Category: Book Musings (Page 1 of 15)

April 2021 Review

We for a short month that ended up a really good month for reading. I didn’t get anywhere near the number of books that I wanted to read but did manage to clear another 17 from my TBR and had three, yes three five star reads. Mor on them at the bottom of the post.  And here they all are.

I read four books about Japan this month and first up is a translated book, Touring the Land of the Dead. It is two novellas by Maki Kashimada and translated by Haydn Trowell, one story is about a couple who have been surviving on his wife salary after he could no longer work. The second is about a family of four sisters who have always been close and then one finds a man and the bond is tested and loosened. Both slightly surreal in that very Japanese way.

I had heard a lot about, How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and had managed to get a copy via the library. I liked the premise of this book, that we are constantly distracted by all of modern life and Odell’s philosophy of how to resist it. In the end, it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

I am trying to read books that have a theme where possible and these three are on health. Stroke is a fairly obvious title, and it is the story about Ricky’s survival following a stroke that almost killed him. Sinéad Gleeson’s book won our Wellcome Prize Shadow Award last year, and these are a series of essays about the various and numerous health problems she has had. She is quite some writer too! Finally in this little section is How to Be Sad which is Helen Russell’s take on how to be sad properly, how to get through it and how to use that to enjoy the better times when they come.

         

Another theme and this time it is symbols. Hyphens & Hashtags is a wonderful little book about the characters that you find on keyboards and the second a wider look at symbols that we come across in our modern lives.

     

The first two of the six natural history book that I read in April, are The Spirit of the River by Declan Murphy and Save Our Species by Dominic Couzens & Sarah Edmunds. Murphy’s book is about the summer he spent watching the dippers and kingfishers in a local river and Couzens’ book is ways that we can practically help the endangered species in our country.

    

Gone is about the animals that we deliberately or accidentally chose not to help and are no longer with us. Michael Blencowe has written a fascinating tale of his search for their remains in museums around the world. Roger Morgan-Grenville has a thing about shearwaters and this rather good book is the story of his obsession with them.

   

Only read one poetry book this month. In a strange bit of book serendipity, Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott was mentioned in Constellations and it was going to be my next book to read. It is not a bad collection all about her mortality

My travel reading this month was all centred on Japan. First was Pico Iyer’s  A Beginner’s Guide To Japan, a series of though and muses about his life in that country. In Hokkaido Highway Blue, Will Ferguson decides to follow the cherry blossom from the South West of the Country right up to the northernmost island. He hitchhikes his way of getting to see the country and meet the people that are not on any tourist trail at all.

   

I have three Book of the Month for April. First is the sublime The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman which is her story about seeking the great bells by which the inhabitants of Edo, later called Tokyo tracked their lives by. Next is another obsession distilled down into a book, The Screaming Sky. Charles Foster doesn’t really do anything by halves and this is his musings on those masters of the air, Swifts.  Finally is Neil Ansell’s book about a place near me, The New Forest. Beautifully written as ever, he extolls the place and the natural world that manages to just cling on. Read all three.

       

So have you read any of these? Are there now any that you want to read? Let me know in the comments below.

May 2021 TBR

Another month passes and I suddenly realised that I haven’t decided what I am going to read for next month! Quickly shuffled around the spreadsheets and now have a list for May. Totally ambitious as ever, but I did read a fair amount in April. So here we go:

Finishing Off

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

 

BLOG TOUR

To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre – Victoria Bennett

Empire Of Ants – Suzanne Foitzik & Olaf Fritsche

 

Review Copies

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Reset – Ronald J. Deibert

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

The Future of You – Tracey Follows

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Born Digital – Robert Wigley

Fox Fires – Wyl Menmuir

Invisible Work – John Howkins

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

Finding True North – Linda Gask

Elites – Douglas Board

Trimming England – M.J. Nicholls

The Fugitives – Jamal Mahjoub

Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void – Ed. Mike Ashley

Slow Trains Around Spain – Tom Chesshyre

Westering – Laurence Mitchell

Much Ado About Mothing – James Lowen

Earthed A Memoir – Rebecca Schiller

Phosphorescence – Julia Baird

The Others – Raül Garrigasait

Burning The Books – Richard Ovenden

The Four Horsemen – Emily Mayhew

 

Library

Everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

On the Plain of Snakes – Paul Theroux

Notes From Deep Time – Helen Gordon

Sea People – Christina Thompson

Summer In The Islands – Matthew Fort

The Electricity Of Every Living Thing – Katherine May

 

Books to Clear

Battle of the Titans – Fred Vogelstein

Where My Heart Used to Beat – Sebastian Faulks

Prisioners of Geography – Tim Marshall

 

Poetry

Three this month as I only read one in April

Watery Through the Gaps – Emma Blas

To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre – Victoria Bennett

Door Into The Dark – Seamus Heaney

 

Challenge Books

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

 

Stanford Award

Without Ever Reaching the Summit – Paolo Cognetti

The Border – Erika Fatland Tr. Kari Dickson

Shadow City – Taran Khan

Travelling While Black – Nanjala Nyabola

Owls of the Eastern Ice – Jonathan C. Slaght

 

Science Fiction

Planetfall – Emma Newman

After Atlas – Emma Newman

I know it is quite a lot, but I am hoping to get to at least 18 – 20 of them

March 2021 Review

March felt more like a more normal month than previously. It was a good reading month, with three, yes three, books of the month. But, first some stats after reaching a quarter of the way through the year.

I have read 50 books and 13682 pages. Thirty-four of the authors were male and the remaining 16 were female (34%). I have read 23 review books, 12 library books and 15 of my own. I have read books from 34 different publishers so far.

The top three publishers are:

Eland – 4 books

Saraband – 2 books

Head of Zeus – 2 books

(in fact, there are 11 publishers with 2 books read so far)

The top three genres are:

Travel – 10 books

Fiction – 9 books

Poetry – 6 books

So on to the books that I read in March

Barn Club a combination of architecture and craft and the story of a barn being built from elm for his clients using volunteers. They help with the cutting of the wood and learnt about how to cut the wood to make a self-standing structure. I really liked it

I know it sounds odd, but I read five fiction books this month. Like Fado is a collection of short stories by Graham Mort that are thoughtful, but not always cheerful. Million-Story City  is a collection of writings by the late Marcus Preece pulled together by his friends and editors Malu Halasa & Aura Saxén. There are all sorts of things in here, graphic strips, music journalism and plays. If you like something a bit different then this might be one you’d like. I have been a big fan of the late John Le Carré and I am reading the one on my bookshelves to pass to my brother in law to make space for other books! Our Kind Of Traitor is his take on the way that Russian money is swirling around the world in legal and illegal schemes and how those at the very top of our country are influenced by it. Chilling stuff.

           

I had read Gabriel Hemery’s previous collection of short stories loosely about woods and tree and he offered me a review copy of this. It is a diverse collection again, some of which I liked more than others, but there were a couple of great stories inside. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell is a story of murder set in the 1920s and how it affected those for years after.

   

Notebook is Tom Cox’s latest book and it originated from the time that his bag was stolen with a precious notebook inside. There are various musings from his other notebooks. It is quite random, but also an insight as to how he creates his wonderful books. In Minature is Simon Garfield’s exploration into those that are fascinated about replicating the real world in tiny form. Really enjoyable read. The First of Everything is a huge list of all the things that you may of heard of and who invented or discovered them first. Not bad

       

If you want to know about how the birds that we see around us got their names from our language, their behaviour and those that travelled all around the world trying to find new species then Mrs Moreau’s Warbler by Stephen Moss is a good place to start.

Desert Air is a collection of poetry set in and about the deserts of the world drawn together by Barnaby Rogerson. It is a great little collection and pocket sized too.

Two of the travel books that I read this month were written about the same place at the same time but two guys who were there at the same time. It was interesting seeing how Gavin Young and Gavin Maxwell’s experiences overlapped in their books.

   

Humanity has a habit of mucking things up and leaving them. But what happens after they have been left? In Cal Flyn’s fascinating book, Islands Of Abandonment, she travels to these places to see how the natural world is claiming them back. Highly recommended.

And now for my three books of the month. I am a big fan of Stephen Moss’s writing and Skylarks with Rosie is his lockdown diary of the natural world that he sees in his garden and the loop that he walks around every day. Wonderful piece of writing. Springlines sadly is out of print now, but I managed to pick up a copy second hand. It is a wonderful collection of art and poetry by Clare Best and Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis. Finally is  The Book Collectors of Daraya a wonderful story of a few men who set about collecting books from the rubble of the town and making a library from them. Books helped them face the horrific bombing they were subject to on a daily basis. It is a wonderful story.

        

Any here that you have read?

Any here that you’d now like to read?

Let me know in the comments below.

April 2021 TBR

After posting a ridiculously long TBR for March I thought that I would have cleared a few off the list, but no, so some of these have rolled over from April (quite a few, please don’t count them!) So here we go again, equally long:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency – John Ferris

Lotharingia: A Personal History Of Europe’s Lost Country – Simon Winder

 

BLOG TOUR

None this month

 

Review Copies

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Stroke: A 5% Chance of Survival – Ricky Monhan Brown

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe: A Personal Frontline History -Peter Millar

Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society – Ronald J. Deibert

Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit – Philip Stephens

How to be Sad: Everything I’ve learned about getting happier, by being sad, better – Helen Russell

Touring the Land of the Dead – Maki Kashimada Tr. Haydn Trowell

The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st-Century Technology? – Tracey Follows

Finding True North: The Healing Power of Place – Linda Gask

Hyphens Hashtags*: *The stories behind the symbols on our keyboard – Claire Cock-Starkey

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption in an American City Justin Fenton

Born Digital: The Story of a Distracted Generation Robert Wigley

Fox Fires Wyl Menmuir

Invisible Work: The Hidden Ingredient of True Creativity, Purpose and Power John Howkins

Shearwater: A Bird, an Ocean, and a Long Way Home Roger Morgan-Grenville

The Circling Sky: On Nature and Belonging in an English Forest Neil Ansell

The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveals the Future of Our World Tim Marshall

The Spirit of the River: A Quest for the Kingfisher Declan Murphy

Finding True North: The Healing Power of Place Linda Gask

Gone: A Search For What Remains Of The World’s Extinct Creatures Michael Blencowe

 

Library

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan: Observations And Provocations – Pico Iyer

Constellations: Reflections From Life – Sinéad Gleeson

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time – Anna Sherman

Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Road Trip – Paul Theroux

 

Books to Clear

Symbols: A Universal Language- Joseph Piercy

Battle of the Titans – Fred Vogelstein

Where My Heart Used to Beat – Sebastian Faulks

 

Poetry

Watery Through the Gaps – Emma Blas

Of Mutability – Jo Shapcott

 

Challenge Books

From Rome to San Marino: A Walk in the Steps of Garibaldi- Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues- Will Ferguson

 

Stanford Award

The Winner was the book below! Didn’t get to read any of these in March sadly!

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul- Taran Khan

Without Ever Reaching the Summit- Paolo Cognetti

The Border – A Journey Around Russia: Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, … Finland, Norway and the Northeast Passage- Erika Fatland Tr. Kari Dickson

Travelling While Black- Nanjala Nyabola

Owls of the Eastern Ice: The Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl- Jonathan C. Slaght

 

Science Fiction

None this month; have you not seen all the books above ^^^

That is quite another list. I know that I am not going to get to them all. But I can dream

February 2021 Review

Compared to January that was a much faster month. I think the extra daylight helps. The only disadvantage with February is that there are only 28 days, so I only managed to get through 16 books from the huge TBR that I had set myself. That said there were some really good books in the ones that I read. So, here they are:

 

I really like most of the books that China Miéville has written, with The City and The City being an outstanding favourite. Un Lun Dun is his first children book that I have had on a shelf for ages and this month I read it. Really enjoyable with the imagination that he has, but it was a touch predictable plotwise.

   

I read two fiction books this month, the first was a family drama set in Ireland. The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Huges is about a family coming to term with financial losses after the crash and with the added dilemma of the request from a very ill parent. I was sent Sunny And The Wicked Lady by the lovely people at Salt. This is Alison Moore new children book. I don’t normally read these any more but it took no time at all to read this little adventure ghost story.

   

I really enjoyed Toast when I read it recently so thought I would read, Nigel Slater’s second foodie memoir, Eating for England. Thoroughly enjoyed it, but just felt it could have been better laid out. Also on the food theme is The Lost Orchard. THis is the story, with recipes naturally, of Raymond Blanc’s desire to create an orchard in Oxford. Not a bad book.

If you want a memoir about a life taken far too early, then I can recommend The Mahogany Pod by Jill Hopper. This is a tribute to her boyfriend of no time at all who passed far too early from cancer.

        

Botanical Curses and Poisons sounds like quite a morbid book, but thankfully Fez Inkwright manages to make plants that can kill an utterly fascinating subject. One of my favourite nature writers is Stephen Moss this was a book from a little while ago. It is following on from the great books, The Unofficial Countryside and Edgelands and is about the wild life that exists in the cracks. Great stuff. Nicholas Pyenson’s book is more academical and is about his passion, whales. Quite liked this, but there was the odd flaw here and there.

   

The two poetry books I read could not have been any more different Black Country by Liz Berry is about home life and How The Hell Are You? by Glyn Maxwell is more contemporary and political.

How Britain Ends – Gavin Esler Politics 4

I was sent this ages ago by Sandstone Press and they moved the publication date got moved back. Paul Braddon’s The Actuality is a dystopian science fiction thriller about an android who has been living in an apartment illegally. She has to flee when people realise that she is there and this is the story of her trying to escape to Europe.

    

I read wo travel books from the middle east that share a border Writing from Iran, Mirrors of the Unseen is Jason Elliot’s follow up to the spectacular Unexpected Light. Not quite as brilliant as that, in my opinion, this is still an excellent insight into that country. Moving over the border to Iraq, Wilfred Thesiger’s The Marsh Arabs is a travel classic and well worth reading.

My book of the month is the latest travelogue with recipes by Caroline Eden, Red Sands. She has a way of getting to the essence of the places that she is passing through, partly via the food, but mostly because she is a sensitive and receptive traveller.

Any of those take your fancy from this month?

March 2021 TBR

Blink and February has gone. I didn’t feel as long as January did. I think that the lengthening days helps. This time of year always makes me think of one of my favourite Kathleen Jamie quote:

Every year, in the third week of February, there is a day, or more usually a run of days, when one can say for sure that the light is back. Some juncture has been reached and the light spills into the world from a sun suddenly higher in the sky.

And it is true. You can sense the days getting longer, but then all of a sudden the days seem full of light and the promise of summer. If you haven’t read her books by the way, you really should do so. Anyway, you’re hopefully here about the books. Here is my totally ambitious plan for the books that I am intending on reading in March. I have split them into categories as usual, it helps me get my head around all the books that I am wanting to read.

Finishing Off (Still!)

The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Theisger

Mrs Moreau’s Warbler How Birds Got Their Names – Stephen Moss

Lotharingia: A Personal History Of Europe’s Lost Country – Simon Winder

A Reed Shaken By The Wind: Travels Among The Marsh Arabs Of Iraq – Gavin Maxwell

Return To The Marshes – Gavin Young

BLOG TOUR

The Notebook – Tom Cox

Review Copies

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate The World – Simon Garfield

Stroke: A 5% Chance of Survival – Ricky Monhan Brown

The First of Everything: A History of Human Invention, Innovation and Discovery – Stewart Ross

Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency – John Ferris

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe: A Personal Frontline History -Peter Millar

Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society – Ronald J. Deibert

Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit – Philip Stephens

Like Fado – Graham Mort

Million-Story City: The Undiscovered Writings of Marcus Preece – Marcus Preece (Malu Halasa & Aura Saxén Editors)

How to be Sad: Everything I’ve learned about getting happier, by being sad, better – Helen Russell

Touring the Land of the Dead – Maki Kashimada Tr. Haydn Trowell

Barn Club: A Tale of Forgotten Elm Trees, Traditional Craft and Community Spirit – Robert Somerville

The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st-Century Technology? – Tracey Follows

Finding True North: The Healing Power of Place – Linda Gask

Hyphens Hashtags*: *The stories behind the symbols on our keyboard – Claire Cock-Starkey

 

Library

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan: Observations And Provocations – Pico Iyer

Constellations: Reflections From Life – Sinéad Gleeson

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time – Anna Sherman

Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Road Trip – Paul Theroux

 

Books to Clear

Our Kind of Traitor- John Le Carré

Symbols: A Universal Language- Joseph Piercy

So Long, See You Tomorrow- William Maxwell

 

Poetry

Desert Air: Arabia, Deserts And The Orient Of The Imagination- Ed. Barnaby Rogerson

Springlines – Clare Best and Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis

 

Challenge Books

From Rome to San Marino: A Walk in the Steps of Garibaldi- Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues- Will Ferguson

 

Stanford Award

Without Ever Reaching the Summit- Paolo Cognetti

The Border – A Journey Around Russia: Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, … Finland, Norway and the Northeast Passage- Erika Fatland Tr. Kari Dickson

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul- Taran Khan

Travelling While Black- Nanjala Nyabola

Owls of the Eastern Ice: The Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl- Jonathan C. Slaght

 

Science Fiction

None this month; have you not seen all the books above ^^^

That is quite some list. There are a moderate number of shorter books, which will help, but still…

 

January 2021 Review

That was the longest January that I think I have ever experienced. It seemed to go on forever. Even though it went on for ages I didn’t read as much as I thought that I was going to either (story of my life). However, I did manage to read seventeen books and still have a lot to review (!!) and here they are:

This was shortlisted for the Edward Stanford Travel Memoir Book prize and I actually met Peter at the prize ceremony. Footnotes is his book about travelling around the UK in the company of some of his favourite writers. I really liked it and it made me think of which writers I would like to follow if I were to make a similar journey.

We are reaching various crises at the moment. Covid is the most immediate, but just because we are not looking at others at the moment, doesn’t mean that they haven’t gone away. One which hasn’t is climate change and in Enough, Cassandra Coburn explains the principles behind the Planetary Health Diet and how but making significant changes, we can help climate change. It is a very interesting book.

Rotherweird is the story about a part of England that was established back in Elizabethan times to hold Twelve children, gifted far beyond their years. 450 years on it is still bound by its unique set of laws. Learning about its history is banned, but there is a new guy in town who is there to uncover it for his own personal gain. It is a richly imagined story.

I read two fiction books this month, both set in different parts of our world. On Borrowed Time is set in Hong Kong and is set at the time of the handover from the UK back to China. Various storylines converge in this medium-paced thriller. A very different and when it was released controversial book is American Dirt. This is about a mother and son story of fleeing from a Mexican drug cartel and hoping that they can get to America.

    

Growing up in Northern Ireland in Derry during the worst of the troubles, Kerri had seen a lot of violence. She left there and vowed never to return again, but witnessing that had left a lot of baggage to lug around. It reached a point where it was almost too much. Thankfully it didn’t and her route back to where she is mentally today is the story in the beautifully written memoir.

Saving the World – Women by Paola Diana is a short and tautly written book about improving gender equality. She strongly argues the case for breaking the glass ceiling and having more women at the top of society

My two poetry books this month were The Martian Regress – J.O. Morgan and Postcolonial Love Poem – Natalie Dia. Both very different as the first is about a lone martian returning to Earth and the second is a richly imagined collection see from the perspective of an indigenous American.

   

I read two, yes two, science fiction books in January! Use of weapons is one of the few in the culture series that I hadn’t read until now. It is not my favourite in the series, but it is still enjoyable as Banks is true to form all the way through. The second is more of a thriller set on Mars, but unlike that other one, this felt much more plausible.

   

We are a long time dead and the way that we commemorate those that we have lost is the subject of Tomb With A View. Ross travels all over the UK find the stories on the stones. Highly recommended.

Two of the four travel book that I read this month came from the wonderful people at Eland. Time Among the Maya is about Ronald Wright’s time spent wandering the Yucatan peninsular looking for the magnificent structures that they left behind, but it is as much about the people that still inhabit those countries. The second was the reportage/travel book from Martha Gellhorn and the strong opinions that she has of the places she visits. Lastly is Gavin Young’s book, In Search of Conrad. In here he spends lots of time on boats chasing the shadows of Joseph Conrad by sea, land and river, visiting ports and islands, from Singapore to the Straits of Makassar.

       

I had two five star books in January. The first is Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez. This concerns how badly skewed almost everything is towards the male; be it car safety, phone sizes and computer algorithms. She writes clearly and with some passion about her subject. The second was the latest travel book by John Gimlette. In The Gardens of Mars, he takes us all around the fascinating island of Madagascar and back through its short and turbulent history.

   

Anyone read any of these? Or do you now want to read any of these now you’ve seen them? Let me know in the comments below.

February 2021 TBR

Well, that was possibly the longest January on record. But we made it through. No sign of lockdown easing at the moment, and I still have an enormous pile of books to read. So without further ado, here is my slightly ambitious TBR for February:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins

 

Blog Tour

Botanical Curses and Poisons – Fez Inkwright

 

Review Copies

How Britain Ends – Gavin Esler

The Mahogany Pod – Jill Hopper

The Actuality – Paul Braddon

Like Fado – Graham Mort

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Mrs Moreau’s Warbler – Stephen Moss

Sunny And The Wicked Lady – Alison Moore

 

Library Books

The Wild Laughter – Caoilinn Huges

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan – Pico Iyer

Constellations – Sinéad Gleeson

The Accidental Countryside – Stephen Moss

Red Sands – Caroline Eden

Spying on Whales – Nicholas Pyenson

The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman

Everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

The Lost Orchard – Raymond Blanc

On the Plain of Snakes – Paul Theroux

 

Challenge Books

Mirrors of the Unseen – Jason Elliot

The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Theisger

Eating For England – Nigel Slater

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

 

Poetry

How The Hell Are You? – Glyn Maxwell

Black Country – Liz Berry

 

Science Fiction

None this month as I read two (yes two!!) in January

My Books of 2020

That wasn’t really the year that any of us were expecting at all. As grim as it has been I have still found some respite within the pages of books. These 14 books are my top reads of the year

The first three on my list are by the wonderful author, Terry Pratchett. The first two are the first in the Tiffany Aching sub-series of Discworld and the final one is his take on a riotous football match in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He is still one of my favourite authors.

          

 

One of the books that were in the category that I was judging at the beginning of the year for the Stanfords Travel Writing prize was Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell. I did get to meet her there and she is modest and unassuming. It didn’t win the prize, that went to Rough Magic. However, this is one of the best and most intense cycling books that I have ever read.

Next on my best books of the year are four books from Eland. This publisher is one of my favourites as they plough on regardless unearthing the best travel books that have dropped off other publishers backlist. Two of them are set in World War 2 and are equally historical documents as well as the author’s reflection on the place that they working.

     

I am not sure that you would be able to recreate the journey that Nicolas Bouvier took now. Too many borders and conflict, but this is a snapshot on a world that seemed gentler and more tolerant. Brue Wannell is one of those people that we have fewer of these days. He was a traveller, linguist and Orientalist who knew so much about the history of the orient that he shared generously with all those that worked with him.

     

There are lots of books out there by cyclists and travellers who have been around the world for a variety of reasons, but this one by Stephen Fabes is one of the best that I have read. It is very different from Emily Chappell’s book as he doesn’t really rush, but takes time to see the people and places he is travelling through.

It is not often that we get a new young talent emerge onto the writing science, by Dara McAnulty is one who has taken the nature writing genre by storm this year, winning several prizes and showing that he is going to making an impact in years to come. Tim Dee is an author who has been around for many years and his latest, Greenery, continues his ability to form the same words that others use into wonderful forms.

     

Lev Parikian is a conductor who has rediscovered the natural world in his middle age. His first books, Why Do Birds Disappear was hilarious and Into The Tangle Bank continues that humourous way of looking a the natural world. On a completely different scale is Roy Vickery’s vast tome about the folklore and names and uses of British and Irish plants. It took me ages to read it, but it is a gold mine of a book that you can dip into again and again.

     

My book of 2020 is something very different,  Unofficial Britain by Gareth Rees. We have a lot of history in this country and if you know where and how to look you can decipher the lumps and bumps in the landscape. What Gareth Rees does in this book is to get us to look at those places that you would normally ignore and shows how others are using them for their own particular ritual elements. It is a heady mix of folklore, history, landscape and cityscape writing and all built on the foundation of psychogeography.

 

2020 Book Stats

I finished 190 books in 2020, there were several reasons for dropping from my 2019 total; really busy at work and distracted by what seems to be even more pressing world events at the moment. I did reach my Good Reads Target though.  Here are my stats for the last years reading.

My total pages read was 49347 and my monthly average of books was 17, just ahead of last years, 16.7. This broke down into these monthly totals:

January – 17

February – 16

March – 16

April – 16

May – 16

June – 16

July – 18

August – 17

September – 15

October – 15

November – 16

December – 12

 

The split of books read

Male Authors – 131

Female Authors – 59 i.e. 31% (This was 2% down on last year’s reading)

 

Review Copies – 94 (last year was 90)

Library Books – 42 (last year was 89)

Own Books– 54 (last year was 25)

 

Non-Fiction – 141 – 74.5%

Fiction – 25 – 13%

Poetry – 24 – 12.5%

 

Stars Awarded:

5 Stars – 14 Books
4.5 Stars – 21 Books
4 Stars – 79 Books
3.5 stars – 41 Books
3 stars – 27 Books
2.5 Stars – 4 Books
2 Stars – 3 Books
1.5 stars 0 Books
1 star – 0 Books

 

Genres

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

Travel 38
Natural History 26
Poetry 23
Memoir 13
Fiction 12
Science 9
Science Fiction 7
Fantasy 6
Landscape 5
History 5
Environmental 4
Miscellaneous 4
Language 3
Gardening 2
Britain 2
Maths 2
Politics 2
Biography 2
Craft 2
Psychology 2
Maps 1
Spying 1
Technology 1
Sport 1
Humour 1
Social History 1
Cricket 1
Reportage 1

Publishers

These are the number of books read by each publisher. The top eight are all independent publishers. Bloomsbury were top last year.

Eland 12
Faber & Faber 9
Elliott & Thompson 8
Canongate 8
Granta 7
Bloomsbury 6
Fly on the Wall Press 6
Little Toller 6
John Murray 6
Jonathan Cape 5
Saraband 5
Penguin 5
Picador 4
William Collins 4
Haus Publishing 4
Icon Books 3
Chelsea Green Publishing 3
Allen Lane 3
Cinnamon Press 3
Sandstone Press 3
Corgi 3
Penned In The Margins 2
Vintage 2
Melville House 2
Hamish Hamilton 2
September Publishing 2
Salt 2
Head of Zeus 2
Michael O’Mara Books 2
Bradt 2
Modern Books 2
Gollancz 1
Jo Fletcher 1
W&N 1
The Westbourne Press 1
Summersdale 1
The Bodley Head 1
Golden Antelope Press 1
Myriad Editions 1
Carcanet 1
Duckworth 1
Birlinn Books 1
Dey Street 1
Chroma Editions 1
Headline 1
Profile Books 1
Michael Joseph 1
Arcadia Books 1
Little, Brown 1
Batsford Books 1
Headline 1
Wildings Press 1
Stella Maris 1
Titan Books 1
Sphere 1
Portobello 1
Allen & Unwin 1
Seven Dials 1
4th Estate 1
Pelagic Publishing 1
Sort of Books 1
Twist It Press 1
Reaktion Books 1
Doubleday 1
Inkandescent 1
Pursuit Books 1
Wood Wide Works 1
Pan Macmilliam 1
Uniform Books 1
Unbound 1
Longbarrow Press 1
Octopus Publishing 1
Tor 1
Fitzcarraldo Editions 1
Influx Press 1
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