2013 in Books

Every year I vow to read 50 books. Every year I read about 40 books. Why I can’t seem to make that final push of 10 books remains a mystery, but there you have it. I’ve all but given up on feeling guilty over it. Sometimes I do feel slightly sad about all the potentially good books that I’m not reading, but as I am decidedly stubborn I know that forcing myself to read more would result in me throwing in the towel and reading nothing but Twitter/Reddit/the Metro.

I’ve read some really good books in 2013, but overall I don’t think it’s been a great year for reading. Read on to find out what was good, what was bad, what was disappointing and what turned out to be a lot better than expected. All links are to Goodreads or Judging Covers.

The Good

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These are just good, no ifs, ands, or buts.

The Bad

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I used to struggle with saying that a book was bad. I would qualify it by saying ‘I would recommend it if you like xyz’ or ‘not really my style’. I’m not going to be shy about saying, though, that these books were bad. Bad, and not good.

The Disappointing

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Expecting a book to be great is just one of the worst things to do sometimes.

The Better-than-expected

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Sometimes I end up buying a book despite not being particularly convinced by it. True to form I read them anyway, and sometimes they are really bloody good after all.

So that’s the long and the short of my year in books. I read far fewer amazing books than I would like to but hey, at least there’s room for improvement. Having recently gone on a frankly terrifying* book-buying rampage in the Kindle store, I have about a million things lined up to read in January, including almost everything ever written by A.M Homes. (Is she any good, or have I been swayed by flashy Amazon blurbs?)

How was your year in books? Did you read any of the same books? Do you want to disagree with me? Go on, I love arguing about books.

* I wasn’t scared at all. My boyfriend, who witnessed this, was.

What Emily Read Next

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I believe that these are all the books I have read since the last time I made one of these posts.  To me it feels like a lot, but then I read other blogs and turn green with envy and realise that it is actually not so many. Hey ho.

Some I’m working on full reviews of so I won’t include them here.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

After trying and failing to read this for years, I finally slogged through it. I enjoyed it well enough, but honestly I think I ruined it for myself by taking so long to get round to it and subconsciously putting it on a pedestal. It was a nice book, but the writing style was a bit irritating and it says it all that I read it at the end of August and have already forgotten pretty much everything that happens in it. 3/5

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

I have to question just what kind of idiot I am when I win a Facebook competition and am offered a book of my own choosing from And Other Stories and I pick the one with the naive child narrator, despite naive child narrators being one of my least favourite literary devices. Despite this, I enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole, as much as a person can enjoy a story about a Mexican drug lord told from the perspective of his seven year old son. It was great to have the opportunity to read a book that I might not have ever considered otherwise, and I thought the translation was excellent – no quirky not-quite-correct sentences that I can remember. 4/5

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock

You can read my review here at Judging Covers. 4/5

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

I’m working on a longer review of this so will leave this at the bare bones. The Report is a fictional account of a real life story, the Bethnal Green tube station disaster in 1943. I thought the book was well written and very tactful. It was all the more devastating as I read it around the time that all the new information was coming out regarding the Hillsborough disaster. A really worthwhile book but perhaps not for the faint hearted. 4/5

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor

I have to admit that I’m not sure if I ‘got’ this. Some of the ‘plays’ were amusing, some were depressing, some were just blah. I gathered that the idea was that these were meant to be like real conversations that could happen in Britain but where it fell short for me was that so many of them were completely unrealistic, hugely clichéd and a bit try-hard for my liking. Still, they passed some time. 3/5

The Book of General Ignorance by John Mitchinson

This was exactly what I expected it to be like, and I enjoyed it a lot. I read it before I left for Slovakia and spent a good few hours following various family members around the house proclaiming ‘DID YOU KNOW…’ 5/5

How To Climb Mont Blanc in a Skirt by Mick Conefrey

This was really interesting but often seemed like a huge muddle with no focus, which must be part of the reason that it took me from June until September to read it. That said, it’s useful to have a book suitable for reading in chunks as and when you feel like it, so that it comes in handy when you have a bit of time to kill. 4/5

The First Time: True Tales of Virginity Lost & Found by Kate Monro

Another nice little non-fiction book that’s good for dipping in and out of (no pun intended, chortle chortle). Overall I found it  little disappointing, as though it was always reaching towards a conclusion that was never realised. 3/5

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright

You’ve heard the phrase about not judging a book by it’s cover – this is one you don’t want to judge by its title. The title injects a lot of arguably unnecessary shock value into a novel which is actually a slow-paced story of a young boy growing up in Dudley under the first few years of Thatcher’s rule. 3/5

Love and Other Possibilities by Lewis Davies

There was maybe one of these short stories that I enjoyed, and the fact that I can’t remember it speaks volumes. Overall I was wholly unimpressed. 1/5

Possessed by Niki Valentine

Read my review here.

Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan

I only read this because my Kindle had broken and this was one of the cheapest English language novels I could find. It was okay, and only just okay. I found it quite tiresome and felt quite relieved to have finished it, but it had some moments of humour in it. 3/5

I will refrain from writing a review of The European Union and its Eastern Neighbours, as I’m not so sure that anyone would want to read it.

At this very moment in time I am reading Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn and I am not enjoying it at all. Anyone read it? Does it get better? Is it supposed to make me feel uncomfortable and queasy?

As for what’s next, I’ll probably read one of the new Kindle books I’ve recently downloaded: From Dictatorship to Democracy, The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees, The Italian Chapel, Winter in Madrid, Safe House and The Last Talk with Lola Faye. Some of those were only £0.20 so if you have a Kindle, check them out.

Tell me what you’ve been reading, what you’re reading now, and what you’re going to read next!

What Emily Read Next

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The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

I just wanted something that would be an easy, mindless read. The Notebook fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed it slightly more than the film – and I didn’t particularly enjoy the film – and it got me through a few boring shifts at work. Can’t complain, but won’t bother searching out anything else by Mr Sparks. 2/5

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan

It was 99p on Kindle, and it was compared to What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn, so I was obviously going to read this book. I didn’t like it as much as I thought that I would. It was okay, but nowhere near as good as What Was Lost, in my opinion. I would recommend it if you like books with naive child narrators. 3/5

The Drifting of Spirits by Gisele Pineau

I bought this book from a junk shop years ago because I thought the cover was nice. In a bid to clear out my ever expanding bookshelves I decided to read it. The Drifting of Spirits was a really enjoyable but rather odd book. The writing style was often truly bizarre – though whether this is due to it being a translation is uncertain. Overall I enjoyed the story and the depictions of Guadeloupe and its culture. 4/5

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Another one bought from a charity shop many moons ago, and read in an attempt to get rid of some books. I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was originally put off because I wasn’t that fond of Haddon’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. (I get quite annoyed at naive child narrators, as awful as that makes me sound.) Then I was slightly put off by the length. It’s not that I shy away from longer novels – or that this was particularly long – it was more that after reading the blurb, I wondered why that story needed to take up so many pages and worried that it was just going to be endless tiring waffle. As it turns out, I thought it was funny, touching and fascinating. 4/5

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

This book was free! I love free things, especially books. I entered a competition on the Waterstones website to win a book from their Book Club collection, and was sent this one at random. I would never have picked this book for myself but I’m pretty glad I was sent it. My sister asked me what it was about and all I could articulate was ‘A librarian steals a boy… She’s half Russian… Something about a chocolate factory… Er…’ So yeah, it’s quite hard to explain this book’s appeal, but I found it funny and charming and ultimately an enjoyable read. 4/5

After reading three 4/5s in a row, I feel like I’m having a decent run in terms of reading. At the moment I’m halfway through Perfect People by Peter James – I got it for 20p on Kindle, I’m not sure if it’s still that price but it’s worth a look if you want it! – which is good-but-not-great. Next up I’m hoping to read If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. I’ve had it for years, started reading it about three times, had it recommended to me numerous times, and yet it still just sits on my shelf and taunts me.

What have you read/are you reading/are you going to read?

What Emily Read Next

WWW Wednesday #4: idea from Should Be Reading

What are you currently reading?

Too many things, as per usual. The only one I’m actively reading is How to Climb Mont Blanc in a Skirt which is interesting and entertaining. Lots of lady explorers I didn’t know about! I quite appreciate that it’s not pushing an agenda, though, and is happy to call women explorers out for their failures as well as celebrate them for their successes.

What did you recently finish reading?

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I managed to finish The London Train by Tessa Hadley. It got much better after about page 100, and in the end I enjoyed it a lot. Then I read The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers by Angela Patrick which was a touching easy read with a fairly happy ending. I didn’t read 101 Things To Do Before You Diet from cover to cover but read most of it and am now keeping it in my car for those moments when I’m stuck with nothing to do. It started out really well and quickly descended into madness, suggesting that you pour washing up liquid on your leftovers so that they can’t tempt you. After the author slates diet books in the introduction, she goes on to write a book that is actually a bit more awful than your average diet book.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I downloaded The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan to my Kindle so I might give that a go.

What are you reading/have you read/are you going to read?

What Emily Read Next

WWW Wednesday #3: idea from Should Be Reading

What did you recently finish reading?

I did not finish but temporarily abandoned The London Train by Tessa Hadley. It was just going too slowly for me. Then I read I’m Starved For You by Margaret Atwood, which is a ‘Kindle single’, whatever that’s meant to mean. Then I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Oh, and I finally finished Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo. It was not fantastic.

Jeannette Walls, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading all the books: One More Year by Sana Krasikov, The Eaten Heart: Unlikely Tales of Love by Giovanni Boccaccio, Mad Mobs and Englishmen? Myths and realities of the 2011 riots by Steve Reicher and Cliff Stott and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have a stack of John Wyndham books on my shelf tempting me, so I might have a go at one of those. I’m thinking Chocky. (I still haven’t read The White Tiger. I don’t know why.)

WWW Wednesday #2

What are you currently reading?

I’m powering through The London Train by Tessa Hadley.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey was a sad, sweet, unusual and touching book. I would recommend it to anyone. The imagery was so beautiful and vivid that I could picture the landscape, even despite my limited knowledge of what Alaska looks like. I then read What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn which I can actually describe using the exact same words: sad, sweet, unusual and touching. The ending actually left me reeling a little bit, and creeped me out so much that I had to shut my wardrobe doors for fear of what may be in there.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I might finally pull my finger out and read The White Tiger, before I drive myself insane by saying once more that I’ll read it ‘next’.

BY THE WAY if you live in the UK and want to win a book, please check out my giveaway!

WWW Wednesday #1

Post idea from Should Be Reading.

Snow Child (1)

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What are you currently reading?

I bought a gorgeous hardback copy of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey with a book token the other week, and started reading it yesterday. At five pages in I can’t tell you anything about it other than that the book itself is stunning and I have high hopes for the words inside.

What did you recently finish reading?

Cool Hand Luke by Donn Pearce. I really enjoyed this book. I thought that it would be a fun and easy read as I knew the story from watching the film, but I was genuinely surprised at how beautiful and poignant the writing was. It might still be 99p for the Kindle edition if anyone is interested in reading it!

And I knew that it wasn’t over yet, for any of us. There was still more hope and disappointment way out there in the Free World, where the traffic still swished and roared along restless highways. There was more battle to be given and lost, rewards to be sought and forsaken, more loves to be wooed and unrequited.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Now this is where I’d like your help, dear bloggers. Last night I downloaded some new books to my Kindle, and today I bought some new books from a charity shop. I would like your opinion on what to read next.

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn / The London Train by Tessa Hadley / The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

So help me out here. Which would you read first?

And what are you reading, have you read, and are you going to read?

Read, Reading, To Read

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So far in 2012 I have read The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore, The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams, Look At Me by Jennifer Egan, and Before I Go To Sleep by S.J Watson.

Personally, I think 5 books in about 2 months is quite good going, but I can see on Goodreads that some people have already read 10 times as many. Whatever. It took me around 2 weeks to slog through Look At Me, which was a slow and wordy but ultimately rewarding read, and then I powered through Before I Go To Sleep in one night. I was absolutely blown away – but then it seems, from the general consensus on the interwebs, that the plot was really obvious and everyone else guessed it straight away and I therefore just stupid. Oh. Well, my inability to figure out what was going on meant that I enjoyed the book immensely and therefore I cannot complain.

As I’m getting more interested in mystery/thriller novels, I’m now reading Under The Skin by Michael Faber. Intensely creepy, incredibly fascinating and a real page-turner.

Next up I’m planning to read Room by Emma Donoghue. I’ve read some really terrible reviews of it, but it was 99p on the Kindle so I thought I’d give it a shot.

What’s your read/reading/to read?

2011: Books

I’ve managed to read 43 books this year. I’ll probably manage at least one more before the year’s out. I didn’t finish my reading challenge, but I would still call it a good year for books. Here are my personal highlights. Think of this like my personal awards ceremony for books.

Books that I read for my degree

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Nobody has any excuse not to read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. It’s a short and relatively easy read, but is beautifully written, and fascinating in the way it unfolds. If your excuse for not reading it is ‘I’ve never read Mrs Dalloway’, that really doesn’t matter either. The plot (or lack thereof) is interesting without necessarily needing to be bolstered by the Woolf references.

I was not expecting to enjoy South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It was a set text on a 1930s literature module that I did not want to be enrolled on in the first place. I took a copy out from the library and it was huge, and it was falling apart, and it smelt boring and dusty. I opened it to read it and half of the pages fell out. I stuck them back in and then returned it to the library because I didn’t want to destroy this ancient artefact, and put it all to the back of my mind. When I saw the BBC adaptation being advertised, I knew I was going to have to read the book before I watched it, so I went and bought a brand new copy that smelt like Waterstones and stayed in one piece. Much to my surprise, I loved it! As much of a cliché as this sounds, I actually laughed and cried through most of this book. Books barely ever make me laugh out loud – I might smirk, or think ‘oh that’s quite funny’ – but something about Holtby’s writing had me cackling to myself in my bedroom. The novel deals with extreme hardship and tragedy in a way that is thought-provoking but never disheartening or depressing.

The Accidental by Ali Smith is one of those rare books that was immeasurably improved in my estimations by studying it, analysing it, and then writing a 2500 word essay about it. When I first read it, I thought it was quite enjoyable, but my main thought was that it would be good to write an essay on. So I did, and found that the more I delved into it, the more I loved it. The way that Ali Smith manipulates and shapes the language is just fantastic. While writing the essay it was sometimes all I could do to prevent myself from just copying out a line from the book and writing ‘JUST LOOK AT THIS! JUST LOOK!’ My favourite example of Smith, and her characters, playing with language is when Astrid is forbidden from talking about Amber, and starts reciting the colours of the traffic lights in order to say it, and then when she is busted for doing this, starts saying ‘amb’ instead of ‘am’. I find this so funny and unusual and fun and silly and sad and interesting!

Books that I couldn’t put down

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I’m sure everyone knows all about One Day, and how much everyone loved it, and how much I loved it. I read it at a really crucial time, shortly after graduating and moving home, when the reality of the post-student life was just settling in. At first it made me want to lie down on the floor and cry and give up and not bother, but as I kept reading, it made me realise that things can be shit, and they can also be good, and things can get better, and they can also get worse. It scared the living daylights out of me, but in a good way.

My reviews of The Wrong Boy & How To Be A Woman can be found here & here!

Books that I read on holiday

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The four books I read on holiday were Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, and The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. I discussed them in this post.

Books that were a disappointment

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There was nothing wrong with When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman, and in fact I really enjoyed it, but there was just something missing. It did not live up to its own hype and left me thinking ‘what was the point of that?’ Too many things were left unexplained, and it seemed to me as though the author was piling tragedy upon tragedy just to create some feeling of drama and excitement.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is very well written. That may be as far as I can go with good things to say about it. The narrator is a very unlikeable character, and as much as I appreciate the skill that went into creating this character, this did not make me like the book.

I felt quite personally let down by Smashed by Koren Zailckas. I thought it was going to offer me a new perspective on young women and their drinking/partying habits. I thought it was going to rewrite the cultural narrative of girls only getting drunk to prove something, to cope with something, and never because they are human beings with a mind of their own who may sometimes choose to drink because they enjoy it. It went some way to discussing these ideas, but always fell short. Although I in no way want to belittle her experiences and how she is affected by them, it seemed to me that Zailckas takes herself too seriously, is very preachy, and believes that what goes on inside her mind is the same thing that goes on in the mind of every other woman who likes a drink. I did like some of the things she had to say about how girls having fun are viewed by society and by the male gaze, however.

What has your year in books been like?

Are you going to set yourself any reading challenges in 2012? I’m considering making myself read one book from my never-ending pile of charity shop books every time I buy a new one. Kind of like a one in, one out policy!

Read, reading, to read

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The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing. Despite having started three other books, I went over the road to my friend’s house and discovered that they a) had made a homebrew which was very nice and b) had an extensive collection of books including every novel by Doris Lessing. Even though I didn’t exactly love Memoirs of a Survivor I was quite blown away by seeing all these books and just had to borrow one. My friend gave me The Fifth Child and said it was her favourite.

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I’m currently being a bit of an idiot and reading two books at once. I hate doing it because I don’t give my full attention to either book and then I end up reading slower than usual, and not enjoying the books as much as I otherwise would. Also I think it reminds me of reading for uni. The two I’m reading are A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Beauty Story by Luke Jennings. The first is really good but quite hard to read at points; the second is okay but I don’t think I know what’s going on yet, and I just read the worst sex scene in a book ever.

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Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and The Medici Secret by Michael White.

  • Tell me what you’ve read/are reading/are going to read!
  • How do you feel about reading more than one book at once?
  • Do you cringe at sex scenes in books sometimes? I don’t usually, unless it’s completely out of place, but this one was simply awful.