So long 2014 – my reading year in review

OK, so I’ve started slowly on this blogging thing. I’ve been reading (although not so much this month; work and family commitments have kept me busy busy busy), I just need to develop more discipline around reviewing as soon as I’ve finished. Hey, that sounds a little like a resolution.

January should be a good month for this. It’s cold, it’s dark, everyone’s broke, and for the first time I’m attempting the January Dryathlon too. So, really, there’s nothing to do BUT read. And review. But for now, as it’s New Year’s Eve, let’s indulge in a little look back.

It’s been a better year for reading than I would have expected, if you’d asked me about nine months ago. I had a horrendous book drought in the first three months of the year; from the second week of January until about mid-April I just couldn’t really settle to anything. Things picked up after that, particularly over the summer, but you’ll see from my reading list that it’s been a very up-and-down sort of year. I’ve read more non-fiction, especially history, which I’m really pleased with and want to keep up next year. The four Dominic Sandbrook books on the recent history of Britain have been among the best I’ve read this year. I’ve also finished (and loved) a couple of classics which had intimidated me for years – Anna Karenina and Great Expectations. I’ll do a separate post on my 2015 resolutions, but I put together my Classics Club list last month and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into that. I re-read all of the Harry Potters, for the first time in years, and was relieved to find that I loved them as much as ever. And, as usual, books about books were very much a feature.

Goodreads tells me that I read 60 books in total; I have a feeling there may be a few which I forgot to add, but given that they clearly left no impression on me whatsoever, perhaps that sixty is a true enough number. I won’t share the whole list, but excluding re-reads, my 2014 award winners are:

– Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain series, for teaching me just how much I didn’t know about my own country, in the years immediately before I was born.

– Anna Karenina, for reminding me how modern 19th century writing can feel.

– Great Expectations, for allowing me finally to understand what all the fuss is about with Dickens. Honourable mention also to Claire Tomalin’s Dickens biography, which shed a fascinating (if on occasion slightly uncomfortable) light on the man behind Miss Havisham and Pip.

– Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue, for keeping me up until 3am in a really good way.

– Telling tales, by Patience Agbabi, for moments of sheer poetic perfection. This is a modern re-telling of the Canterbury Tales, in verse, and deserves its place on my favourites list for many reasons. Even if it didn’t, though, it would get there purely for the couplet ‘Radix malorum est cupiditas; I’m going somewhere hot by business class’, which just makes me happy in about a million different ways every time it floats into my head. I don’t read a lot of poetry any more, particularly contemporary poets, but if this is anything to go by then I should definitely read more.

– America, Empire of Liberty by David Reynolds, for managing to condense the vast and beautiful and complex history of my second-favourite nation into 400 pages, so that I understood at least some of what I was seeing on my US road trip in the summer.

– Why Homer Matters, by Adam Nicolson, for being a book I would never in a million years have thought I’d enjoy. I still don’t really know why I bought it (in hardback, no less!) – I’ve never studied Homer, and never really had any inclination to – but this exploration of the Homeric world and its concepts of life and heroism really spoke to me. One of my few five-star reads of the year, and one I can’t recommend highly enough.

 

It’s an odd list, for me; clearly I’ve been in a pretty serious mood. I’m surprised and a little worried about the lack of contemporary fiction, given how much of it I usually read. Maybe it’s just that 2013, with The Goldfinch and The Luminaries and The Name of the Wind and The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, was always going to be a hard act to follow. I tried a couple of the big hits of the year, but they didn’t really ‘stick’ (The Children Act, in particular, I found really disappointing). I have a few more in my TBR pile though, including The Bone Clocks and The Narrow Road to the Deep North, so fingers crossed that 2015 sees a return to form in that area.

So anyway, 2014, it’s been a blast. I turned thirty, in style, if I do say so myself. I’ve been to new places and met some incredible people. I went to Graceland. I drank Burgundy in Burgundy, and saw Simon Russell Beale play King Lear. I’ve made too many mistakes, as always, but at least I think I’ve learned from them a little. I’ve found out new things about myself and about the world, in roughly that order, and hopefully I’m leaving you slightly wiser than I was when you came in. And what else, really, could I have hoped for?

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Bookshops I Love; Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Savidge Reads

I cannot remember the first time I ever walked into Foyles because it has become so etched in my brain as a bookshop and I lived in London from the age of eighteen so have been visiting since sometime around then, yes even in those years when I thought books were rubbish. This is partly because I dated someone booky when I was not long to London and so would head there for their book fix and my cake fix. They would read in bed, I would listen to Steps or something even more embarrassing. Moving swiftly on a few years, Foyles then of course became a book haven once I became addicted to books and book shopping.

I have to admit I was skeptical about the Foyles move, even when I saw this video – be warned it is utter book porn and causes moments of utter jealousy. You…

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