2016 – Looking back at books

Looking back:

A lot happened in 2016 that wasn’t about books so I’m particularly proud to have managed to read a fair amount – and a lot of it great. I’ve just been having a browse through my list of books read this year and these are the standouts (in the order in which they were read):



  • Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – a witty, gentle read by a man whose achievements should put him at real risk of hubris and yet who displays anything but as he explains how he did what he did, with some excellent ‘zero gravity’ stories along the way. Read my review here.
  • Michel Faber’s The Courage Consort – an exquisitely crafted novella about musicians on the brink of crisis. Dark, funny and with a warmth at its heart that I’m amazed Faber managed to create in so short a read. Read my review here.
  • Margaret Forster’s My Life in Houses – a poignant, wise read about how bricks and mortar become the bones of a life. It also came along at just the right time for me.
  • Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife – this was a reread for me and is supposedly a fictionalised look at the experiences of former First Lady Barbara Bush. I’m always drawn to the personal stories behind the political or the historical; the perspective that helps you remember that everyone is also a person, no matter how much the media may obscure that. A gripping and insightful read.
  • Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest – the book I feel most guilty for not having written up and perhaps the one I’m most likely to reread soon. Tesson spent six months living alone in a remote cabin in Siberia, fortified by vodka, cigars and tabasco. This book came out of the diaries he kept and is both beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring.
  • TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos – an unusual book about a deeply unusual experience; in this case, that of the women who accompanied the men who built the atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. Read my review here.


  • Christine Montross’ Falling Into The Fire – a moving and unexpectedly poetic example of how to write about mental illness without dehumanising the individuals involved. Read my review here (which also features Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial, a book that should probably also be on this list).
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings – an expansive book that follows the lives of six teenagers from their first meeting at a summer camp for those interested in the arts. Once immersed, I found this a believable and absorbing exploration of how envy, loyalty, money and passion can affect the relationships between people.
  • Jess Kidd’s Himself – probably my book of the year and a review will follow in the next couple of days. It’s been written for a while but I gifted (foisted) this particular book on a close friend who also occasionally reads the blog and didn’t want to inadvertently reveal the book before she’d received it!




Looking ahead:

I tend to love the idea of shaping my reading more than the reality so I’ve been cautious when thinking about reading resolutions for 2017.  Setting reading aside for a moment, I’d like to write more here in the new year. That means featuring more of the books that I enjoy and trying to create more of a dialogue about them. I also have some ideas for how I’d like to develop the blog and some personal goals for my writing in a wider sense that – apologies – I will keep close to my chest for now.

When it comes to reading, like much of the book blogging community at the beginning of 2016, I am now feeling committed to ‘read my own damn books’, whether that be on my shelves or in the ether of my TBR list. Moving house this year brought it back to me anew just how many books I own and the proportion that remain unread. Coupled with a TBR list that seems permanently stuck at around 500 titles, I feel like I could benefit from just hunkering down and reading a few of the books I’m already excited about rather than constantly being diverted by the new and shiny.

I’m also feeling newly passionate about streamlining my book collection. In the past, I’ve always been the type to keep everything, like a rather large and unwieldy ‘diary’ of book exploits past. Now I feel as if I want the books I keep to be those that bring me real pleasure.

So 2017 will be a year of shortening lists and letting go. I’d like to start 2018 feeling a little less overwhelmed by all the books I always intended to read.

Other than that, I shall selfishly continue to read what I want in a gloriously scattergun way!

Happy new year everyone. Wishing you all a lot of love, happiness and books in the year ahead.


A compact gem: The Courage Consort by Michel Faber

How’s this for a compelling first sentence…

On the day the good news arrived, Catherine spent her first few waking hours toying with the idea of jumping out the window of her apartment.

Perfect, right? I defy you not to keep on reading after that. And coming in at just 121 pages, I defy you not to keep on reading this brilliant novella right through in just one sitting (as I did). I love Michel Faber’s work, which is why I was so sad, and probably still a little in denial, about his decision to stop writing novels after just three full-length books.


The Courage Consort is about Catherine – teetering as she is on the verge of a breakdown – and the four other members of a capella vocal ensemble The Courage Consort, and covers the two weeks they spend rehearsing together in a remote Belgian chateau. They are preparing a challenging avant-garde classical piece, Partitum Mutante, which will be performed at the Benelux Contemporary Music Festival alongside a video installation. (Incidentally, the scene in which that accompanying video is finally revealed to them is one of the funniest things I’ve read recently…)

There’s something about the way Faber captures people in just a few spare, deft strokes. And he’s also excellent at writing about musicians, music and sound in a way that brought to mind Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, one of my favourite books ever.

This book manages to be so many things in such a short space of time. There’s real darkness and a solar plexus punch of an ending that I didn’t see coming. But there’s also sharp wit and proper laugh-out-loud humour. And somehow the whole thing wraps itself up with a feeling of overall warmth and hope that is at odds with events that have gone before.

The most beautifully complete piece of work I’ve read in a while.

<a href=”http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/14581173/?claim=zyre3bqrypk”>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

Literary linking #3


  1. The news that Harper Lee is to bring out a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird 55 years after the publication of her Pulitzer-prize winning debut has set bibliophiles a-buzzing. Go Set a Watchman will be released in the summer, I think.
  2. It appears that James Joyce’s Ulysses played havoc with the mind of great thinker and psychologist Carl Jung, as evidenced by this beautifully-put letter from the one to the other. I’ve never read Ulysses and long ago decided it probably wasn’t for me, for a whole host of reasons (although mostly just too many books, too little time). Now I’m quite sure.
  3. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk has been named Costa book of the year. Sometimes it feels as if books follow me around. It’s hardly surprising that a book as widely acclaimed as this has been so prominently displayed in every bookshop I’ve been into over the last few months, but I seem predisposed to notice it above many other books. So I’m going to take that as a sign and finally get around to reading it this year.
  4. I’m all for a heated literary debate. But I think this is going too far…
  5. I recently stumbled on this piece of news from late last year, an article detailing Michel Faber’s plans to stop writing novels after the death of his wife. It’s so terribly sad. I had wanted to read The Book of Strange New Things but I didn’t know much about it and now I’m a little afraid to. I’m not sure I could handle a grief that raw.