At the time of writing, I’ve read 140 titles this year – a record and there’ll be some analysis of them in my year end stats post (I know you look forward to those 😉 ). 2016 may be an annus horribilus on the outside, but inside I’ve had my head stuck in a book for a fantastic year of reading, not least revisiting one of my favourite authors in Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week.
Having read 140 books in 2016, I’ve picked 10%, i.e. 14 for my best of list. In no particular order except for the final ‘Book of the Year’ at the bottom of this page, here they are (plus a few honorable mentions). Links go to my original review here or at Shiny.
Best Modern Classic adapted for TV
The Night Manager by John Le Carré
Although I adored the TV adaptation, gorgeous though he was, there is an über-smoothness about Tom Hiddleston that jarred ever so slightly for me and, as nearly always this is a case of the telly being brilliant, but the book was truly superb in its density and detail, especially in getting the chatter and in-fighting between agencies.
Best YA novel that mothers of teenage girls should read too
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
O’Neill’s second novel was the first book I read in 2016, and what a start to my reading year. This story of teenage sex, shaming on social media and the consequences as seen through the eyes of the 18-yr-old victim had me in tears. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
The funniest book by one of the loveliest authors I got to meet this year
Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
This book was a delight and anyone who thinks of Rosoff as YA author should eat their words. Jonathan Unleashed is a romantic comedy for adults set in the world of advertising in New York, with a hapless hero stuck in a rut in life and love, until his brother’s dogs take him in hand, so to speak. It has some great one-liners too:
The use of antiquing as a verb made Jonathan shrink like a salted slug.
Best JFK Conspiracy Thriller
Baker has constructed a viable conspiracy theory about JFK’s assassination of his own in this well researched and most excellent debut thriller with a complicated triple timeline. It makes you think again about everything you thought you knew about JFK’s death. It also paints a picture of early 1960s American politics which ain’t pretty!
Best by Beryl
Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge
In mid-June, I hosted the second Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and to kick off my reviews, I revisited her Titanic novel first – as the Folio Society brought out a new edition featuring Beryl’s own paintings – do click through to see a sample.
Re-reading it was an even better experience. I could appreciate the level of detail – about the ship and how it worked; about all the characters and how they dressed, how they moved, how they behaved, how they spoke – Beryl packs so much into 188 pages.
Best for oozing Gallic charm
The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain
Although I just adored Laurain’s third novel French Rhapsody more, this book led me to discover his books, and why everyone raves about this one, his first.
Feel-good, charming, spirit lifting – Laurain also features in my ‘discoveries‘ post from a couple of days ago. If you need a pick-me-up after the tumultuous year that is 2016 – this is just the ticket.
Best for being full of Irish craic
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
The story of a teacher who gets pregnant by her teenaged Traveller pupil, this novel was unputdownable. Throughout this novel Ryan shows a great ear for dialogue, eschewing punctuation – but it is always clear, and this uncluttered approach allows Melody’s narration to really shine. She’s witty, sarcastic and bitter, she wants to be independent, but is also needy and she loves her father, and the baby is making her hormones wild! Melody is brilliantly realized as a character and you can’t help but be sympathetic, even when she is in fighting mood. The ending is superb by the way!
Best in Translation
33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara
The cover shows us a record player with an lp playing, the Cuban flag on the label. We’ll never get to hear whether it’s playing mambo or the cha-cha-cha though, for this record is stuck, destined to repeat itself over and over without progressing – this is Sanchez Guevara’s metaphor for Cuban politics – ‘like a scratched record’. In Richard Curtis’s translation, it is a stylish and poetic story that highlights the plight of a disaffected generation that want to move on. Utterly worth reading.
P.S. Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal was also amazing.
Best book about Popular Music
How Music Works by David Byrne
I haven’t reviewed this yet as I’ve only just finished reading it, but if you’re interested in seeing into the mind of one of the music industry’s most idiosyncratic practitioners, look no further.
Popular music lost many icons this year: Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Quo’s Rick and George Michael, – but 2016 will be, for me, the year Bowie died. Sadly even though Paul Morley’s tribute The Age of Bowie was timely and interesting, it was flawed. What a book Bowie’s own memoir would have been….
The Best Fun you can have in Space
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Another of my discoveries, Becky Chambers divided and conquered the stuffy SF world with this novel. The Long Way is space opera, but it’s space opera with a loving heart and tongue in cheek set onboard the tunnelling spaceship, Wayfarer. All of the crew have depth and well-rounded characters, and form an inclusive bunch in the best Star Trek tradition (additionally, the Galactic Commons are the equivalent of the Federation and the Toremi take the place of the Cardassians in this narrative). However, the story is told with Red Dwarf’s sense of humour which keeps things light-hearted and optimistic even in the darkest moments.
Perhaps the biggest success of all is that Chambers makes you want to be part of this band of space adventurers – I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than be part of the Wayfarer’s crew.
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize (read more about that here), Cathy Rentzenbrink’s book about her and her brother, who was left in a PVS after being knocked down by a car, is the kind of memoir that hits you with a wallop. Once started, it won’t let go – I read it in one sitting, going from shock to being very emotional, yet ended I up being uplifted by Cathy’s love for her brother and decision to get on with life knowing the love would never go.
Best Food for Thought
The Diet Myth by Tim Spector
This book changed the way I think about food – more so than any book which espouses an eating plan. Spector is a geneticist and physician in London, and runs the British Gut project and through his research studies and personal experience he has come to the conclusion that nearly all diets are bad because they work on exclusion of foods which affects our gut bacteria. Diversity is the key (but also moderation rather than elimination of the bad stuff). He convinced me.
Best Book Group Read
The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
This winter ‘Hygge’ is the Scandi-byword for living well, hunkering down, getting cosy by candlelight and all that, and Russell’s book, which we read last January got our book group ahead of the field!
There’s a lot more to living Danishly than hygge though, and Russell’s book gave us so much to talk about, we all enjoyed this book a lot.
- Old Buildings in Texas by Jen Waldo – a wise-cracking and humane drama
- The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami – gentle, understated Japanese humour
- Shopgirl by Steve Martin – spoke volumes without needing many words
- Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson – first in a scarily prescient spec-fiction trilogy
- The Course of Love by Alain de Botton – stylish, touching warm and playful, a delight.
… and my book of the year is
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
What a storyteller Francis Spufford is in his first novel, after a distinguished career in non-fiction!
This is Fielding’s Tom Jones recast on Broadway – when Broadway was a tree-lined avenue two hundred yards long, with a fort at one end flying the Union Jack and a common at the other, grazed by cows.
Set in the closing months of 1746, I’d wager that there are more plot twists and turns in Golden Hill than the Hampton Court maze. There is adventure, peril, comedy – both in manners and more slapstick scenes. Young Mr Smith is a loveable hero, naïve yet worldly, but totally flummoxed by Tabitha, the contrary young woman he falls for. The key supporting characters all have their own story to tell. which all add to the fascinating narrative. Finally, Spufford reveals a serious heart to this novel, which puts everything into perspective without detracting from all the shenanigans that went before. Golden Hill was totally believable from page one and is the best novel I’ve read this year. I first wrote that in May – and it’s still true. I loved it.