I didn’t manage to read enough during Twenty-Seventeen. Including books I re-read, books I began but didn’t finish, and books I read for the first time, I read a paltry thirty-nine books, which was still somehow more than last year. If you subtract the ones I didn’t finish (nine) I still managed more than last year. A miracle. If only I was ten again. I had plenty of time to read then. Out of school, when I should have been asleep, in school, during Maths…
Some of the books I read in the summer were such trash (that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy them; think MacDonalds), that I’d forgotten I’d read them until I looked on my Kindle. Doesn’t bode well for a recommendation, does it?
My New Year’s Resolution, the same as every year, is to read more. My new New Year’s Resolution is to keep track of the books as I go along, so I don’t have a big faff totting them up at the end of the year.
What about you? What did you read last year that you enjoyed so much that I absolutely must read it this year? Let me know in the comments below.
Here it is, the Monster List of This Year’s Books. It’s by “First Read”, “Re-Read” or “Not Finished” and then alphabetically by title.
Finished for the first time
Animal Farm by George Orwell- If you don’t read satire very often, I think this is probably a great place to start. Entertaining and cynical, the original lampooning of the Soviets is long past relevance, but it’s a good cautionary tale about how revolutions can be corrupted.
Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig- A must for Star Wars fans; some people don’t like the present tense, personally I think that’s a minor quirk to get hung up on.
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Branche- It has some interesting exercises to increase your productivity. I think they work, but the ideas about psychology seem a little old fashioned. This is probably your gentler alternative to The War of Art (see below).
Black Bolt #1 – #4 by Saladin Ahmed & Christian Ward- It’s a comic, yeah, ok, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’m counting it. Fight me.
Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood- Probably my favourite book this year. Margaret Atwood is a fab writer, and the form of this book, weaving together pulp sci-fi/fantasy and the literary bits, is bloody great.
Deep Work by Cal Newport- I enjoyed it; it’s about working on one thing deeply, for long stretches, rather than flitting between projects or trying to multi-task. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing that modern knowledge work lends itself to. I would love to be able to do more work of this kind, but it’s not possible in my day job, and blocks of time that allow it outside work hours are far and few between. A recommendation for anyone who feels that being constantly pinged by e-mail, phone-calls, phone notifications and social media alerts is a crap way to “be connected”.
Descent of Angels– Warhammer 40K book; one of the ones I forgot I’d read. Like cheap takeway; filling, tasty at the time, might give you indigestion, never gonna rave about it. There were four or five other books I borrowed from a friend in the same series, but I can’t even remember what they were called, so like hell am I counting them.
The Flight of the Eisenstein– See “Descent of Angels” above.
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner- A solid language learning text book. I’ve yet to put its stuff into practice, but it seems sound and well thought-out. It follows a similar programme to the Duolingo app, so if you like that but it doesn’t have a language that you want, try this instead.
Horus Rising – See “Descent of Angels” above.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf- Solid read, enjoyed it a lot, but it didn’t blow my mind.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman- I’ve always loved Norse myth and this is an excellent read. As a friend put it, it feels like it’s someone telling you the tales around a fire. The only thing that annoys me is that I’ve always wanted to write a telling of myth stories like this since I was little, and I’m bummed that Gaiman got there first. Why, Oh Why, can’t people stop writing stuff I want to write? Damned these talented bastards, damn them!
On Writing by Stephen King- I liked it a lot. Lots of solid advice. “Build a toolchest of writing techniques” etc. Didn’t like the fact that he reckons you can’t teach all of creative writing, only move an OK writer to a good one. I would dispute that, if I had more time.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Not a revelation since I already knew the story from the telly version. Still a great read, funny, heart warming, infuriating. Worth reading solely for characters you love to hate; Lydia, Catherine de Bourgh, Mr Collins, George Wickham et al. Elizabeth telling Lady de Bourgh to get stuffed (in so many words) is still my favourite bit.
The Shining by Stephen King- Could not put it down. I don’t read horror very often, because I’m a cry-baby, but I loved it. Even thinking back to it now, I can see and feel The Overlook.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick- I’ve tried three times to get through this. This time I ploughed through it after I saw and hated Blade Runner 2049. I’d seriously underestimated it before; gets a recommendation if you like books that make you question what reality is.
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood- Collection of short stories; loved almost every single one of them. The first, (I can’t remember the title) was my favourite. Torch the Dusties fucking shook me.
Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas- Really, really enjoyed it. Surprised that it took me this long to get to it, considering how many times they tried to force it on us in school. I’ve got to listen to it now. At the Dylan Thomas exhibit in Swansea it talks about how much Thomas loved the language. It comes across.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami- I desperately wanted to like this, but didn’t. It’s dream-like quality was masterfully built, but unpleasant to be in. The main character was like a mannequin; human shaped, but that’s about it.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood- Very good, kinda depressing. Felt like it was lacking something; I didn’t realise until I’d finished it that it was a sequel (I think?) to Oryx and Crake, which was probably why it felt some things were a little missing.
Bird By Bird by Anne Lammot- Gets a recommendation from me. It’s a great book on writing, and how to manage the sometimes daunting task. It’s also wickedly funny.
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett- One of my favourite authors. I’m starting to re-read the Discworld books from the start, when I have nothing else pressing to read. Still enjoying them.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams- When talking Adams, everyone goes straight to the Hitch-hiker books, but the Dirk Gently books are some of my favourites and they don’t get enough press. Read ’em. Features an Electric Monk and a strange sofa-based problem.
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett- See The Colour of Magic, above.
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett- As The Colour of Magic.
The Long, Dark Tea-time of the Soul by Douglas Adams- Norse Gods, Coca Cola machines and inept private investigators. Read.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell- I read almost all of this when I was eleven the first time around and didn’t get through it all because it scared me. Still scares me, as it should. Read it, realise we’re practically living it, despair.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut- One of my all time favourite books.
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield- This one is a Marmite book on writing. If you need a stiff kick up the arse to get you going, butt in chair, writing everyday, to beat the psychological games of Resistance, then this is the book for you. If you need something gentler, less macho, less about the warrior spirit, it’s not for you. If you cannot stand talk of angels or muses in any form, avoid. There’s a little bit of that near the end but it doesn’t bother me so much, even though I place about as much stock in that stuff as I do in the Tooth Fairy. It’s not integral to believe in that kind of thing to get the core take-away of the book. Gets a recommend from me.
Begun, but not completed
Context by Cory Doctorow- I haven’t gotten through all of this by the time the year ended because I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying it; it’s a collection of articles that look at information, copyright, other makery-techy stuff. Worth a look if you’re into that kinda thing.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell- This began the early summer brain overheat, and I ditched it in favour of The Waves. See below.
Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments– It’s been on my shelf for literally years, and I’ve never gotten around to it; something more exciting has always cropped up. I got into a real science mood in the later part of this year, thought I’d give it a try. It’s like reading the world’s longest listicle, and doesn’t go into anywhere near enough detail. May be suitable for younger readers getting a first interest in science, otherwise, avoid.
The Iliad by Homer- The third time I’ve tried to get through the Iliad. It’s just so repetitive. I got to the bit where the Trojans are fighting amongst the Danaan’s ships and fell asleep. Not figuratively, literally. The last time that happened, I was twelve years old, and I was reading White Fang under the covers with a torch at about three in the morning. I woke up with it stuck to my face. The book, not the torch.
Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood- I had to stop reading and hand in an assignment, and just never got back into it. Someday!
Offworld edited by Leigh Alexander- Another that I was enjoying, but had to stop reading because I got busy and never got back into. I’ll tackle the rest this year.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville- Mieville’s world building is incredible, unique, interesting and his characters are very well rounded, but lord does he need an editor. He goes on so much that it starts to feel a bit masturbatory. He’s also really, really bleak. I’ve tried a few times with this book (this was attempt four, I think?) and I really want to like it, but I just can’t get there. Tighten the pacing up, whack a few upbeats in there, don’t let it end like Iron Kingdom.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath: I cannot remember why I stopped reading this. Sorry!
The Waves by Virginia Woolf- It was at this point in the early summer that my brain was beginning to overheat and I just couldn’t hack any more literature. Or as I was calling it in my heat-melted state “thinky-books”. I promptly switched to reading the Warhammer 40K books. I’ll re-start The Waves again this year, I think.
P.S. I hope you all appreciate this, I almost killed myself going under my bed to get my notebook to see what I’d read in the beginning of the year.
P.P.S. If I had to characterise my reading pattern, it would be ‘eclectic’, or perhaps ‘manic’, or ‘anything I can get my hands on’.