Yet Another Best of 2016 Reading List

I’ll stick to the books this time and make no comments about other aspects of 2016. But even so, I have to admit it’s been a bit of an atypical year. I’ve read 167 books, Goodreads tells me, and have a couple more weeks to reach 170 or so.

But it’s not a race.

I’ve had moments of furious reading, and some months of disruption, when reading was in scarce supply. The proportion of crime fiction seems to be lower than in other years. My Top 5 Reviewed Crime Reads will appear as usual on the Crime Fiction Lover site, so I thought I would look at other books here on my blog, particularly those which were released before 2016.

I wonder if the format for reading them also added to their memorability: most of the ones featured were physical books (only four were e-books).

A few of my favourites... and the challenges of English vs. Continental book spines.
A few of my favourites… and the challenges of English vs. Continental book spines.

 

My overall percentage of translated fiction was perhaps roughly 40%, and the books in this category have proved memorable and contributed considerably to my ‘best of’ list (8 out of 17). Likewise, I may feel that I don’t read as much poetry and non-fiction as I would like to, but they tend to stick with me and so appear quite a bit on the list. 10 out of the 17 books were written by women, 10 of these were published before 2016.

It’s been an emotional year, so I’ve gone for visceral response rather than careful analysis of literary merits.  However, most of the books below show evidence of both. Sadly, not all of them have been given the review they deserve. I’ve found that I often struggle to review those books which have meant most to me and which I want to reread. For those I haven’t reviewed, I just give a short quote from the book itself.

Poetry:

Tiphanie Yanique: Wife

Laura Kasischke author photo from Babelio.fr
Laura Kasischke author photo from Babelio.fr

Laura Kasischke: The Infinitesimals

Small boy running through the center of the park, un-

zipping summer straight down the middle as he runs until

all the small boys come tumbling out.

 

wigboxDorothy Nimmo: The Wigbox

My voice is strangled. I’m awake. I shout

I know there’s something I must do today

and I can’t do it. You must write me out.

It’s not my part and this is not my play.

Sharon Olds: The Wellspring

Non-Fiction:

Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate

Asne Seierstad: One of Us

Elif Shafak: Black Milk

Olivia Laing: The Lonely City

uninvitedCrime Fiction:

Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en foret

Liz Jensen: The Uninvited

Pascal Garnier: Too Close to the Edge

Other Fiction:

Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children

Romain Gary: Promesse de l’aube

Romain Gary with his mother, from the Lithuanian State Archive
Romain Gary with his mother, from the Lithuanian State Archive

I had no right to refuse her help. The myth of my future was what kept her alive. For the time being, I had to swallow my pride and continue my race against time, to try and keep my promise towards her, to give her absurd and tender dreams some reason for being… I don’t feel guilty about that. But if you find that my books are cries for dignity and justice, if they all talk to such an extent about human decency, it’s perhaps because until the age of 22, I lived off the back of an exhausted and ill woman. I owe her so much.

Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall

Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen ging gegangen

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time

Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a Book List as Such…

It’s not yet that time of year to make my ‘definitive book list’. I like to leave it until the last 2-3 days of the year, just in case that world-shattering read comes along at the last minute. However, Goodreads is congratulating me that I have reached my (upwardly revised) reading goal of 140 books for the year, so I had to celebrate.

dailycreativewriter.com
dailycreativewriter.com

Statistics: Want cold hard figures? Look no further. 140 read and a few more to squeeze in before December 31st (not enough to claim 150, though).   10 books a month on average (childless and workless August was the personal record with 27, but there were quite a few months with just 5-6). A respectable reading speed of 2.5 days per book, with some devoured in a single day (or night).

Challenges Completed: The Global Reading Challenge (for crime fiction), with two books for each continent, including a wildcard 7th continent – excellent for broadening my palate. Sadly, I was unable to complete the Translation Challenge – which sounds crazy when you look at the 27 translated titles on my list. However, most of them were crime fiction for review, and of the remaining there was only a small handful I reviewed or mentioned in any detail. So that doesn’t count. I did manage to read roughly one French book per month (in French) – my personal Holy Grail, as I try to improve my vocabulary. Sadly, literary works do not seem to equip you with the right words for dealing with tax offices or other bureaucracy. Perhaps I should stick to the swear words in the BD?

Lessons Learnt: What would I forget, borrow and learn from this year’s reading and take forward to next year’s reading?

1) When you set yourself such a high target, re-reading goes out the window. I would like more time to revisit old favourites.

2) You become cynical and less patient about clichés – and you have no qualms about abandoning a book if it still doesn’t move you after 50 pages.

3) Whether you sign up for a challenge formally or not, it is such a good idea to broaden your horizons and try out new things in literature. Some won’t work, but some will and then you have the pleasure of entering a whole new realm you had previously sealed off.

4) Although I always have 4-5 books on the go at any point in time, this simultaneity is a bit of a myth. I cannot enter, exit and parachute into other worlds quite so easily. I may not be in the mood for the same book during the day or in the evening, though, so having a couple on your bedside table makes sense. I usually alternate between a paperback and an e-book.

5) I must NOT buy any more books until I read all those I bought this past year. In 2014 I need to be ruthless about reading the books I have, instead of always reaching out for new ones at the library. I have 50 on my Kindle, 20 on my shelf and 8 on my laptop waiting to be read. And I suspect there will be many more ARC to review for Crime Fiction Lover too. Plus I have a few challenges of my own up my sleeve (am thinking of reigniting my passion for Japanese and German literature).

BookPileAnd now I have a goal of 140 to beat in the New Year…