Thank you to Cleo for reminding me about this, one of my favourite annual memes – the Reading Bingo. It’s always a mad scramble to see if I can fit any of my haphazard reading into the categories at the end of the year, but I was very ambitious last year and did two of each. I’d struggle to do that this year: in fact, I may not be able to fill in the whole sheet!
Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – what a brilliant, creepy, atmospheric story, capturing our passion for podcasts and the teenage grumpiness very well
Number in Title
Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre – a much gentler pace than this master of the chilling read has accustomed us to
Written by Someone Under 30
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis – at least I think the author is still very young, and he published this in French quite a few years ago. Correct me if I’m wrong. Besides, I may want to turn this into ‘a book by someone over 70’ instead!
The Humans by Matt Haig – well, it’s an alien and a dog who pull most at the heartstrings
To Clear the Air by Mechtild Borrmann – I usually think Mrs. P’s recommendations are unbeatable, but this book did not quite do it for me. However, she has written others and they are better.
The Power by Naomi Alderman – I realised this was quite a difficult category for me, as the books I like don’t usually sell in the hundreds of thousand which shout bestseller to me, but I think this one did quite well after winning a few prizes. I’ve certainly seen it everywhere in bookshops and libraries.
This House of Grief by Helen Garner – just heart-breaking, another contender for book of the year – and I’m not even a huge non-fiction fan
I tried to resist it, but first I saw Cleo doing it, then Emma at Book Around the Corner, then Lisa Hall at ANZ Litlovers blog. Yes, I am weak-willed and have the mentality of a herd of sheep, but I enjoyed reading theirs so much that, in spite of my guilt at spending far too much time on it, I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend an afternoon (and escape writing Christmas cards this weekend). I did this last year too, and it’s one of the funnest ways to spend this time of year. Then, Emma made the fatal remark: ‘Bet you could fill in more than one for each category!’ So here is how I spent a whole day…
More than 500 pages
Knausgård: Some Rain Must Fall – self-absorbed, egotistic and utterly recognisable: the narrator/novelist at the start of his career
Jaume Cabré: Confessions – a mammoth of imagination and introspection, slippery characters and narrations overlapping
Eizabeth Taylor: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – perfect poise and wry, self-effacing humour: all that I love about the English style
Jean Rhys: Smile Please – the darker side to English poise and elegance, with the tinge of obsessions, depression and ‘alienness’.
I read a lot of these, usually for Crime Fiction Lover reviews or Shiny New Books or Necessary Fiction. So I picked two more unusual choices:
Katharina Hall (ed.): Crime Fiction in German – an encylopaedic reference book which will answer all of your questions about crime in the German language
Péter Gárdos: Fever at Dawn – charming, quirky, loving, a feel-good book for a messed-up world, and now I want to see the film too
Number in Its Title
Initially thought I had no books in this category, but then I found two:
David Peace: 1974 – which could also have fitted into the first book by a favourite author category, despite its unrelenting grimness
Olivier Norek: Code 93 – the most notorious département of France, with the highest crime rates, in an entertaining and realistic debut by a former policeman
Written by Someone Under 30
A bit of a depressing category, this one, making me wonder what on earth I have done with my life! Maybe the free square should be ‘Oldest Debut Author’ category.
Lisa Owens: Not Working – I think Lisa was just about under 30 when the book was published, so certainly younger when she wrote it. The narrator sounds like she is in her early 20s.
Tatiana Salem Levy: The House in Smyrna – published in 2008 in Brazil, when the author was 29, but only translated into English in 2015
I will interpret this very widely, as I don’t have anything else to offer: books that contain some human characters and some ‘supernatural’ presence
Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls – incidentally, there’s a film of this coming out too – not sure if I can bear to see it, as the book made me weep buckets!
Elizabeth Knox: Wake – something like a zombie apocalypse for grown-ups, a strange book, difficult to label
You can tell the kind of reader I am when I tell you I had real trouble finding any funny books whatsoever in my 163+ books of the year. In fact, the second one is a crime novel with a humorous style, but a very grim subject matter. So not all that funny, then…
David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day – the joys and challenges of cultural misunderstandings between the French and the Americans
Wolf Haas: Komm, süßer Tod – a paramedic and ex-cop with a world-weary, typically Viennese view of the world, investigates some odd deaths in the ambulance service
I think more than half of my reading has been by women authors this year – I have felt the need to surround myself with their themes and words. Here are two books which haven’t been talked about as much as I would have liked or expected.
Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen Ging Gegangen – the ‘refugee problem’ in Germany gets a name and a face in this thoughtful, non-sentimental book
Elizabeth Brundage: All Things Cease to Appear – rural noir meets Gothic horror meets crime fiction, yet transcends all of these in a remarkable yet quiet novel of great depth
My preferred reading matter, of course, so I’ve tried to look at two real ‘mysteries’ (puzzles), which force the reader to work things out from the clues.
Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders – vivacious remix of Golden Age crime elements, without descending into pastiche, as well as a satire of the publishing world
Frédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage – the ‘impossible situation’ mystery, with lashings of film noir atmosphere, a stylish French stunner
One Word Title
Eleanor Wasserberg: Foxlowe – disquieting fictional look at growing up in a cult
Isabel Huggan: Belonging – warm and loving like a mother’s hug, but also a thought-provoking meditation on what home means
Sarah Hall & Peter Hobbs (eds): Sex and Death anthology – the two constant preoccupations of humankind and a rich variety of stories for all tastes
Anthony Anaxagorou: The Blink that Killed the Eye – poetic yet never overwrought, grimly realistic, it’s the darker side of life in London as a millenial
Free Square – Book that didn’t work for me at all
L.S. Hilton: Maestra – 50 Shades of Grey meets online shopping catalogue and serial killer tropes; messy, gratuitous and clearly chasing bandwaggons.
Set on a Different Continent
Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children – Truro and Japan and never the twain shall meet – or will they? A new author discovery for me this year, one that I want to read much more of.
Raphael Montes: Perfect Days – set in Brazil, we travel the country but also inside the mind of a delusional young man, which makes for an uncomfortable, yet often also funny and exciting experience
Åsne Seierstad: One of Us – close factual examination of Anders Breivik and the staggering massacre of young people in Norway, frightening reconstruction of events
Olivia Laing: Lonely City – a very interesting mix of memoir and research, art and literary criticism, to explore the idea of loneliness in big cities
1st Book by Favourite Author
Tiphanie Yanique: Wife – debut poetry collection, but I am completely won over and will read anything that this talented Caribbean poet and fiction writer puts in front of me.
Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground – while waiting for his latest novel to come out, I went back to his debut novel (not part of the Carrigan and Miller series), originally published in 20014 and set in Amsterdam
Heard About Online
This is a bit of a false category, as I seem to find out about most books nowadays via personal recommendations on Twitter. However, both of the authors below I got to ‘meet’ via Twitter, before they had even published the books described/
Amanda Jennings: In Her Wake – a genre-busting, mysterious, ethereally beautiful tale, with strong female characters, set in Cornwall
Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour – set in Paris, a book defying age and sex conventions, without being prurient or irrelevant (unlike Maestra)
Ha! I realised I had no idea if any of the books I’d read this year were bestsellers (from what number of copies sold can you consider them to be that?), but I assume Fred Vargas always sells a ton in both French and English, while Andrew McMillan’s debut collection of poetry has won many awards and done so well for poetry standards.
Andrew McMillan: Physical – see Naomi Frisby’s excellent review here
It’s the style that I loved in both of these, the simplicity, lack of artifice, just letting the words speak for themselves. The fact that they were both rooted in reality was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I bought both of these books around 3-4 years ago, in an elan of wanting to read more East European literature, but then forgot about them. One sat on the shelf, the other on my e-reader. I wanted to like them so badly, but when I did get around to them, they were each rather disappointing.
Romain Gary: La promesse de l’aube – pressed into my hands as a parting gift by Emma herself, I have finally fallen in love with this author and bought more of his books. At some point I want to write a proper in-depth study of his work but I need to read more.
Elena Ferrante: Neapolitan series – so many people recommended this one to me, but I was wary of the hype, although I’d liked other books by this author. I did enjoy it, although it did not quite blow my socks off.
Liz Jensen: The Uninvited – chilling, filling your heart with gradual dread, magnificent handling of suspense and atmosphere, a book that will make you look at your children in a different way
Michelle Paver: Thin Air – another atmospheric ride – everything is hinted at, nothing is quite seen
10+ Years Old
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone – it doesn’t get older than this, one of the world’s first proper detective novels
Dolores Redondo: The Legacy of the Bones – 2nd in the unusual, slightly supernaturally tinged series set in the damp, foggy, superstitious region of Baztan in Spain
Margot Kinberg: B-Very Flat – 2nd in the Joel Williams series, set in a small-town university campus in the US, cosy yet not twee, civilised crime fiction
I love my blue covers, even if there does seem to be a super-abundance of them lately, so here are two non-fiction books with gorgeous covers.
Elif Shafak: Black Milk – the most imaginative way of speaking about post-partum depression and the challenge of being an intellectual, a woman and a mother in this century
Melissa Harrison: Rain (Four Walks in English Weather) – a bit of a ramble through landscapes, nature observations, literature and what not else – a book to dip in and out, very enjoyable. If Inuits can have so many words for snow, you can imagine there are more than four kinds of English rain…
So, dear friends, far be it from me to lead you into temptation, but what would your reading bingo list of the year be?
Masterpiece of Japanese literature, world literature, medieval literature and anything else you can think of. Poetry, romance, heartbreak and sumptuous description of clothes, festivals and the Imperial Court. I did struggle with this far too literal translation (and footnotes), though, and it took me about 6 weeks to read its 1000+ pages.
Read the book, met the author and saw the movie within a few weeks of each other. I liked all three: the book had far more filmworthy scenes which never made it to the screen; the film did not have the preposterous coincidence at the end. And the author ain’t bad-looking either! (He’s also written the screenplay for the current TV mystery series ‘London Spy’).
Quite a bit of jostling in this category, although less than last year. I’ve stuck to my plan for reading beyond the obvious latest releases. This is a touching, if somewhat uneven description of life during and after the Yugoslav war.
At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to find anything in this category, but then I realised that Jeremie (who has written 5 novels by now) is still only 27 years old. This, his debut novel, was published in 2010, when he was just 22.
Again, a difficult category, but I think this counts: a sentient sea on a strange planet, who makes all the characters revisit all the things they fear most or feel most guilty about counts as a very unusual.
And a topic that goes straight to the heart of women’s suffering – just so powerful and emotionally draining. I’ve read a lot by female authors this year, but this is the one that I automatically think of when I hear ‘women’s writing’, whatever that might mean.
I read so many crime novels, yet I was really stumped for this category, as I felt I wanted to include a writer that wouldn’t fit in any of the other categories. In the end, I will dispense with originality and go with a classic that has been so influential in film and writing since its publication.
Silences by Tillie Olsen
A book that has been so influential on me as a woman and a writer – talking about all the artists who have been silenced by history, circumstances, gender or jobs, written by one of the first generation of American feminists.
Or is it too much to claim a favourite author if this is the only book I have read by her? I have just bought her latest book, though, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, and hope to read it over the holidays.
Free download when I first bought my husband a Kindle 4 years ago. I was clearing out the books I had on his Kindle and it fitted in well with German Literature Month. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t have died if I’d forgotten about it.
Not sure I can claim Petina Gappah as a friend, but we do know each other from the Geneva Writers’ Group and she recommended this book when she spoke on a panel in Morges, saying it was the best portrayal of the UN and ‘organisation man’ that she’d ever come across.
Thank you to the wonderful Cleo for making me aware of the reading bingo meme below. She has some wonderful selections on her own blog, do go and check them out, and I doubt I’ll be able to do quite as well, but here goes. I’ve stuck mainly to books read in 2014 and linked to my reviews of them (where available).
1) 500+ pages: Pierre Lemaitre’s wonderful recount of the end of the First World War: Au-revoir la-haut
2) Forgotten Classic: Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes – I hadn’t read it since my schooldays and it was much better this time round
3) Book that became a movie: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The Judge and His Hangman – adapted several times for TV and cinema, but its most famous and stylish adaptation is directed by Maximilian Schell
4) Book Published This Year: probably far too many, but one that comes to mind instantly is ‘On ne voyait que le bonheur‘ by Gregoire Delacourt
5) Book with a number in the title: 220 Volts by Joseph Incardona (review still to come) – an ‘electrifying’ account of a marriage in its death throes and a writer searching for inspiration
6) Book written by someone under 30: No idea, as the younger authors don’t usually have a Wikipedia entry with their date of birth, but I suspect that Kerry Hudson might fit into this category. I really enjoyed her novel ‘Thirst’.
7) A book with non-human characters: not really my type of reading, but Lauren Owen’s ‘The Quick’ featured vampires. Does that count? They are humanoid…
9) Book by a female author: LOTS of them, hopefully, but a special shout-out for the delightful Wuthering Heights-like epic by Minae Mizumura ‘A True Novel’
10) Mystery: Well, most of my reading revolves around crime fiction, but I will mention David Jackson’s thrilling, heartbreaking read ‘Cry Baby‘
11) Novel with a one-word title: Surprisingly, there were a number of contenders for this, but I chose Shuichi Yoshida’s ‘Villain‘ – which is also a single word in Japanese ‘Akunin’.
12) Short stories: I realised this year that I haven’t read many short story collections recently, so I tried to make up for this and read about 4-5. My favourite was Alma Lazarevska’s ‘Death in the Museum of Modern Art‘, stories set during the siege of Sarajevo.
13) A book set on a different continent: You know how I like to travel, so I have quite a choice here and went for the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean, as portrayed in ‘Devil-Devil’ by Graeme Kent.
14) Non-fiction: Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking‘ – the most honest and poignant depiction of grief I’ve come across in a long, long time
15) First Book by a favourite author: I’m cheating a little bit here, as I did not read it this year, but ‘The Voyage Out’ by Virginia Woolf surely counts? A much more conventional novel than her later work, it nevertheless contains many of her perennial themes (of trying to fit in, of the difficulties of communication, of allowing your emotions to be your guide and, finally, of becoming your own person with your own thoughts and stimulating intellect).
16) A book I heard about online: I discover many, far too many books and add them to my TBR list as a result of reading so many good blogs. Tony Malone has been the one to blame for many an impulsive purchase (usually well worth the effort!), and now he is also responsible for my obsession with Karl Ove Knausgård and his ‘A Man in Love‘.
17) Bestseller: I’m never quite sure if what I’m reading is a bestseller or not, as this is not one of the criteria I bear in mind when selecting a book. However, I’m pretty sure that ‘Norwegian by Night‘ by Derek B. Miller qualifies for that title – and it won the John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.
18) Book based on a true story: The partly autobiographical account (supplemented by a lot of imagination and memories from other participants) of the life of her mother by Delphine de Vigan
19) Book at the bottom of the TBR pile: Well, it depends if it’s electronic book or physical book. I have a massive chunk of double-shelving to get through and the one that happened to be behind all the others was a book I picked up at a library sale ‘Un sentiment plus fort que la peur’ by Marc Levy. Levy is the most-read French author, has been translated into 49 languages and currently lives in the US. I suspect his thrillerish bestsellers might not quite be my style, but at 50 centimes for 400+ pages, I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
20) A book that a friend loves: Several friends (both online and real-life) have recommended Claire Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs‘. I can completely understand their passion for it.
21) A book that scares me: I don’t read horror fiction very much and am not easily scared. However, horrible situations or characters, such as the mother in Koren Zailckas’ ‘Mother, Mother‘, do give me the creeps.
22) A book that is more than 10 years old: So many of my favourite books are… However, one I recently (re)read was Fumiko Enchi’s ‘The Waiting Years‘, written in 1957, and depicting an even older Japan.
23) The second book in a series: Frédérique Molay’s Paris-based detective Nico Sirsky reappears in the intriguing investigation concerning a dead man’s hidden message in ‘Crossing the Line‘
24) A book with a blue cover: I am susceptible both to blue covers and to this Canadian writer’s series about Armand Gamache: Louise Penny’s latest novel ‘The Long Way Home‘