading resolutions, before setting more:

  1. Read more books by women – succeeded!
  2. Finish 2014 with fewer books on my TBR pile than at the start of the year – succeeded! At the end of 2013 I had 116 books in my TBR pile; at the end of 2014, that was down to 104.
  3. Write more reviews and other blog posts here – failed. I only managed 9 posts on this blog in 2014, compared to 12 in 2013. That’s pretty poor to be honest! I would definitely like to boost my blogging again in 2015, both here and on my other blog.

2015 Reading Resolutions

This year, I will…

  1. Finish the year with fewer than 100 books on my TBR list. I think that should be achievable, providing I don’t go mad and acquire so many more books this year!
  2. Explore books by authors of various nationalities. This is a difficult one to measure as I haven’t to date kept track of the nationalities of the writers I read, but I have a pretty strong hunch that I read mostly books by UK and US/Canadian writers, and they are probably mostly white. Which is no bad thing, but #readwomen made me think about broadening my horizons further. I would like to read more books by writers from around the world, more translations, and more books by people of colour.
  3. Read longer books. I’ve got a few hefty books on my TBR list which I just never seem to pick up. A quick look at my LibraryThing data shows the average length of a book I read in 2014 was 333 pages; most (65%) were in the 200-450 page range. I think that’s partly because if I take too long reading one book, I start to worry about all the other books I won’t have time to read in the meantime. Which is silly really – it should be quality not quantity! I think I just need to relax and accept that I am never going to read all the books, so I should really stop trying. In 2015 I would like to read at least five books that are 600 pages plus.