Good afternoon on the first day of the New Year. The rain has rinsed all the remaining slush away and it is currently sharply cold with high, pale blue skies and sun. I do not have a hangover. I put this down to the hundredweights of toast I ate last night, which deadened the effects of the champagne. Also, staying up until half three in the morning to watch Supersonic on iPlayer. Great film if you like Oasis by the way. I think it’s still up there.
I do have a headache. This is due to the fact that one of the raft of tests that I am required to have to probe my endocrinological issues, insists that I lay off, amongst other things, caffeine for three days prior to the test and then on the day of the test itself (I have to pee into a jerry can for 24 hours and transport this fragrant delight to the hospital, so they can do voodoo on it). I am also banned from eating tomatoes, walnuts, aubergines and pineapple. I can live with this, but despite some very palatable decaf this morning, I am beginning to feel the pinch. I predict insanity by Friday, and a possible resurgence of rage related issues. I have already told Jason and the children to move out if they feel unsafe.
In order to distract myself I have finished reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which is the book chosen by a local book club I may try out, as their January read. I have avoided it up to this point because I am suspicious of books which are over-hyped and popular. Many times, this is a wise idea as they generally fall short of the mark with me as a reader. This time, however, I was utterly delighted to find a super tense, well written, thriller which had some really clever and fresh plotting and which I thoroughly enjoyed. You’ve probably all read it already, but if you haven’t. I recommend it. Given that there are about nine million copies floating around in charity shops up and down the land, it will be a very satisfying bargain if you do decide to read it.
I set my new Goodreads reading challenge today. I read about 170 books in 2017 and went over my 150 target. I’ve set myself 150 again this year as it’s both achievable but not ludicrous (for me). I’m happy with that.
Finally, here are my top ten picks of 2017 for you, in no particular order. I am pleased to see that I read widely last year, and a lot of things I wasn’t sure I would enjoy, actually ended up being in my top picks, which just shows you I am absolutely useless at predicting anything. I started doing regular book blogs in recent months, so I will already have mentioned a fair few of these, I expect.
The Pier Falls: And Other Stories by Mark Haddon – Gripping, devastating. Wonderful writing. Short stories that are perfectly crafted and absolutely addictive to read.
Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood – I read this way back at the beginning of the year, but it’s a book I have recommended over and over again since then. Funny, sharp, beautifully poetic, rude and devastatingly powerful. It’s one of the best things I’ve read in years, let alone last year.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Another book I read much, much later than everyone else. I’ve been reading Atkinson since the Behind the Scenes at the Museum and loving her. I’ve no idea why I didn’t gobble this up when it came out. It’s strange and wonderful and so heartbreakingly sad and brilliant.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman – In my defence, I thought I had read this. I hadn’t. I just had it mixed up with Anansi Boys. Gaiman at his best, scurrilous, gossipy, clever updates on mythology in the modern world. Funny and twisted.
The Art of Flight by Fredrik Sjoberg – This is one of those difficult to pin down books. The author starts talking about Swedish painters and his attempts to buy a piece of art in a sale, and this morphs into his obsession with entomology as a child, and his thoughts about nature. It is a book consisting entirely of delightful tangents which somehow manages to remain cohesive and utterly absorbing.
21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox – I contributed to this book by pledging with Unbound, and when it arrived I was doubly excited. I was desperate to read it, and also thrilled to see that I had played a small part in it ever existing at all. Cox is best known for writing about his cats, and golf (this would have pleased Alan Coren enormously), and this book, rather like my previous pick, does talk about these things, but also about family and nature and landscape. It’s well crafted, well written and thought provoking without being dry or preachy. I particularly love the stories about Tom’s dad, who is quite a character. I kept reading bits out to the family over Christmas, which made me happy and drove everyone else nuts.
How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb – Robert Webb is probably best known for being one half of Peep Show. In this book he writes about his childhood, growing up without a mum, with a troubled relationship with his dad, and what that did to him as an adult. It’s part memoir, part musing on how toxic our ideas of what being a man are. It sounds terribly worthy. It isn’t. It’s funny even when it’s being dark, and it gets pretty dark. It’s absolutely brilliant.
The Break by Marian Keyes – I love Marian and have adored her writing ever since I read Watermelon, about a million years ago now. She writes so fluently about every day life and I love that she manages to address important issues in her fiction whilst losing none of her humour or her ability to be absolutely on point when it comes to domestic life. This book is about a marriage in crisis and what happens when they decide to take a ‘break’ from married life. It has a really powerful sub plot about the abortion laws in Ireland that is almost as absorbing as the main plot. As ever, it’s funny, page turning and perfect.
Hagseed by Margaret Atwood – This is a reworking of The Tempest by Shakespeare. It’s absolute genius, funny, sharp and super clever without being impenetrable in any way. I started reading, utterly intrigued as to how she would make what is one of Shakespeare’s most magical and strange plays, fit into the modern day world. I spent the rest of the book uttering little bat squeaks of delight as it unfolded before me.
Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler – Maybe there was a theme to this year’s favourites, as it appears I like books that purport to be about one thing, but which actually contain a multitude of tangents. In this book, gardener, Alys Fowler, takes to the waterways of Birmingham, using a collapsible boat that she drags into all kinds of adventures. As she maps the canals of Birmingham, talking about how the urban landscape is gradually being seeded with the wild, she also charts the collapse of her marriage and the discovery of her wild self.
Honourable mentions this year include: