Books I read in 2016

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

bounceI 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.

murder-on-the-orient-expressI 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.

Sci-fi, fantasy… whatever
long-way-to-a-small-angryThe 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.

Old favourites (?)
jheregThere 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.

Random picks
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.


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