For some reason, I don’t think I read a great deal of books last year. Probably due to a couple of factors …
Firstly, I spent most of my year travelling through Europe, so had to rely on my Kindle for my reading fixes (I prefer paperbacks); secondly, most of the places we stayed didn’t have a bath, and I do most of my reading in the bath! (Also, it’s hard to read a Kindle in the bath … I mean, I do it, because danger is my middle name, but I’m always scared the steam is going to break it.)
Anyway, this year, I’ve read more. Surprisingly, this is also the first year I’ve properly tracked what I’ve been reading! Which has been interesting to me.
Below I’ve listed what I’ve read, with short reviews. I’ve realised I’m quite stingy when it comes to giving books five-star ratings. A book truly has to blow me away to get five stars, possibly also becoming one of my Favourite Books of All Time.
I’ve also fallen in love with non-fiction. I never used to read non-fiction. I was a fiction gal all the way. But with only my Kindle for bookish company while travelling, I discovered that I prefer to read non-fiction on my Kindle and fiction in physical format. I know it sounds weird, but feel as though a novel has a soul – and that soul can’t be digitised.
So, without further ado, here’s everything I read in 2016.
The Latte Years, Phillipa Moore ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Phillipa – she helped me select submissions for publication when I ran Inkspill Magazine. She’s a truly lovely and hugely inspiring person, and her memoir about healthy living, love and moving to a new country was an enjoyable read.
The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I loved this part-memoir, part-history, part-philosophy on travel. Occasionally my mind would numb over a little in all the details, but on the whole this was painfully observant and beautifully written. I’d not heard of de Botton before, but I’m eager to read more from him, and I’ve since started following his fantastic YouTube channel, The School of Life.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling ✭✭✭✭ (Audiobook)
Listening to this on audiobook was like having Stephen Fry read me a bedtime story. It was so relaxing. I love the homeliness, quaintness, Britishness and, obviously, magicalness (totally a word?) of the Harry Potter world. I never finished reading the books when they were first being published, so I’m hoping to listening to them all.
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield ✭ (Kindle)
Controversially, I hated this. It made me mad.
#GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I didn’t know much about this book, or Sophia and her clothing brand, Nasty Gal, before I read this – only that a lot of entrepreneurs were recommending it. But I was quickly seduced by Sophia’s plucky, honest and absorbing writing. Such an interesting story! And some valuable life and business lessons.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel ✭✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
My first fiction paperback of the year, and I loved it. A truly literary novel about a post-apocalyptic world. Beautiful, deep writing and the apocalypse – two of my favourite things! This novel dances with time and has a lot to say about the human condition and the importance of the arts. Wonderful.
Small Blog, Big Business, Carol Tice ✭✭ (Kindle)
Some good solid advice on how to blog for business, but nothing I didn’t already know. There were some really shoddy proofreading and formatting issues, which annoyed me.
The Machine Stops, EM Forster ✭✭✭ (Paperback)
This cute little paperback was an interesting read. It contained two short stories, ‘The Machine Stops’ and ‘The Celestial Omnibus’. Chillingly timeless.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
This is more about having (and enjoying) a manageable amount of things than it is about housework. I’ve been trying to embrace minimalism after living out of a backpack for nearly a year. I’m not hardcore by any measure, but reading this helped me get my head straight and think about ‘stuff’ in a new way.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, Steven Pressfield ✭ (Kindle)
I downloaded a free copy of this during the promotional few weeks of it being published. I’ll give you another go, Pressfield, I thought. But nope. Nope, nope, nope. A whole lotta nope. Awful stuff. The core message is sound: be an awesome writer because people only want to read stuff that’s good. (No shit, Sherlock.) Just as disjointed as The War of Art, this turned into some kind of weird writing manual with extremely obvious and already well-written about advice.
Everything That Remains, The Minimalists ✭✭✭ (Paperback)
An interesting personal journey into minimalism, with some beautiful and observant writing in places and extreme purple prose in others. (Okay, so you’ve written a five-page sentence – you’re not impressing me!) Still, some solid thinking and an interesting read.
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
It took me a while to get into this one as I really didn’t connect with the concept that ideas are real, sentient beings … but there’s still a lot of good stuff in here. I especially loved the idea of the martyr and the trickster roles in creativity.
Saga Vol 1, Brian Vaughan and Fiona Stapels ✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
The first in a series of graphic novels following the stories of some very interesting and original characters caught up in an inter-galactic war. I read this while staying in my friend Karen’s apartment and I’d hoped to have read them all by the time I had to leave, but I got caught up in her copy of Everything That Remains instead. Damn, I need to read the rest of these! Awesome artwork, too.
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon ✭✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
I looooooooved this. A short little book on creativity and overcoming block. Made a lot of sense. Read it!
Simple Matters, Erin Boyle ✭✭ (Kindle)
A short book on living more minimally. Too much common sense, and not very engaging.
Arkham Asylum, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean ✭✭✭ (Paperback)
A graphic novel about what happens when the Joker takes over Arkham Asylum, lets all the convicts loose, and invites Batman to come in and play. I know this is a much-loved comic in the franchise, but I found some of the artwork a little too chaotic and the text difficult to decipher. And I felt the story could have gone deeper. Still, pretty cool. The Joker is awesome. Love that guy. Especially when he slaps Batman on the bottom.
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness ✭✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
This was amazing. My edition was also beautifully illustrated in inky black and white – SO BEAUTIFUL. There were tears. Everyone should read this. I will definitely be reading more from this author!
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens ✭✭✭✭ (Audiobook)
Oh my god this took me about nine months to finish. It’s sooooooo loooooong. Too long. There are chunks that just don’t need to exist. But Victorian novelists got away with that since they didn’t have instantly downloadable ebooks and Netflix to compete with. Even so, I’m glad I read (listened to) this – it had been on my to-read list for years. That Dickens can spin a yarn and create some seriously vivid characters. Who knew?
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, Sarah Knight ✭✭✭ (Audiobook)
I really enjoyed this. Obviously the title is a cheeky twist on the Kondo book, though the content is rather different. I laughed out loud in a few places. Some great advice in here, but a little repetitive in places.
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm ✭✭ (Paperback)
Ah, I was a bit disappointed with this. I wanted to get hold of some more Harley Quinn stuff, so thought I had better start with her origin story. Apparently Frank Miller called this ‘the best Batman story of the decade’ – and many fans agree. But … meh. It lacked the depth I was craving, though it’s still a great foundation for a larger story. I suppose that’s the difference between comics and graphic novels! The rest of the stories in the collection were pretty dull, though there were a few interesting characters.
Juggling on a Highwire, Laura Poole ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I missed Laura’s session at the Society for Editors and Proofreader’ Conference this year, but heard good things. Luckily for me, she’d also written a short book on her topic of work/life balance, so I quickly downloaded and read it. I thought it was very good and contained a lot of useful information. Recommended if you’re a small business owner or freelancer.
That’s Not How You Wash a Squirrel, David Thorne ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I read this while stuck in Ljubljana airport and finished it on the flight home. This was such an odd read! But highly entertaining. How do I describe this book? Random interconnecting stories from the author’s life, with some poignant insights and much hilarity. I teared up on the plane at one point.
Brave Enough, Cheryl Strayed ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I read this while in the bath at the SfEP Conference, trying not to shake with anxiety because I was presenting a session the next day. It helped give me some perspective! A short book that collections quotes of wisdom from Cheryl’s larger body of work. She’s so wise it almost makes me sick. (I mean that in a loving way.)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling ✭✭✭ (Audiobook)
I remember this being the weaker of the first three Harry Potter books, and I was right. Still enjoyable, but it’s just missing something … I can’t quite put my finger on it.
The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter ✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
‘What the fuck did I just read?’ pretty much sums up my experience upon finishing this book. It’s short, but it took me a surprisingly long time to finish because it’s so richly dense. In a good way. (Some people don’t like Angela Carter’s rococo style at all. Those people are wrong.) Written in 1977, this was a crazy dystopian story about a misogynistic man who is turned into a woman by a female cult who live underground in the desert during a very strange civil war in the States. That’s just scratching the surface. There’s slavery, rape, gender fluidity, Stockholm syndrome, spinning clockwork castles made of glass and so much more. Extremely surreal. And fantastic.
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I wonder if I’m the only person in the world who didn’t read this before reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s other non-fiction books first. I will admit, though I’d heard good things about this book, the terrible movie had put me off reading it. But I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself in total admiration of Gilbert’s commitment to her adventures, and I really enjoyed her insights, too.
Sane New World, Ruby Wax ✭✭ (Kindle)
I had high hopes for this. Ruby Wax is funny and smart, and I was looking forward to some unique wisdom based on her personal experience of depression. But unfortunately this was more like a introductory science lesson on the workings of the brain. Not really my cup of tea. There were some personal stories scattered through this, but I wanted more. The idea behind the book (that, from an evolutionary perspective, we’re not made to cope with the demands of modern life) was interesting, but not enough was made of it to be meaningful or useful. A real shame.
Valuable Content Marketing, Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
Lots and lots of very detailed, very good information in this book. I got about three quarters of the way through before I realised that … it’s just not quite right for me and the way I want to run my business. Of course, creating and sharing valuable content is part of my marketing strategy. But that phrase in itself really isn’t, well, me. I think I need to write a whole post about my thoughts on blogging for one-person businesses. Worth a read if you want to get started in this area, though I think it’s a little more geared towards people working in slightly larger companies.
Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
A short memoir of Matt’s experience with depression and anxiety. Lots of wisdom in here, and I find it interesting to read about someone’s experience with mental illness because everyone experiences mental illnesses differently – with some fundamental commonalities. A bit of a tough read for me as I started empathising too much with the experience on the page.
The Cozy Life, Pia Edberg ✭✭✭ (Kindle)
I read this in one day while spending a weekend in the Pyrenees mountains. It’s about the Danish buzzword of the year: hygge. Which is a concept of cosiness, homeliness and friendliness that I really connect with. Lovely stuff.
Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
Aziz cracks me up, and I love his little meerkat face. I first discovered him through his Netflix series Master of None, which is brilliant. Then I started watching his standup. Then I saw that he’d written a book! About love! In today’s tech-infested world! Intriguing, I thought. And the book didn’t disappoint. Aziz had really done his research for this one and pulled his findings together into something truly interesting. Plus it’s funny. I feel like this book helped me figure some stuff out, too. So good!
Deep Work, Cal Newport ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
This one had been on my radar for a while, and it was everything I’d hoped. Cal talks about the importance of ‘deep work’ versus ‘shallow work’, and so much more besides. It’s all really interesting stuff, and it makes a lot of sense. Highly recommended for people in ‘thinking’ or creative industries.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling ✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
Yeah! This is my favourite Harry Potter book (of the ones I’ve read). It has one of my favourite characters in it (Lupin) and such a brilliantly crafted plot. Weirdly, after seeing the films, I felt there were a few scenes that were better handled in the adaptation, which made me realise where this book could have been even better.
My Memories of a Future Life, Roz Morris ✭✭✭✭ (Paperback)
I’ve followed Roz’s excellent writing blog for years, and I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the 2013 SfEP Conference. I love her books on novel writing, and I’d been meaning to read her fiction for a while. To my delight, I won this copy in a promotion Roz was running to celebrate the release of the new cover deign (and it is beautiful). I savoured this book. It was interesting and delicious.
The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer ✭✭✭✭✭ (Kindle)
One of my favourite books of the year. I can’t tell you how much I loved this! It was so honest and engaging. Amanda Palmer is such an interesting and inspiring person, and though I knew very little about her before reading this, she’s now one of my heroes. If you’re an artist in any form, you need to read this.
Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome ✭✭✭ (Audiobook)
This was just a lovely story about some ridiculously well-behaved children having a jolly good time. It bored me a little in places, but then I was won over by its charm. If I were a kid, I think I would have enjoyed this even more.
I don’t think that’s a bad number of books to have read in a year. For one, I’m a slow reader – I know it, and I’m okay with that. I prefer to absorb every word, pay attention to every punctuation mark, and think deeply about what I’m reading. I think it makes for a better experience, and I think it also makes me a better editor.