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2016 in books

img_2530Next to running, the thing I most enjoy doing is reading. I set myself the challenge of trying to read 52 books a year sometime ago, and though I’ve only ever got as close as 51, I now keep a running list of books I finish every year.

So here’s my list of books I’ve finished in 2016. By “finish” I mean: read total contents thereof from front to back. As a result, this year’s list obviously does not reflect books begun in 2016 but not completed: they will go on next year’s list.

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  2. The Shaking Woman, Siri Hustvedt
  3. The Outrun, Amy Liptrot
  4. What Goes Around, Emily Chappell
  5. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
  6. A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland (re-read)
  7. The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden (re-read)
  9. The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
  10. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
  11. The Black Spider, Jeremias Gotthelf
  12. To the River, Olivia Laing
  13. The Life Writer, David Constantine
  14. The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
  15. Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
  16. Modernist Estates, Steffi Orazi
  17. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  18. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee (re-read)
  19. The Three Hostages, John Buchan (re-read)
  20. Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane
  21. The Gifts of Reading, Robert Macfarlane
  22. The Past, Tessa Hadley
  23. Railtracks, John Berger and Anne Michaels
  24. Solo Faces, James Salter
  25. Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson (re-read)
  26. The Isle of Sheep, John Buchan (re-read)
  27. The Devils of Loudon, Aldous Huxley
  28. A Summer of Drowning, John Burnside
  29. Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane
  30. Ways of Curating, Hans Ulrich Obrist
  31. A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  32. Some Rain Must Fall, Karl Ove Knausgaard
  33. City of Glass, Paul Auster
  34. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, John Berger
  35. Style Council, Sarah Thompson
  36. Ghosts, Paul Auster
  37. The Locked Room, Paul Auster
  38. Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic
  39. Dubliners, James Joyce
  40. Nutshell, Ian McEwan

Not a bad haul, really! Being in two book clubs helps for sure. I’m pleased to see that the first six books of the year were by women, and 17 in total had female authors. I don’t choose my books based on gender, but it’s interesting to observe nonetheless. There are some very thin/slim books on the list too (nos. 9, 21, 23), a couple of photo+interview books only included because the interviews were quite long-form, so I thought they could count (nos. 16 and 35), and some sharp-eyed readers will quibble with my decision to class Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy as three books (nos.33, 36 and 37). But I shall live with their quibbling! In the “should have read” category (i.e. books I feel that by now I should have already digested) there are fewer than I would wish for (no. 39 is the only candidate). And there are six re-reads (nos. 6, 8, 18, 19, 25 and 26) largely because I was in the wilderness and wanted to read about people in similar situations, and my kindle curation is geared towards such novels.

So what will next year hold? Perhaps tackling the big Russians I’ve previously overlooked in favour of fewer re-reads. Since reading Adam Curtis on how to be more Tolstoy and less Wes Anderson, I’m gravitating towards a lower overall number of books in favour of longer, more difficult texts. And there there’s work and running to balance with all that… more on those subjects later!

What about you? Any books I shouldn’t miss in 2017? Any thoughts on the list above? Talking about books is one of my favourite things to do, so go ahead!

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Into the Stacks at the London Library

Shhhh. The London Library, that secret and impregnable hermitage of knowledge in St James’ Square, offers free tours.

Rosanna from No Fixed Abode Club wrote about our visit here. The Library is just about to embark on a new phase of building works to expand their collection of 1 million books (or 70 miles of shelving). While the collection is strongest in the humanities and the arts, there are books about cartography, biography and almost every edition of the Times newspaper can be browsed in vast broadsheet folios.

The building itself was one of the first steel-framed buildings in London. In fact, the bookshelves themselves are the load-bearing elements for the building, a clever way of utilising the weight of books to keep the building upright. When they move the books out of the stacks for the buildings works to take place, the library is expected to rise by a couple of feet.

We also heard about the library’s own literature festival, Words in the Square, which will debut this May. Expect speakers such as Sara Wheeler, Ian Hislop, Nick Hornby, Simon Russell Beale, Harriet Walter, Deborah Levy and Simon Schama.

 

 

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A year of reading?

time_of_gifts

I’m making a special effort for 2013. One hundred books. As close as I can get. It started well. A chance discovery through my book club put me on the rich and wry trail of Alice Munro, the Canadian author of whom no one has ever heard but is about as famous as Margaret Atwood. I snapped up Dear Life, Runaway, The Beggar Maid and Too Much Happiness. I’m still carrying the smart resonances of her perfect, sad worlds – the girl who saves up her year hoping to see the man she met on the way to see Shakespeare and mistakes the snub from his mute, sick brother as a true response from her beloved. Or the woman with the woodworking husband who falls for his apprentice; years later, she discovers herself in a short story by the apprentice’s delicate daughter. Jonathan Franzen writes warmly of Munro, his sincere admiration for the pleasure of her storytelling – but, he says, her fame is dismayingly obscure to some for some simple reasons: she writes about people, she does not give her books titles with grand, national overtones, she does not give her readers the impression they are learning, strictly, anything from her text. She is hard to sum up. She is a pure short story teller. But, he writes, “She is speaking to you and to me right here, right now,” and that is all that matters.

Munro was followed by a few familiar favourites: The Hobbit (in honour of the film release) and When the Greenwoods Laugh (good old Bates discovered on the shelf of a B&B in the Lake District). Then some new finds: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (thanks to Murakami for stamina in my half marathon training), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (yes, I really did), Sweet Tooth (enigmatic, peculiar, diluted satisfaction from McEwan), Nemesis (my first Roth), and glorious finale on A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor. An interwar account of a young man walking from Rotterdam to Constantinople, he reminds me sharply of my friend Charlie, currently cycling around the major continental mass and blogging brilliantly, as well as my Iceland trip last year on the Laugavegur. Plans afoot now to walk the first part of PLF’s journey, complete with tiny knapsack and walking staff, this September.

So, to date: 14 books, excluding the two children’s books I read – I Want My Hat Back, and Katie Morag Delivers the Mail. They don’t really count, do they?

Which means I should be on track for about 80 books. Let’s see if holidays can make the difference.

What about you? Do you have goals of reading a certain number of books? How do you fit it in around work, etc.?

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