All the books of 2016 (part 1)

All the books I read in 2016

For years I used to think of myself as a great reader. I read anything and everything that came my way. I read fast and I remembered what I read. Then suddenly that stopped being me. Black depression can do that. I lost the ability to concentrate and reading was no longer a pleasure. At the worst point, I couldn’t look at a book for fear of the sadness that would well up inside of me when I realised how far I’d fallen away from myself as a reader.

That’s in the past now. (He crosses his fingers, touches wood and tosses a pinch of salt over his shoulder.) A couple of years ago I realised I’d started reading again. I was a sporadic reader, to be sure, but still… It wasn’t just that I was no longer afraid of picking a book up, I was opening them, dipping into them, savouring them. I was even reading them through and looking for more. At the end of 2015 I looked back through my diary for the year and realised I must have read about 30 titles. I even wrote a blog article celebrating it.

My New Year resolution for 2016 (one of them) was to read 50 books. For once it was a resolution I kept. (And I’m going to do the same in 2017.)

Here’s a rundown of all the titles I read in 2016. Because there are so many, I’ve split this article in two. Below are the books I read roughly in the first half of 2016. I’ve mentioned all the books, including the photobooks. I know that’s cheating a little as photobooks generally have few words, but I kept my resolution even if you don’t count the photobooks, and I enjoyed them too, so why shouldn’t they share a little in the glory?

On the other hand, I’ve left out three books that I started but didn’t have the patience to finish. I don’t need to waste time grumbling about them. (Besides – I’ve already grumbled at length about one of them.)

January

Case Histories
by Kate Atkinson.
The only book of Kate Atkinson I’d previously read was Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which I remember liking. By comparison with that – and how I remember it – this novel was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe the book is better than I thought. Maybe I came at it with the wrong expectations. I simply wasn’t expecting it to be a kind of detective story, but that’s what it is. One of a series “featuring Jackson Brodie”. It seems there’s a TV series with the excellent Jason Isaacs as Brodie.
The Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
This was a re-read. A classic. If you’ve ever read Jane Eyre and wondered about Mr Rochester’s mad first wife – the woman locked in the attic who eventually manages to escape and set fire to the mansion – this is for you. For my taste, Jean Rhys is a better writer than Charlotte Brontë. But I should probably keep my voice down saying that. Definitely one of my Best Books of the Year.
The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover
by Kinky Friedman
Another re-read. Kinky Friedman is definitely an acquired taste. A taste I haven’t acquired despite my reading this for a second time. The novel is a comic twist on the noir detective (and part of a series I’ve not read any more of). It is funny in places. It is a little intriguing. But the plot is the least significant element of the novel. It feels like Kinky is using the novel to land comic punches on the body of the Christian-conservative-authoritarian-American-right. Unfortunately that means a good bit of the book goes over my head. I love the conversations he has with his cat, though, and the cat’s responses.
Musicophilia
by Oliver Sacks
A wonderful book. Olvier Sacks explores music and the human brain in chapters of fascinating case studies. Interesting human stories, both tragic and comic, and a lot of music and philosophy. The importance of music to the human psyche (and soul). Beautifully written.

February

Lannark
by Alasdair Gray
I can’t understand why I never read Lannark before. Gray’s masterpiece in the sense that it was his first published novel. It took him 30 years to write. In the face of that my own piddling about for the last eight years doesn’t seem much to either to whine or crow about. A strange, brilliant amalgamation of realism and fantasy and the story of one man’s moral journey through life, leading finally to acceptance. Maybe. (The second of my Best Books.)
Trigger Warning
by Neil Gaiman
A book of fantasy stories. Some very good stories here – also a few that left me cold. The best – the one that stayed with me longest – was “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”. I’d recommend the book for that alone.
Best of British Short Stories 2015
ed. Nicholas Royle
There’s a theme going on here. I started the year planning to write a short story each month. (Another resolution. I kept it up for five months. Not too bad, but not as good as keeping my reading resolution.) This title was my first conscious purchase to help me along the way.

Twenty stories including Hilary Mantell’s “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”. I’d read that earlier in 2015 and not been impressed, but I thought it a much better story on second reading. As far as I remember I think I liked about half the stories in this anthology. The ones more to my taste had an element of the fantasic about them – unfortunately excepting Mantell’s story, none of the collection seems to have made enough of an impression for me to remember them now nearly eleven months on. (And no copy of the book to hand to prod my memory.)

Books 2016 - illustration 1

March

Farlig Midsommar
by Tove Jansson
While I was home in Gothenburg in March I saw this book and Pappan och Havet displayed in the window of a bookshop I was passing. I’d been toying with the idea of trying to read in Swedish as well as English and these books were just so good to look at, so nice in the hand. I bought them – and a few days later in another shop, two more. (See further below.)

And so, you see – another theme.

Perdido Street Station
by China Miéville
In 2015 I read China Miéville’s amazing The City and the City and was sold on him. I started to look out for his books. Perdido Street Station is a satisfyingly thick novel that marries fantasy and steampunk with politics and urban life. It’s also set in a city – New Crobuzon – which I suspect is London through a cracked, distorting mirror. It’s a really good book, although I didn’t think it came up to the same standard as The City and the City. The end is a little too pat. Also, I think at the end Miéville imposes his own political correctness uncomfortably on his main character.
Conversations with Children
by RD Laing
This was a re-read. Laing was “the 20th century’s most influential psychotherapist” (The Guardian). Conversations with Children collects a series of dialogues or statements Laing said he overheard from his children as they were growing up. It is a fascinating and charming little collection and I enjoyed reading it when I bought it as a student. Interesting also to read, just now, this from Adrian Laing, one of the children I guess now grown up: “When people ask me what it was like to be RD Laing’s son, I tell them it was a crock of shit.”
Bildhuggarens dotter
by Tove Jansson
Had she lived, Tove Jansson would have celebrated her centenary in 2014. Perhaps that’s the reason Swedish bookshops in 2015 still had stocks of Jansson’s books. And not just the ones about Moomintroll. This is a collection of autobigraphical short stories in which Tove herself is the protagonist. She is “bildhuggarens dotter” – the sculptor’s daughter. I guess the child Tove is between 6 and 9 years old here. The stories in this book merge fact and fantasy in a wonderful fashion as the little girl observes and interprets the world around her. (Another of my Best Books.)

April

A Game of Thrones
by George RR Martin
I watched all first TV series but for various reasons I started missing broadcast episodes during the second series and I wasn’t so interested I was prepared to hunt them down on-line. However, I’ve been promising myself I’d read the books one of these days. I was going to travel back to Brussels from Sweden, so it seemed a good opportunity. And now I’ve started (and enjoyed this one), why then I’ll hope to finish the series in print. (So this is another theme in my reading in 2016 and 2017.)
Self Publish, Be Happy
edited by Bruno Ceschel of SPBH
This is an anthology of self-published art photography books and (in the words of its subtitle) “A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto”. I keep intending to write a blog article/reading diary entry dedicated to it.
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Oh, Harper Lee! How you did disappoint me with this. 🙁
Structo 15
Structo is a small press magazine, published every six months. An anthology of poetry, short fictions (including translations to English) and photography. It also publishes interviews with authors. I subscribed in 2016. (My short story theme.)

Books 2016 illustration 2

May

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Just before outbreak of World War II. Liesel is an orphan, 10 years old, taken in by the Hubbermanns, a working-class family in a small town in southern Germany. Her story is retold by Death, so you know it’s not going to end well, but it’s a well-told story and not without humour or joy or hope. An important book to read in the light of political events in our world today. (Another Best Book.)
Hallucinations
by Oliver Sacks
My Oliver Sacks theme started last year with his autobiography On the Move. It continues with Hallucinations: “Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there?” This is a scientific exploration of the theme.
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
One of those “must read” books from 2014 which my mother pressed on me during a visit home in May. It was alright. Quite gripping – I certainly read it wanting to know what happened. But you can see why Hollywood liked it. It’s written very much to a Hollywood thriller formula. Although while reading I suspended disbelief and accepted the characters and their stories, in retrospect they are incredible. Literally incredible.
A Clash of Kings
by George RR Martin
Volume 2 – my Theme of Thrones…
Miss Cavell was Shot
by Amy Hodson (editor Monica Kendall)
Amy Hodson was about 13 years old when the First World War broke out and trapped her and her family in Brussels where her father was a school teacher. The diary starts with the German declaration of war on Belgium, 3rd August 1914, and continues (with a few breaks) until 20 September 1920. It’s a fascinating document and particularly interesting for me because I daily walk some of the same streets Amy walks.

The editor Monica Kendall – Amy’s great-niece – has either chosen herself or been advised on the title, which is a quote from the diary. But actually Edith Cavell does not figure large in Amy’s book. There’s more about the privations of life as a Protestant in a Catholic school run by nuns. (Amy eventually breaks and converts to Catholicism.)

June

Backlash
by Linda LaPlante
A god-awful book. But I read it to the end.
Edith Cavell
by Diana Souhami
After reading Amy Hodson’s diary I wanted to learn more about Edith Cavell. This is the most recent quality biography. I won’t call it an exciting read, but it is thoroughly researched and seems complete. I found it very satisfactory after feeling a bit cheated by the title of Miss Cavell was Shot.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Matsuo Bashō ( trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa)
This is a re-read. I was very much into haiku once upon a time and I read this book when I was 19 or 20. I never owned a copy and when I saw it on the shelves of a bookshop here in Brussels, I had to buy it. I read it slowly. And then I read it again. Slowly. All through late April and May. Very satisfactory at a page or two a day.
Resa med Lätt Baggage
by Tove Jansson
Third book of this theme. The title translates as “Journey with Light Baggage” but the English translation from 2010 (by Silvester Mazzarella) is Travelling Light. I thought these stories were not on the same level as the ones in Bildhuggarens dotter – good but not great. I’m likely to be re-reading this – though perhaps not this year.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
A fantasy story for adults. I liked it, but I don’t think it’s nearly as good as dyed-in-the-wool Gaiman fans do.

I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.

8 thoughts on “All the books of 2016 (part 1)”

    • Hi Björn,
      As I wrote, Basho was just a page or two a day for about 6 weeks. Poetry is often easier than fiction or non-fiction. A sonnet or a couple of haiku don’t need to take a lot of time.
      I have “Read in a book” written into the “For Health” section of my daily To Do list. I think that’s what has helped me find the time. Otherwise I find I have about 30 minutes in the morning over a cup of tea for reading, even if at no other time in the day. And I always make sure to carry a book when I’m travelling.
      I think I feel better for reading (and for having read too).
      Good luck finding time for yourself,
      John

    • Hej Kristina,
      Tack för ditt meddelande. Jag hoppas att du hittar något intressant att läsa själv här. Den andra delen kommer i ett par dagar … eller kanske inte förrän nästa onsdag.
      🙂
      John

  1. How good you found your way back to the books! Tove Jansson is one of the authors I return to, time and again, when I need some light and comfort.

    • Hi Kerstin,
      Light and comfort – yes, I understand what you mean!
      I read the Moomin books in English – I think all of them – when I was a kid. Borrowed from the library. (I thought her name was pronounced Touv Djansun.) It’s nice to read her in Swedish now – it’s only a shame it’s taken me so long to try it. I have “Sent i November” at home – I missed reading it in November 2016, so I’m saving it for the coming year. I’ll see what copies of the other books I can pick up when I’m home again later in the spring.
      John

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