Wot I read this year, with annotations

One of life’s little pleasures: counting up the books I read this year. I read a lot of good stuff though few things stand out. On listing them, I think ‘On Beauty’, ‘Saffron and Brimstone’, ‘The Winter Book’, ‘Age of Wonders’, ‘London: A biography’, ‘Malefice’, ‘The Inconvenient Child’, ‘A Woman in Berlin’, ‘Darkmans’, and ‘In the Cut’ were the standouts.

78 books read this year, down on last year but, well, I had to get up to go to the gym more often, less time for reading in bed!

The Lycian Shore / Freya Stark (I am a huge fan of Stark, who travelled and lived, an umarried woman, in Arabia in the 1930s and 40s and wrote fantastically cogent books about her experiences and the history of the lands she explored)

Magic, Myth and Medicine

Testaments of Time / Duel (about manuscript hunters through history)

Newton: The Last Sorcerer / White (went on a jag reading about Newton and the Royal Society in the 17th century)

Cures for Love /Stendhal (a brief little book but full of droll wisdom)

Ingenious Pursuits / Jardine (more Newton and his colleagues, wonderful)

The Anthologist / Nicholson Baker (amusing/sad novel about poetry)

The Beauty of the Husband / Anne Carson (I adore her ‘Autobiography of Red’ and translations of Sappho, this not so much)

Newton and the Counterfeiter

Age of Wonders / Holmes (my hero, Richard Holmes, here on the science and heroes of science in the Romantic era)

Poor Tom’s Ghost / Curry (beloved from childhood, time-fantasy)

Love Machine / Caward (good novel about Kings Cross, read for a review)

London: A Biography / Ackroyd (the incomparable Ackroyd in dream-state, dementedly and wonderfully compiling everything he knows about the Great Wen)

The Fellowship / Gribbin (more Royal Society)

Misfortune / Stace (an eccentric faux-Victorian novel about a transsexual)

My Dirty Shiny Life / Bragge (memoir, read for a review)

The Giant O’Brian / Mantel (I own Mantel, have been a fan for years, loooong before everyone else discovered her with ‘Wolf Hall’. Her ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ is one of my two favourite-ever books. This one good too, not least for detail that her Irish peasants get to London and for the first time, walk up stairs.)

Imposture / Markovits (touching novel about Byron and Polidori)

Piano Shop on the Left Bank / Carhart (memoir about learning piano, made me want to go back to mine)

Darkmans / Barker (one of  the most extraordinary novels I’ve ever read, mad, haphazard, entrancing, totally original)

Beatrice and Virgil / Martel (read for an event; brilliant, hostile, unsettling, moving, ultimately infuriating)

The Imperfectionists / Rachman (discontinuous narrative tales of a newspaper office in Rome, very good)

Iran: My Grandfather / Alizadeh (read for a review; opened my eyes to history of Iran)

An Experiment in Love / Mantel (it stayed with me longer than I thought it would)

Selling Sex / Rae Francis (book about history of prostitution in Australia, features In My Skin in a chapter, invaluable addition to this topic)

Promiscuities / Wolf (reminded me why feminism is exciting)

Female Chauvinist Pig / Levy (had a conflicted response to this book, agree/loathe much of what she says but, respect)

Fire with Fire / Wolf (was writing an essay about feminism, hence all the Wolf)

Cat’s Magic (time fantasy)

Censoring: an Iranian Love Story (couldn’t finish it)

On Beauty / Zadie Smith (loved, loved, loved this novel)

Requiem for a Species / Clive Hamilton (sat and wept as I read this book about climate change)

The Nice and the Good / Iris Murdoch (I am a devoted Murdoch fan, she wrote the most macabre, odd, unsettling, original fiction though this is not her best)

Moon Tiger / Penelope Lively (I am also a paid-up lover of the tragically under-rated Lively, and this is one of her best)

The Salt Letters / Balint (met Christine at Varuna and read this there: exquisite, dissociative, original tale of a sea voyage)

The Silver Crown / Robert O’Brien (childrens’ fantasy, wonderful)

It / William Mayne (Mayne was a virtuoso of children’s literature, his actual pederasty notwithstanding, he writes children’s characters like no one else)

Story / Robert McKee (read fortuitously when I was plotting a novel; invaluable if doctrinaire look at building a plot that has inner momentum)

Sex and Stravinsky / Barbara Trapido (read for a review; enjoyable, aggravating novel)

The Inconvenient Child / Sharyn Killens (read for a review; amazing memoir about a woman who really went through the wringer)

Hide My Eyes / Allingham (old-fashioned mystery story)

Malefice / Lesley Wilson (wonderful novel about 17th century village)

King Death’s Garden / Hallam (time-fantasy)

The Pirate’s Daughter / Robert Girardi (strange and beautiful novel)

Stop Smoking / Alan Carr (I haven’t finished it yet and there are too many capitalised sentences but hey, it’s worth a try)

Fall Girl / Toni Jordan (Toni is a friend of mine but that doesn’t colour the fact that I liked this novel very much, a romantic and funny/sad tale of con-men–and women–in Melbourne)

The Italian Girl / Iris Murdoch

The Winter Book / Tove Jansson (oh what to say about this entrancing little collection of stories and memoir… the Moomins made my childhood magical, ‘The Summer Book’ enchanted me, this is precious beyond words)

The Fear of Samuel Walton / Roger Green (bless Amazon for letting me find again the books I loved as a child)

Rocks in the Belly / Jon Bauer (another friend of mine; a scorching, moving, muscular novel about childhood and adulthood and anger)

The Vintage and the Gleaming / Jeremy Chambers (published by my publisher; very sparce, confident debut novel but I didn’t finish it, am a bit sick of terse, tense, serious young-man novels these days)

This is Shyness / Leanne Hall (again, by Text; but a wonderful, original kind of fantasy/fable for young adults)

Rockling King / Hugh Tolhurst (poetry; Hugh is an old friend of mine and a very good poet)

Uncommon Arrangements / Katy Roiphe (biographies of various Bloomsburyites and their unconventional romantic arrangements; reminded me that we live rather dully, these days)

Naming the Bones / Louise Welch (loved ‘The Cutting Room’, this one good too)

A Woman in Berlin / Anonymous (memoir of a woman who was in Berlin when it fell to the Russians; an extraordinary account, beautiful, true, understated, devastating, everyone should read it)

Here on Earth / Tim Flannery (am a huge Flannery fan and this book, which I read too fast, is full of ideas and evocations to blow you away)

Night Street / Kristel Thornell (debut novel about artist Clarice Beckett, limpid, quiet, exquisite)

Kracken / China Mieville (wild insane hectic novel about a squid-god loose in London)

In the Cut / Susannah Moore (absolutely amazing novel, I want to read all her books now)

Unreliable Memoirs / Clive James (as they promised, I couldn’t read it in public from laughing too much, so clever and charming as they say)

The Glass Blowers / Daphne du Maurier (novel about a family in 18th century France, good)

Griffith Review, Annual Fiction Edition (am in it so am biased, but features so much excellent writing, esp Temple’s hilarious story and Eva Hornung’s strange and menacing tale of a forest)

Hand Me Down World / Lloyd Jones (I loved ‘Mister Pip’ and ‘Dancing to the End of the World’ and I wanted to love this. Most other people do, but I was estranged, somehow, and the book, though gorgeously done, just never got through to me… perhaps I should read it again)

Tipping the Velvet / Sarah Waters (reading ‘Fingersmith’ after really enjoying ‘The Little Stranger’ made me a wholly devoted Waters fan. She writes clever, masterful, imaginative, well-charactered, beautifully researched and sexy novels with twists and mysteries. I wish I wrote those novels! This one was not quite as good as the others I’ve read but I liked it anyway.)

Serpent’s Tooth / Robert Swindells (more of my quiet hobby of reading old time fantasy novels for kids; I wrote my MA thesis on this genre as it happens and I collect them madly)

Saffron and Brimstone / Elizabeth Hand (definitely the most stunning book I read this year, in that I read the whole thing in one sitting and it laid me flat on my back with awe and appreciation. Kind of New Weird, kind of just very excellent, grave, short stories, Hand is someone I was enthralled by in my 20s and am excited to rediscover in my 30s)

Great Expectations / Dickens (finally, my third-only Dickens, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would, and in fact got quite impatient to get back to it between bouts. I finished it in London, which was fitting.)

Last of the Wine / Mary Renault (I was brought up a Renault aficionado from childhood, with The King Must Die and this book totemic of my love of ancient Greece and historical fiction throughout my life. She writes brilliant, convincing, moving, stylish, impeccably researched, thrilling and transporting fiction and re-reading this one it was just as good as I recalled it)

Working the Room / Geoff Dyer (I must stand firm here and declare that I have been a mad Dyer fan since his very first novel back in the eighties, which I still have and which I recently got him to sign as he said, Wow this is old, and I managed to blabber incoherently with awe at my hero. His non-fiction is superb and his novels make you want to be his friend. This is a collection of essays and reviews, the photography ones are a bit smartarsey but the literature stuff is great and oh, Dyer writes memoir like no one else. He’s mine, get in line.)

Hill of Kronos / Peter Levi (more of revisiting my passion for things Greek, this memoir of 2oth century Greece is beautifully written and meditative)

The King Must Die / Mary Renault (a classic)

Fire Diary / Mark Tredinnick (this new book of poems came to me as a gift from the author and at just the right time to chime with my melancholy state that week and make me cry with the truth and beauty of his lines)

In the Forest of Forgetting / Theodora Goss (am now on a New Weird jag and Amazon suggested this so I got it. Short stories/fables with a Hungarian bent, good and gets better further through the volume)

Myself When Young / Daphne du Maurier (in this memoir, Daphne’s brave inclusion of her adolescent pretensions make this kind of annoying but she was amazing and it’s a perfect portrait of upper-boho life in the 1920s and 30s and the making of a young writer)

Freedom / Jonathan Franzen (loved ‘The Corrections’, loved this too because he makes it impossible not to love the gloss, the patient unfurling of personality, the tragi-comedy of his characters, the loving attention to them, the outlandish fixes they find themselves in. Could have been shorter but 600-odd pages were like chocolate cake.)

The Final Refuge / Paul Capon (old historical fiction about Byzantium, not bad)

Mortal Love / Elizabeth Hand (one of hers I hadn’t read before, mad beyond words, magical, unnerving, kind of unknowable novel about Victorian artists and a succubus)

The Road to Lichfield / Penelope Lively (Lively in very somber mood, one of her social novels, moving and judicious and full of her usual wonderful details)

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3 Responses to Wot I read this year, with annotations

  1. Simon Tong says:

    Cool bananas, Kate! Thought you would like Palimpsest, it’s so WEIRD… May Week Was In June is the only one I’v read. I picked it because it’s set in Cambridge.

  2. Simon Tong says:

    For such a thin book, In the Cut packs quite a punch, doesn’t it?

    Have you read Clive James’ May Week Was In June? Very funny too.

    • kate says:

      It’s a scorcher of a book. I read it and thought: I can learn a lot from this. And I stopped at Vol I of Clive because, well Simon, there are so, so, so many books out there omg. Am halfway through Palimpsest and enjoying it… talk about baroque!

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