I once again set myself the target of reading an average of 40 pages per day, and pleasingly I managed it with about 150 pages extra. I know it seems silly that I have to force myself to do something I enjoy, but I find that reading is one of those tasks that I just forget to do, or don’t prioritise over other things, so this method works for me. I don’t tend to read regularly still, generally I read a bit on the tube to work, but not always. So the page counts tend to come in dribbles and then a splurge of a few hours solid reading every now and then. Of course it always helps to have a good book, I have a stupid mental block that even if I’m not enjoying a book I still have to finish it, and that can really stifle my reading.
By the numbers
- 49 books, 14,884 pages. Really wish I’d managed to get one more in!
- 32 were new reads (67%), of the re-reads 14 were Brust’s Taltos series, one was The Secret Garden which I haven’t read since I was a kid, and I re-read a Terry Pratchett.
- 36 authors, 19 of whom were new to me, only duplicated authors were Brust and Simon Mayo (once by himself and once in a pair)
- 21 British (64%), 11 Americans (31%), 3 others (Canadian, Malaysian, French – not massively diverse)
22 men vs 14 female (61:39%) that’s far from the worst it’s ever been and not bad considering I didn’t deliberately seek out women writers, but obviously not as even as I’d like.
- 54% from 2010 onwards, so roughly half of the books were pretty recent by broad standards
- 13% from 2000s, 13% from 1990s, 8% from 1980s. 3 each (6%) from early 20th, and pre-20th century.
- Best book: The Martian – Andy Weir
- Best book that everyone didn’t already know about: The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker
- Or if you want to learn something: Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice and Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed
I only read 8 non-fiction books this year (17%), which isn’t a huge number, but they were at least a fairly diverse set and mostly pretty good. I was lucky enough to see Matthew Syed speak in 2015 and finally got round to reading his book Bounce, which was so good I immediately sought out his second book Black Box Thinking which was almost equally as good. He’s a Malcolm Gladwell type, looking at the way people think and act but he frequently frames it using experiences and anecdotes from his own time as an international sportsman and subsequent time as a sports journalists. His books are entertaining as well as informative and I would recommend them to anyone. I also finally read Ben Goldacre’s Pharma, which is a superb piece of research, writing and campaigning, although would benefit from being shortened a bit as it’s somewhat repetitive. The only disappointment was Eureka! Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Greeks. The title may be true, but the style and structure of the book means that despite having all the information there it’s so incoherent you won’t take any of it in.
- Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice and Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed – both interesting, insightful and entertaining to read
- Bad Pharma – Ben Goldacre – a little repetitive and too much detail at times, but that does enforce his points
- The Movie Doctors – Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode – entertaining, but the format is a little strained
- Strengths Finder 2.0 – Tom Rath – variation on a theme for personality profiling, but it’s got a nice practical element and good case studies
- One on One – Craig Brown – great idea with some bizarre connections, but the commitment to the structure under-served some stories.
- Eureka!: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Ancient Greeks… – Peter Jones – incoherent
- The Crab of Hate – Susan Calman – incredibly open, personal look at depression. I didn’t always get on with it, but I admire it hugely.
I continue to slowly pick off ‘classics’, with mixed results. Some of them are really classics for a reason, Agatha Christie is still revered today for very good reason, Murder on the Orient Express is an absolute masterclasses of crime fiction. The Secret Garden is one I have very fond memories of from my childhood and fortunately it stands up reasonably well. Unfortunately though there were a couple that I really don’t see what the fuss is about. I found Huckleberry Finn a complete slog and Far From the Madding Crowd quite tedious in places.
- The Haunted Hotel – Wilkie Collins – could be edited and re-written into a great film
- Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie – near perfect
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – lovely
- Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy – incredibly dull and incredibly compelling alternately
- The Hound of the Baskervilles and Valley of Fear – Arthur Conan Doyle – slow start and slightly clumsy ending, but very readable in the middle, surprisingly little Holmes.
Sci-fi, fantasy… whatever
The bulk of my reading is within the broad genres of sci-fi and fantasy, I’d say 32 out of 39 fiction books have some element of SF, fantasy, steampunk or related ideas in them. Fortunately, I have a couple of friends who read an INSANE amount, although mostly within science fiction and fantasy genres, and I rely on them heavily for recommendations. We know each other’s tastes quite well and they always lead me towards works I’d never have come across by myself that are either superb or interesting (sometimes even both at the same time). Even within ‘just’ the SF/Fantasy genre they find a huge range of styles and subjects. Three of the outstanding books from them this year exemplify this: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is not just a brilliant title, but a rollicking fun read; The Golem and the Djinni is a beautiful and in depth study of characters and period; and The Just City is a fascinating way to think about Greek philosophy. Meanwhile, I’m probably the last SF fan in the world to read The Martian and it’s just as good as everyone says, I think I read the whole thing in just two sittings.
- House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard – inconsistent, sometimes original and atospheric, sometimes clich‚ and incoherent.
- Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel – meandering, occasionally satisfying when things come together, but also leaves things unfinished.
- The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker – incredible characters who are fascinating to spend time with
- The Just City – Jo Walton – very well crafted collection of ideas and characters
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers – Variation on a theme of Firefly in both tone and themes, but it’s well done
- The Martian – Andy Weir – just brilliant.
- Holes – Louis Sacher – very simple but because it’s so well written that just enhances the impact
Old favourites (?)
There are a few authors who I pounce on with a new release. T Kingfisher is an author very few have heard of but is absolutely wonderful and The Raven and the Reindeer is another lovely and entertaining entry to her fairy tale series. Hugh Howey (of the Wool series) stuck together a few short stories to make Beacon 23 which showed again just how good his writing is, although I wish he’d edited them together to a proper novel. Claire North’s second SF book Touch proves she wasn’t just a one idea pony, and shows that she can continue to add new life and depth to old tropes. David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) confirmed to me that I don’t like him, and SJ Watson (Before I Go to Sleep) let me down.
After a few disappointing reads that left me behind my target, I opted for a familiar old friend re-reading the 14 books of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. The quality of the books varies quite a lot, Jhereg, Phoenix, Iorich and Hawk at the positive end and Taltos, Athyra and Tiassa at the not-so-great end. But even the longest is only about 350 pages, so if you’re not enjoying one so much, it doesn’t matter because the next in the series will be along soon enough and usually a completely different style and story. I rarely re-read books so it made a nice change to go back to the familiar and comfortable for a while, although I was surprised at how little I remembered of how the actual capers worked out.
- Harry Potter 8: The Cursed Child – JK Rowling – I wish she’d made the effort to convert the script to a novel which may have helped the subtlety. Story was a good idea, but read rather like wish-fulfilment fanfic.
- Beacon 23 – Hugh Howey – great concept and character, smoothing the short stories out into a novel would have helped.
- The City and the City – China Mieville – I continue to struggle with Mieville’s writing style, but the ideas are so good it’s worth struggling with
- The Raven and the Reindeer – T Kingfisher – colourful, creative and inspiring as ever
- Touch – Claire North – the trope of “body swapping” fully evolved to how it could work in reality. Fascinating and satisfying
- Second Life – S.J. Watson -characters making endless bad choices, and a ridiculous ending.
- Slade House – David Mitchell – clich‚ characters and too much clumsy exposition
- Blame – Simon Mayo – slightly odd tone, but powerful concept
- Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, Athyra, Orca, Dragon, Issola, Dzur, Jhegaala, Iorich, Tiassa, Hawk – Steven Brust
- Discworld 10: Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett
And to round everything out, the stuff that doesn’t really fit anywhere else. Mostly sourced from the 3-for-2 shelves at Waterstones, often chosen solely because of a pretty cover and you know what they say about judging books that way.
- Full Dark House – Christopher Fowler – entertaining, but also muddled and disposable
- The Watchmaker of Filligree Street – Natasha Pulley – uncertain tone at the beginning and ending that didn’t make sense. Middle was ok though.
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs – period ‘freak’ photographs were the only thing bringing this X-Men with timetravel to life and it didn’t quite work. The film was better.
- Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho – frustratingly slow and nothing special in story or tone. Read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell again instead.
- The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver– great first half, but the second half just kept going and lost focus and quality.