2018 was the year in which I discovered that I can, after all, read fiction in parallel to writing it. Previously I was strictly on a non-fiction diet when writing, and I’m very happy to have that curse lifted.
This was my reading in the last year, a dozen or so books, mainly fiction and mainly finished. Here’s an impression of each of them in a few words.
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
An extraordinary tale with an unlikely theme – studying philosophy. Highly recommended, but don’t try and understand everything, let it flow through your mind and enjoy the puzzles and paradoxes.
The Book of Dust Vol 1 La Belle Sauvage
by Philip Pullman
Pullman’s back with a prequel to his magnificent trilogy His Dark Materials. Some familiar names and places for fans of Lyra Belacqua and some of the old magic is also present, but so far this trilogy is a lesser thing than Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USA), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Still worth reading.
The Man Game by Lee Henderson
A very good book, set mainly in Vancouver, Canada in the 1880s with what feel like flashforwards to the present day. It’s a story of a man’s world of drinking, violence, prostitution and gambling told with great feeling and tenderness. And it’s also the story of the beautiful and clever Molly who makes a place for herself and her quadriplegic husband in this dangerous world. Highly recommended, even if you don’t like the sound of it.
Nothing by Henry Green; Living by Henry Green
Unfair to review two titles as one, but the stories are similar in many respects and the writing style takes some getting used to. These are two novels of social commentary written by British author Henry Green. Nothing (1950) is more accessible than Living (1929) if only because the language is more modern and middle-class. Henry Green was new to me and I’m pleased to have read these two books, not least because they demonstrate yet again in how many different ways this wonderful English language can be written. Recommended as an education in language and writing, the stories have less tension than we are used to reading in 2018.
The Ocean Container by Patrik Sampler
A dystopian novel of now, or the very near future, in which an eco-activist seeks refuge in a steel shipping container, encouraged into social exile by rivals and cut off from his wife and child by distance and fear. Set in the Pacific North West, resolution – of a kind – comes in the aftermath of an earthquake. Mostly enjoyable with some very perceptive writing, I really wanted this to be a bigger story than the author has squeezed it down to.
A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré
John le Carré produced possibly the best spy novel of all time in A Perfect Spy and fans of the genre will certainly know the George Smiley titles. I didn’t enjoy A Legacy of Spies, the format seemed dated, the story felt like a rehash of old ideas and themes. Rarely for me, I didn’t finish this book. A big disappointment from a master storyteller.
20th Century Ghost Stories edited by Paul Guernsey
Some really good ghost (or at least, supernatural) goings on, along with a few lesser stories. They’re all pulled together by the editor from entries to theghoststory.com’s competitions. If you enjoy the theme, you’ll enjoy a lot of these spooky tales.
(Confession of bias: I have a story slated for inclusion in the next volume – see panel on the right.)
The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife
Not a great work of literature but none the worse for that. It’s a unique insight into what has become a Great British Oddity – the ravens of the Tower of London. The author debunks a few myths at the same time as he reveals the innermost workings of raven life at the Tower. Escapes and recaptured fugitives, deaths in custody and raven mind-games, but the show must go on. Easy reading with insight into a unique British tradition.
Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
Who knew anything about the intelligence of an octopus? About their life cycle? About their emotions, their ability to learn, to recognise faces, sadness, anger, friendship, fear? Read this book and never eat octopus again. Unless you’ve studied the subject before, this will be a revelation. It’s not loaded with science, it’s very readable and personal. Every human should read this to understand that we are not alone with our ‘higher’ intelligence.
Unsolved Crimes by Sarah Herman
One of those dip-in lightweight bathroom books which describes many of the world’s famous unsolved crimes from serial killings (yes, of course Jack The Ripper is in there) to diamond heists and kidnappings. Great for what it is, but very light on new information or surprises. Enjoy it in a bathroom near you, it won’t delay you unnecessarily.
What’s on the 2019 bookshelf? 4321 by Paul Auster definitely, I’ve started and am spellbound – as usual – by his writing, The Diary of a Bookseller looks like fun (Shaun Bythell), Eyes Wide Open by Isaac Lidsky will have a personal relevance, and could this be the year that I do more than start Cloud Atlas?