Every year I do a top ten books wot I read thingy. Today is that day. Not a bumper year for me on the reading front to be honest. Not a plethora of ‘wow’ books. Some years I struggle to choose. This year not so much, although the great ones are great.
Here goes in no particular order:
The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes – I only just finished this. I’m glad it snuck in on the 2016 radar. A selection of essays on cookery, food writing, food loving. It’s wonderful if you like gossipy snippets like the fact that the French don’t really consider parsnips a vegetable, and the problematic issues of boning a squirrel.
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot – This won lots of awards and deservedly so in my opinion. Beautiful writing, a fabulous melange of writing about the natural world, her memoir and her alcoholism. God damn. I wish I could write like this.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield – I absolutely bloody loved this. It tends to divide opinion quite sharply. Some love it. Some hate it. It’s a modern day rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. I thought I was going to hate it, but it made me absolutely hoot. It works so very, very well and I ate this up.
The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch – the long awaited next book in the Rivers of London/Peter Grant series. It has been sooooo looooong coming. Thank God it was worth the wait. If you haven’t read these books, please do. Start at the beginning. I envy you.
Just Kids by Patti Smith – Never was a huge fan of Smith, but I do like autobiographies about people who might just be interesting. Smith writes like a dream. This book is a memoir about her friendship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who I am very interested in and why I came to this book. Having read it I now need to read more of Patti Smith.
The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest – Tempest is a performance poet and musician. Now she’s a novelist. I find her intriguing, difficult, hard to pin down and beguiling. This book is brilliant. It’s hard to put down, hard to describe and absolutely brilliant.
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns – Mitfordesque but with more tragedy, slightly less finesse and a bit less style, but still fabulous. I loved it. The narrator is a young woman called Sophia who would like to be an artist, but has to go to work to support her artist husband Charles. Sophia also has the misfortune of getting pregnant when she and Charles are both ill equipped to deal with a baby. Sophia has to knuckle down. Charles does not. The story is sad and funny and rather brilliant.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – I was unsure about this one when I picked it up. It’s a graphic novel and they’re generally not my favourite or my best, but this absolutely absorbed me. It’s the story of Satrapi’s life growing up in what was Persia and is now Iran. I have The Complete Persepolis, which is available as two separate volumes, one which tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood until her teens when she leaves to go to school in Austria. The second tells about her decision to come back to Iran and her life there in her early twenties before she finally left and went to live in France. With only a few words and black and white illustrations it manages to combine a complex political and historical situation with a complex life story and tell it simply and well in a way that made me want to find out more.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – My great friend, an old hand at blogging, Bronx Bee, recommended this book to me years ago. I’ve only just got round to reading it and I owe her an apology. In my defence, the cover blurb said it was a lot like Angela’s Ashes and I hated that book, which is one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to get round to it. Then, when I finally braced myself, it turned out to be nothing like Angela’s Ashes at all and I devoured it. It tells the story of a young girl called Francie Nolan, growing up in Brooklyn in the years running up to World War One. Francie is poor but plucky. Not in a schmaltzy way and I love the fact that the book deals with a lot of the realities of poverty in a very matter of fact way. In particular the problems it posed for women. It doesn’t preach. It’s just down to earth, and I found it really compelling.
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter – My friend Kaz sent me this, and I loved it. It’s a prose poem about a dad obsessed with Ted Hughes and his two young sons, and how they all cope with the death of their wife/mother. It’s so sharp and funny and very, very dark indeed. If you know the book Crow at all, it will particularly delight you.
So, those are my top ten picks. Honourable mention must go to:
Love from Boy – Letters from Roald Dahl to his mum. So wonderful.
Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe – This woman could write a shopping list and it would be the best shopping list you’d ever read.
Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle – What can I say? It’s a great title, by a great man, and his reminiscences about his mother being a lollipop lady are worth the price of the admission alone.
Cookery book joy this year provided by:
Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour – I’ve cooked a lot from this book this year and nothing has been bad.
Simple by Diana Henry – I just end up wanting to eat everything in it.
Children’s Book Goodness:
Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – My old blogging/twitter friend Danielle persuaded me to read these when she told me that so great was her love of the books that she dressed as Laura every single year at school forever. I’d never read them and I braved the first, loved it and am now on volume seven in the series. It wasn’t at all how I expected the books to be. I’m only sad I didn’t read them when I was a child.
Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face and The Great Big Story Nickers by John Dougherty – A fabulously funny addition to a brilliant series. Basically an excellent substitute for those of you, like me, who mourn the fact that Andy Stanton is not writing any more Mr. Gum books.
Finally. Check out the books of my fabulous friends who are talented and hard working and brilliant and who made my year by finally publishing books. I knew they could do it. I’ve read them. They’re excellent. You should too.