Sunday, 3 January 2016

51 books in 2015 – how did I do?

At the start of 2014, I resolved to read 50 books over the course of the year. It was such a successful resolution (more so than never biting my nails again, perhaps unsurprisingly) that I decided to do it all again the following year, with the added challenge of trying to read one more book.

So, how did I do? You can see a list of the books I read during 2015 here. I’m pleased that I beat my target by two whole books. And, although I’m proud of my overall total – 53! – and the mixture of fiction and non-fiction, looking through the list, it’s quickly obvious that it’s quite limited in scope, with the vast majority written by white women. Only seven of the books were penned by men, just two were originally written in a language other than English and none date to pre-twentieth century.

Although I’ve enjoyed this year’s reading, it’s hard to pick out books I’ve really loved. There have been several big disappointments – Sarah Water’s The Paying Guests started out brilliantly, but descended into soapy disappointment; Carol was one of those rare examples of where I thought the film far surpassed the book (and I read the book first). I’ve yet to watch Brooklyn, but perhaps that will also fall into this category, as I loved Nora Webster far more than I did Colm Toibin’s earlier, much-praised book.

The book that took over my life and I was longing to discuss with other people was – as I think it was for many other people this year – A Little Life. I also consumed by Linda Grant’s stylish and intelligent take on aspirations in the second-half of the twentieth century in Upstairs at The Party.

I bemoaned my lack of books from earlier centuries, but the twentieth century got a very strong showing. I discovered some fantastic fiction from around the First World War, thanks to researching for a feature on the homefront for Article magazine, saw the 1920s and 30s through the eyes of Noel Streatfeild, enjoyed jitterbugging, rationing and fashioning in the 1940s, (im)perfect wives, debutantes and lesbians – and concrete buildings from the mid-century. And not forgetting the joy of 1980s movies, thanks to Hadley Freeman. That brings me onto the last book I read this year, which tells the story of women throughout the twentieth century through personal experience (albeit without so many references to Dirty Dancing a la Hadley). It’s A Notable Woman, the previously unpublished journals of Jean Lucey Pratt. She faithfully kept a diary from 1925, aged 15, up to her death in the 1980s. It’s wonderful discovery, and I hope to write something more substantial about it another time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m aiming to read 54 books during 2016. You can follow my progress here. I’d like at least one to be pre-twentieth century, and definitely more by BAME authors. I might try and read a few more things men have written too.  

Any recommendations let me know. I’d also love to hear about your favourite – or most disappointing – books you’ve read this year.

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