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January 2020 TBR

A New Year and a new decade too. Lots to read this month the start of the annual Good Reads reading challenge. I have set mine at 190  again, and just need to crack on with it.

I also run a group on Good Reads where I design and set an annual challenge for the members. This year it is Dusty Shelf Bingo and the bingo grid for books to select for this is below. Just selecting the book that I want to read for this list is great fun. Will post about this more in a week or so.

Anyway onto my TBR for this month. I am hoping to make these a little more focused based on my reading intentions here.

Edward Stanford Adventure Travel Shortlist

I am judging this shortlist in early February, but want to get them read ASAP

From The Lion’s Mouth: A Journey Along the Indus – Iain Campbell

The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan and the Climbing Life – Mark Synnott

Where There’s A Will – Emily Chappell

Journeys in the Wild: The Secret Life of a Cameraman – Gavin Thurston

There are two more on the list but I have already read them:

Outpost – Dan Richards

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race – Lara Prior-Palmer


Review Copies

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins

A Good Neighbourhood -Therese Anne Fowler

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novrik

Red Thread: On Mazes and Labyrinths – Charlotte Higgins

Stealing With The Eyes – Will Buckingham

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

Incandescent – Ann Levin

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry – Fred Pearce

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili


Library Books

This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History – Esther Rutter

The Edge Of The World: A Cultural History Of The North Sea And The Transformation Of Europe – Michael Pye

The Ice House – Tim Clare

Pie Fidelity: In Defence Of British Food – Pete Brown

Defender – G X Todd

On The Marsh: A Year Surrounded By Wildness And Wet – Simon Barnes


Challenge Books

The Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett



Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad – Alice Oswald

Threads – Nathan Evans


Science Fiction

Before Mars – Emma Newman


I think that will do!

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

4.5 out of 5 stars

This short, sweet and amusing collection of children stories from the master that is Terry Pratchett all have a Christmas or winter theme. There are some great little stories too, some are quite funny, some a little subversive and all have that bottomless depth from his imagination.

Not quite as good as his adult books, which have a darker and subtler humour, but huge fun none the less. These do show the vast scope of his imagination though and there are certain details in here that were developed much more in the Discworld series.

Great fun, easy to read and gives children that little opening into the magical worlds that he has created. Have passed it onto my son to read now.

The Twelve Birds of Christmas by Stephen Moss

4 out of 5 stars

Most people know the carol, Twelve Days of Christmas with it’s rather exuberant and expensive gift list from one lover to another. Six of the gifts given are birds, from the partridge at the beginning of the song, to the swans, midway through. However, Stephen Moss wondered if the other gifts were also birds and set about researching into the possible species that could represent the remaining gifts.

For example, for the present of Five Gold Rings, he has discovered that the Yellowhammer has an old Scottish folk-name of ‘yoldring’. It is this and similar corruptions to our language that have meant that he has been able to take an educated guess as to what the other birds might have been in the song. So for twelve drummers drumming he has chosen woodpeckers and for ten lords a-leaping, cranes were chosen.

This is another well-written book from one of our top nature writers in the country. I liked the way that he has used a little artistic licence to pick a suitable bird for the non-avian related gifts in the song. The logic behind these choices is clearly explained and the way that he uses anecdotes from folklore and history to expand on his chosen bird for each line in the song. A great little book which would suit anyone with an interest in nature or wants a Christmas themed book with a little more depth.

2020 Reading Intentions

I have been reviewing what I wrote for my 2019 reading intentions and seeing how many I failed at!  Did manage a lot of them, but not all. I have written about that in my year in review here. That said I still like to have some broad goals that I can aim for, or most likely shuffle broadly in the direction of. And here they are:


My Own Books

Sarah has said again that I have too many books piled up (Tsundoko) around the house. (Note to self, try not to buy so many books). Did manage to read 25 of my own books, but that isn’t enough. That said,  I am allowed to get some more bookshelves!  So that is a new year project to sort that all of that out and unhaul some books. I am looking forward to having all my Little Toller and Eland books together in one place too!


Review Copies

According to my spreadsheet, I have 124 outstanding review copies to read. Even though there is a lot of books on the two shelves that I have for them,  I’m not sure if this is right as I counted way less than that on the shelf!!! I am grateful for every book I receive through the post from publishers, so thank you to you all. I fully intend to read and review as many of those as possible as soon as I can, but also see the blogging post below.


Library Books

As I said last year, these places are a precious resource. Sadly, our present government seems hell-bent on eradicating them from our cities, towns and villages. I still have too many library books out, and will still keep getting them out too. The author gets a small amount every time a book of theirs is borrowed and for the reader, most books are free or have a nominal reservation fee. I am fortunate that I have two library cards, and I am going to try not to max each one out…


Female and BAME Authors

In 2018, 35% of my reading was by female authors. Had intended to raise that for 2019, but have dropped back to 33%. So will be aiming for 40% in 2020. I want around 5% of my reading to be  BAME authors too.



Last year I managed to read a poetry book each and every month and sometimes read more than one. I like poetry, even though I don’t always get it, so am going to try to read around two books a month in 2020.


Literary Awards

Will be aiming to read all of these again (Next year I might get to the Baillie Gifford list as I didn’t this year)

Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards (I am judging the Adventure Travel next year)


Royal Society

Baillie Gifford

Arthur C Clarke


The World From My Armchair Challenge

Managed to read 13 more books for this long term challenge bringing my total read so far to 44. I have been acquiring books for it though, and have a further 41 books on various bookshelves scattered around the house to read for other countries. I am still looking for travel books (or non-fiction) that are set in or pass through these countries, below. So if you know any, please do let me know.

Antigua and Barbuda
Brunei Darussalam
Capo Verde
Central African Republic
Persian Gulf
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sao Tome and Principe
Trinidad and Tobago
Balearic Sea
Ligurian Sea
Alboran Sea



Managed two more from the Discworld series, but these are still to go:

The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky
Unseen Academicals
I Shall Wear Midnight
Raising Steam
The Shepherd’s Crown

Please feel free to pester me to remind me that need to keep reading them.


Science Fiction

Only read two (yes two) science fiction books this year which I am ashamed of really as I had high hopes of getting more than that read. Aiming to read at least one a month.



I have always been a reader first and foremost and I get immense pleasure from reading and talking about books. It was reading that introduced me to NB magazine and the blog came off the back of that. After a lot of thought, I have decided that I am going to change the way that I am blogging. I am going to still be reading and reviewing on here and Good Reads and so on, but will be drastically reducing the number of review copies that I request as I can’t keep up.  I am still happy to receive a book if a publisher or publicist still wishes to send them to me, but will not guarantee when I will get to read it. Instead, I have decided that I will either get the newly released books in 2020 from the library or buy them myself to read as and when I can. I will still take part in Blog Tours, but only a maximum of once a month as I don’t always like reading to a deadline.


So there we have it, some changes and evolution from last years intentions as my priorities have changed.

What are your reading intentions?

The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham

3.5 out of 5 stars

America has its hobos, and the UK has always had its tramps; men who walked the lanes and roads of our country. Graham sees these as vagabonds and outlaws. What he considers as tramping is a gentle and meditative style of walking that you take as much time as you need to enjoy the walk and you are  friend of society, a seeker of the unexpected and someone who travels light.

Know how to meet your fellow wanderer, how to be passive to the beauty of nature and to be active to its wildness and its rigour. Tramping brings one to reality

If you are considering taking to the lanes of the UK, then Graham has lots of advice for you. There are chapters on what boots to wear, carrying money, lighting a fire, drying off after rain, what to carry in a knapsack, the tobacco to take and that the book to take when walking should be one that you are just on the cusp of making your own.

From day to day you keep your log, your day-book of the soul and you may think at first that it is a mere record of travel and facts; but something else will be entering into it, poetry, the new poetry of your life

It is a book very much of its time, but then it was first published in 1927. Some of the advice isn’t relevant now, but as you read it you can find gems that still are relevant to walking and enjoying the outside world today. Things like, enjoy the time taken and not concern yourself with the distance covered, tramping is about earning happiness not money and the less you spend the more you will experience.  I thought it was a charming little book and I really love the endpapers too which are reproductions of his notebooks. Mostly it is a reminder that it is often the journey that matters more than the destination.

My Take on Book Lists

A couple of times a year a list of books appears that someone else thinks that you need to have read to have become a complete reader or person or something else. The latest one was on the BBC a few weeks ago and was called The 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. The link is here for those that want to go and see how many they have read.

The premise behind this latest one was to have a list of novels that have in some way affected or had some impact on that particular group of readers that compiled the list. I thought it was an interesting selection, but as with a lot of the others that are published, it did feel like a list of books that others feel you ought to read rather than books that someone else genuinely loved. So I thought, how difficult is this to do?

It turns out actually more difficult than I thought. Mostly because narrowing it down to 100 is hard. Really hard.

I thought long and hard about which authors to include and then which of their books were my favourites. I have tried to include one each of their books in each of the categories that I selected, but so easily could have of included more (ok, in some cases all of them).

So why these books?

Well, there are a variety of reasons that I have chosen these titles. There are books in this list that I loved when I first read them, there are books that helped me discover a particular genre or subject. Some have been transformational in their own way, opening my eyes to a new way of thinking, but most are here because I think that they are brilliant works written by some of the best authors.

I am not going to suggest that you must read these. I am very much of the mind that anyone should impose their reading tastes on anyone else. What I would like you to do, though is give a few of these a go, or use this list to find out about these and other authors whose writing might spark your interest or curiosity.



A Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh Fermor

To a Mountain in Tibet – Colin Thubron

A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle

Tequila Oil – Hugh Thomson

French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France – Tim Moore

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge – John Gimlette

A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing Solo Across the Indian Ocean – Sarah Outen

An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan – Jason Elliot

Old Glory: An American Voyage – Jonathan Raban

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland – Gretel Ehrlich

Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran – Lois Pryce

Around India in 80 Trains – Monisha Rajesh

Bearback: The World Overland – Pat Garrod


Natural History

Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie

Waterlog – Roger Deakin

Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

Crow Country – Mark Cocker

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox

Turning – Jessica J. Lee

Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature – Chris Yates

The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland – John Lewis-Stempel

The Running Sky: A Bird-Watching Life – Tim Dee

Bird Therapy – Joe Harkness

Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey



Edgelands – Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts

Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach – Jean Sprackland

Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place – Benjamin Myers

Four Fields – Tim Dee

On the Marshes – Carol Donaldson

Limestone Country – Fiona Sampson

This Luminous Coast – Jules Pretty



Stig of the Dump – Clive King

Swallowdale – Arthur Ransome

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend

Volcano Adventure – Willard Price

Asterix – René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo

Comet in Moonminland – Tove Jansson



Patrick Leigh Fermor – Artemis Cooper

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson

The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry

Gavin Maxwell: A Life – Douglas Botting

Life at Walnut Tree Farm – Rufus Deakin & Titus Rowlandson

Stargazing – Peter Hill



The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carré

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

Reamde – Neal Stephenson

The Gallows Pole – Benjamin Myers

Lanny – Max Porter

Elmet – Fiona Mozley


Science Fiction

Consider Phlebas – Iain M Banks

Eon – Greg Bear

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The City & the City – China Miéville

Pattern Recognition – William Gibson

Redrobe – Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Embers of War – Gareth L Powell


Books & Bookshops

Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club – Robin Ince

Stuff I’ve Been Reading – Nick Hornby

The Bookshop Book – Jen Campbell

The Bookshop That Floated Away – Sarah Henshaw

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life – Andy Miller

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co – Jeremy Mercer

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books – Tim Parks

The Gifts of Reading – Robert Macfarlane

The Book Smugglers Of Timbuktu : The Race To Reach The Fabled City And The Fantastic Effort To Save Its Past – Charlie English

The Diary Of A Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Jacob’s Room Is Full Of Books: A Year Of Reading – Susan Hill



SBS: The Inside Story of the Special Boat Service – John Parker

Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: The Most Notorious Double Agent of World War II – Ben Macintyre

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity – Philippe Sands

Vesuvius: The Most Famous Volcano in the World – Gillian Darley

Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox – Victoria Finlay

Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey – Rachel Hewitt

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time – Dava Sobel

Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War – John Lewis-Stempel

The Story of England – Michael Wood



Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Alex’s Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics – Alex Bellos

Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial – Simon Singh

Ocean of Life. How Our Seas are Changing? – Callum Roberts

An Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The Atmosphere – Gabrielle Walker

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet – Mark Lynas

Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour – Philip Ball

Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life – Richard Cohen



Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Guards, Guards – Terry Pratchett

Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

Spring – William Horwood

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

Perdido Street Station – China Miéville

Magician – Raymond E. Fiest



Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe – Helena Drysdale

The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language – Mark Forsyth

Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower?: A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon – Steven Poole

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words – Paul Anthony Jones

The Gift Of The Gab: How Eloquence Works – David Crystal

Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language – Bill Bryson


Other Books

Passage – Andy Goldsworthy

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

Just My Type – Simon Garfield

Paper: An Elegy – Ian Sanson

Stanza Stones – Simon Armitage

Envisioning Information – Edward Tufte

Are You Dave Gorman? – Dave Gorman

Everything Bad is Good For You – Steven Johnson


So to answer the question, that I often get asked: what is your favourite book? It is probably one of these above, or it could be another that I haven’t quite remembered as you have put me on the spot.

The sharp-eyed of you that have made it to the bottom of the list and not nodded off, will notice that there isn’t exactly 100 books in here. And that is the point really, constraining yourself to a particular number for no apparent reason isn’t that helpful in the end. It doesn’t matter if your list of favourite books has 5 or 25 or 125 books on it, the important thing is that they are your favourites and have some personal significance to you.

What do you think of these lists of books?

Would any of these appear on your list?

Let me know what you think below.

2019 Book Stats

This past year has been my best ever for reading and I finished 204 books. This was 4 more than last year. and 14 ahead of my Good Reads Target. So here are my stats for the last years reading.

My pages read was 51495 in total, and my monthly average of books was 17, just ahead of last years, 16.7. This broke down into these monthly totals:

January – 20

February – 17

March – 16

April – 17

May – 21

June – 17

July – 17

August – 16

September – 17

October – 16

November – 17

December – 13

The split of books read

Male Authors – 136

Female Authors – 68 i.e. 33%

This was 2% down on last year’s reading

Review Copies  – 90 (last year was 109)

Library Books – 89 (last year was 73)

Own Books– 25 (last year was 18) I still really need to read more of my own books that I have bought.


Non-Fiction – 160 – 78%

Fiction – 29 – 14.5%

Poetry – 15 – 7.5%


Stars Awarded:

5 Stars – 16 Books
4.5 Stars – 20 Books
4 Stars – 71 Books
3.5 stars – 51 Books
3 stars – 34 Books
2.5 Stars – 9 Books
2 Stars – 3 Books
1.5 stars 0 Books
1 stars – 0 Books



I use a spreadsheet to keep a note of the types and genres of books that I read. There are detailed below:

Genre Number Read
Travel 40
Fiction 22
Natural History 21
Memoir 16
Poetry 16
Science 15
Miscellaneous 8
Landscape 7
Fantasy 5
History 4
Britain 4
Woodlands 4
Politics 4
Books 3
Humour 3
Biography 3
True Crime 2
Gardening 2
Science Fiction 2
Psychology 2
Photography 2
Food 2
Mental Health 2
Cycling 1
Engineering 1
Weather 1
Economics 1
Language 1
Architecture 1
Art 1
Navigation 1
Technology 1
Information Society 1
Maths 1
Sport 1
Behavioural Economics 1
Spying 1
Families 1



These are the number of books read by each publisher. Bloomsbury were top last year too.

Publisher Number of books
Bloomsbury 11
Faber & Faber 10
Unbound 10
Jonathan Cape 9
Eland 9
Little Toller 7
Penguin 7
Elliott & Thompson 6
Canongate 5
AA Publishing 5
William Collins 5
Riverrun 4
Summersdale 3
Sandstone Press 3
Ebury Press 3
4th Estate 3
Gollancz 3
Simon & Schuster 3
Granta 3
W&N 3
Nicholas Brealey 3
Saraband 3
John Murray 2
Viking 2
Chatto & Windus 2
Transworld 2
Michael O’Mara Books 2
Ladybird 2
Corgi 2
Hodder & Stoughton 2
Oneworld 2
The Text Publishing Company 2
Hamish Hamilton 2
Bantam Press 2
Profile 2
Vintage 2
Harvill Secker 2
Head of Zeus 2
Atlantic 2
Picador 2
Fly on The Wall Press 1
Biteback Publishing 1
Quadrille 1
Octopus Books 1
Titan Books 1
Bradt Travel Guides 1
William Heinemann 1
Particular Books 1
Pan Macmillan 1
Harper Perenial 1
Eye Books 1
Penned in the Margins 1
Allen Lane 1
Abacus 1
Mayfly Press 1
Windmill 1
Chatto & Windas 1
Batsford 1
Square Peg 1
Brewers 1
Cajun Mutt Press 1
Profile Books 1
The Selkie Press 1
Quercus 1
Tinder Press 1
Random House 1
Arena 1
Alard Coles 1
Little Brown 1
Routledge 1
W.W. Norton 1
Headline 1
CB Editions 1
Bloodaxe Books 1
Yale 1
Sceptre Books 1
Eland 1
Hornet Books 1
Patrician Press 1
Sort of Books 1
Influx Press 1
Icon Books 1
Trapeze 1
Text Publishing 1
SilverWood Books 1
Thames & Hudson 1
The Bodley Head 1
Scribner 1
Platypus Press 1
Preface Publishing 1

Favourite Book Covers of 2019

These are my favourite covers of the books that I have read over the course of 2019. They are in no particular order, but the one at the bottom is my cover of the year. The way I see it, the cover of book has one job only and that is to be catching or attractive enough to make me want to pause, pick them up and then make me want to read it. In my opinion, all of these covers do that.

And my cover of the year has to be Underland. Like all of Stanley Donwood’s images it is just staggering

As I Walked Out Through Spain In Search Of Laurie Lee by P.D. Murphy

3.5 out of 5 stars

People are changed by events, some that are of their own making, some that are because of things that are happening around them. Back in the summer of 2012, Paul has been suffering from the fall out from his personal circumstances. He decides that he needs to get away and reset himself.

One of his heroes was the writer, Laurie Lee, who back in 1935 set out on a journey from England to Spain. He landed in Vigo and then walked across the centre of the country before turning right and heading South to the Mediterranean. His arrival in the country was just before the Civil war started and at the end of his walk, he was evacuated by a British Navy Ship. Lee was soon to be back, though, to fight in the civil war.

This was a book that he loved as a young man, so it seemed fitting to follow in the footsteps of his literary hero, find the places he stayed, and the bars he frequented. But mostly to walk those same paths and discover modern Spain for himself. But this journey is more than that, it is time to reflect on his personal life and face his own internal demons that threaten to overwhelm him and to mull over the walk that Lee undertook and the fairly unconventional life that he had.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is a book that weaves its subtle magic on you, revealing the pleasures and the pain of a country that was just about to descend into civil war. This book, that was written for the Laurie Lee centenary year, is his own eulogy and pilgrimage to the man. Murphy is not the only person to undertake a walk from a literary hero from the 1930s. Nick Hunt followed in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Walking the Woods and the Water, and whilst this is quite as good as that one, I thought it is still worth reading for an insight into modern Spain and a celebration of Lee’s seminal book.

This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev

3.5 out of 5 stars

The nations of the world always seem to be at war, if it is not a hot war, then it is a cold war, but now we seem to be in a virtual war. But how do you find the people who are behind the denial of service attacks, who are responsible for trolling those that decide to make a stand against the common views and the physical locations of the bot farms that have sprung up.

What is truth in this modern age of fake news and disinformation? It is like we are living in a reimagined version of 1984, and Pomerantsev is well placed to see what is happening. Originally from the Soviet Union, he was deported with his dissident parents, Igor and Lina and ended up living in the UK. The time that they spent there and the ‘truth’ that they were fed on a daily basis under that regime showed him just what a state could do to manipulate everything that we saw and heard. The Russians are now doing to the rest of the world what they have inflicted on their population for decades.

A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on. – Terry Pratchett

We may have the world at our fingertips thanks to Google, but how do you know what you are reading is true or not? The institutions that we once could trust have become sullied by accusations of fake news. Social media has become the echo chamber where people amplify these untruths and anyone attempting to make a stand against this is often drowned out in the noise generated by the trolls. To stand out in these places people take more and more extreme views. Truth is manipulated and twisted in ways that you could not imagine.

I thought his first book was slightly better written than this one, but that really does not underline the impact that this book should have on the wider discussions on political discourse and social media influence. The Bot and Troll farms that he mentions are just terrifying, not only in what they are doing at the moment but also their potential to disrupt the very foundation of our democracies. The West may have won the cold war but will it win the virtual war in cyberspace…

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