My year in books

On the one hand, I comprehensively failed to halve the size of my to-read pile, whether by number or by volume.  I started the year with 115 books to read and ended up with 85.  On the other hand, this is the first year I’ve made a meaningful dent in it.

I finished 69 books in 2018 – neither my best nor my worst.  I had a couple months where I couldn’t concentrate to read; and February was essentially taken up with The Wise Man’s Fear (which, for the record, I enjoyed a lot, but not nearly so much as the first book in the series).

I read a lot of superb books this year, some I’d go so far as to call life-changing.  Every time I thought I’d read a book that couldn’t be topped this year, I’d find I was wrong.  Highlights, in roughly chronological order, are:

The first book I finished this year was Hild by Nicola Griffith, the fictionalised story of the early life of Abbess Hilda of Whitby, which was marvellously evocative of place and time, and a gripping story into the bargain.  Apparently there will be a sequel which I await eagerly.

I see that in February I also managed to read Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, a generation ship story with an antebellum South style of slavery, and I was absolutely convinced my life could not get any better.

Two months later I was proved wrong when I read Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, a Canadian book following a woman from her childhood in Africa through to slavery in the Carolinas and eventual freedom in Canada, Sierra Leone and Britain.

And yet again shortly after with Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, which is a road story  in the tradition of As I Lay Dying but is so much more beautiful and heart rending than the source material (and I love Faulkner).

I finally got around to The General in his Labyrinth and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I actually preferred the former – the prose is beautiful in both, but the characters in the latter are all horrible people.

Going through my list, just about everything is worthy of mention, but I will single out two more: Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End.  It was one that I thought I should read because it was nominated for awards and sounded vaguely interesting, but, while I didn’t love it, gave me a lot to think about and it stuck with me for weeks.

Lastly, Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was also full of food for thought.  Most of the stories here are of exceptional quality and a lot of them are written by First Nations writers or informed by native myths and I’m beginning to get a handle on what post colonial Canadian narrative can be like.

I do hope to resurrect the blog regularly this year but I’m not committing to writing about every book I read.  Chronic fatigue has been kicking my arse the worst its been for years, though, so who knows.  Either way, don’t expect a lot of updates in January – in order to make room, i am finally going to tackle The Seven Pillars of Wisdom next, along with Peter F Hamilton’s Salvation because I’m putting on an event where he’s reading in 3 weeks.


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