I have been using Goodreads for a while. It began when I first started blogging, primarily because I didn’t know how to format things then (what on earth was this thing called HTML???) and I quite liked how Goodreads did the work for me. I’ve stuck with it ever since because I’ve become increasingly intrigued in what a record of my reading might look like. It’s a partial record, of course, for I am forgetful at adding things (it’s taken me until this year to remember to add ‘date read’…) and I don’t catalogue everything I read because not all of it is great, not all of it is public business, and not all of it needs reviewing and rating. Sometimes I don’t know what to say about it and sometimes I do, and sometimes I just don’t want to say that in a public forum.
Nevertheless, I catalogue at least some of my reading and this year, I even put in the date read (I always forgot beforehand). It was because of this that I was informed the other day that I had completed my reading challenge for the year.
In January, I chose fifty books because it seemed like a vaguely approximate number to take. It was arbitrary at best, as I often think these kind of things can be, but I can’t say that I didn’t have a sense of satisfaction at achieving it. What’s interesting to me is the patterns that recur. Macmillan and I have had a good year with Danger At Dead Man’s Pass, A Company of Swans and Murder on the Safari Star being all perfect, perfect things (nb: these were all gifted copies but I hope you know that doesn’t influence my thoughts in the slightest). I’ve come across some startlingly timely and thought-provoking non-fiction with The Transgender Issue being up there alongside How To Be Ace and Invisible ‘every other page gonna make you mad’ Women. This Much Is True by Miriam Margoyles was a lesson in authorial voice (I mean, the brand) and Confessions of a Bookseller was a wry and rather lovely thing even when it didn’t want to be.
I was pleased to see comics featuring heavily in this year as well. I’m increasingly desperate to put my own together (I have plans! I keep emailing my agent going “please can we do [complicated plot that isn’t a plot and more just a vague string of words ambitiously put together]”). Tempest Tossed was a very solid reimagining of Wonder Woman, and although I don’t think it was perfect, it’s pretty close. I felt rather indifferent to the graphic adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale the first time I read it and yet upon a reread, I found it rather brilliant. I think some of that change centres on how you have to let go when you read sometimes and just experience that which is given to you. It’s a thought I’ve been trying to tease out ever since reading Piranesi. That’s a book that asks you to have faith in where it’s going and just let it take you there – and that decision, that choice to have that faith, is vital.
Miffy X Rembrandt was a stone cold classic (as indeed is everything Miffy) and I’d encourage more attention for Guantanamo Voices and Welcome To The New World – two vital non-fiction comics. I’ve really come to appreciate the non-fiction comic form over the past few years, and I think these are stunning examples of what it can do and why it should be done in comic form. Talking of stunning examples, I think Vy’s Special Gift was glorious and one of the best picture books I’ve read in a long time (and should be of special interest to those of you looking to broaden your picture book representation).
The oldest book I read this year was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) and the most recent was Danger At Dead Man’s Pass (2021). Ten books were published pre-1950 and twenty-seven were published in the 2000s, and I read a lot of books by women. I’m pretty pleased as well by the pre-1950s representation here; it’s really important for me to read and recognise the writers who came before me (the school story has a longgg tradition) but it’s also very important for me to try and relocate these authors into the (often male-determined and ‘oh god, why would I even look at a book by a woman’) canon.
There will be of course more to add to this list. I just finished reading Sharpe’s Assassin and am re-starting A Life In The Making thanks to my friends at Pushkin. This latter one is immensely interesting to me; the first few chapters hadn’t worked for me at all so I flicked ahead a bit and found some of the most beautiful writing that I think I’ve ever read. I’ll let you know how I get on with revisiting it.
Fifty books done! Let’s see what comes next!