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Another year of reading flashes by…

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…and truly I don’t quite know where 2016 has gone but it many ways I’m not sorry to see the back of it. Despite the political shenanigans and the sad departures plus the ever-shifting world situation, I *have* managed to read a lot, which has helped me keep on an even keel. It’s very hard to pick favourites, but I thought I would run through a few highlights from the books and authors I’ve spent time with in 2016.

Golden Age Crime

trent 1st

I’ve read quite a bit of this type of book in 2016, and it *is* one of my long-term favourite genres. I started the year with a particularly wonderful example, “Trent’s Last Case” by E.C.  Bentley which was a real treat; and ended 2016 dipping into some wonderful British Library Crime Classics. In many ways, there’s never been a better time for rediscovering past and lost Golden Age Crime treasures and I expect to encounter more lovely titles in 2017.

M Train by Patti Smith

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Smith is another long-term obsession of mine, and reading her memoir “M Train” at the start of the year was wonderful. An inspirational woman and artist, she weaves tales out of her life experience, writing about the loss of her husband, her return to performing, her everyday rituals and routines, the act of creation and the writers and artists important to her. A fabulous book.

The Embezzlers by Valentin Kataev

My copy does not, alas, have this lovely dustjacket...

My copy does not, alas, have this lovely dustjacket…

Another recent discovery is this Russian author, and I’ve read several of works over the last year or so – short stories, a memoir and this wonderful satirical novel from the 1920s. That decade was a good one for Soviet writing, before the iron grip of Soviet Realism took hold, and this book tells a madcap story of a pair of accidental embezzlers and their drunken progress around Russia. It’s very funny, but like all satire is subtly critical of the regime and the Russian people. Kataev’s a much neglected author in my view, and I intend to read more of his work in 2017.

The Testament of Vida Tremayne/The Gingerbread Wife by Sarah Vincent

vida trmayne

I am notoriously picky when it comes to modern writing, but I had some good experiences with new works this year, and pretty much all with books written by women authors. Special mention needs to go to Sarah Vincent as her two books are definitely among my favourites this year. “The Testament of Vida Tremayne” was a gripping and intriguing take on the mother-daughter dynamic – with a puma thrown in for good measure! It was one of those unputdownable reads, and her short story collection “The Gingerbread Wife” was a very strong one, with each story memorable and individual. Her women characters are believable, her plots and stories excellent, and I highly recommend her!

The 1938 and 1947 Clubs

1947-club-pink

Simon at Stuck in a Book came up last year with the wonderful idea of us co-hosting a week of reading books from a particular year, and we’ve done three so far – all getting increasingly popular and throwing up a wonderful variety of works! The two years we read from in 2016, 1938 and 1947, had some particularly good novels and I haven’t read a dud in either week I think. We’re going to focus on 1951 next time, so be sure to join in! 🙂

Virginia Woolf

woolf orlando recollections

Thanks to the prompting of HeavenAli’s wonderful #Woolfalong, I have returned to reading Virginia Woolf big time this year and it’s been a fabulous and rewarding experience. I was able to re-read “Between the Acts”, “Orlando” and “Jacob’s Room”, all of which I hadn’t picked up for nearly 35 years. I also read for the first time “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”, a wonderful collection of reminiscences of the author, which became quite an emotional experience. I’ve always felt a really strong connection with Woolf and returning to her works this year has been really special. Let’s hope I can keep the impetus up next year.

Sci Fi (particularly Soviet!)

lem star diaries

I have been dipping back into science fiction this year; starting with an excellent collection of M. John Harrison short stories early on, as well as some fascinating works by Stanislaw Lem, “Aelita” and a variety of short stories by Soviet women authors. It’s a long time since I’ve read so much sci fi (I was a much bigger consumer of the genre in my younger years) and I’ve enjoyed all of the thought-provoking pieces I’ve read. Again this is a type of reading I want to continue in the new year (and I do have another Lem lurking on the TBR!)

Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson

kolymsky-heights

I’ve read a few thrillers this year, and the stand out is probably this recently rediscovered title. The fact that much of the action was set in Siberia could well have been a bit of a draw, but the book was a great read; exciting, action packed and full of twists and turns, it was another one of those titles I just couldn’t put down. I enjoyed Eric Ambler very much too, and fortunately have his “Mask of Dimitrios” lurking as well!

Victor Serge

midnight

I *have* read a lot of Russians this year, of course – so what’s new, you might ask? Well, my discovery of the work of Victor Serge has been something rather special. I first read his “Conquered City” back in 2012 and it was mentioned in my round up of that year. It took me until 2016 to return to his work, and I was knocked out by “The Case of Comrade Tulayev” and “Midnight in the Century”. Serge had a fascinating life, and as I felt compelled to pick up several of his books on a visit to London, I still have plenty left on the TBR.

Other Russians

1917Yes, I *have* read a lot of Russians – and honourable mentions must go to Teffi, Dostoevsky, Babel, the 1917 Anthology, Saltykov-Shchredrin, Sergei Dovlatov, Kirill Bulychev, Nabokov, Mayakovsky, Gaito Gazdanov… Well, I could go on and on, couldn’t I? (and thank goodness for translators…)

***

Those are some of the highlights of the year, but I need to mention one undertaking from 2016 about which I have mixed feelings. I set out to re-read Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” sequence in the company of several ladies from the Virago Modern Classics LibraryThing group. I had high expectations for the read, as I had good memories from my first experience with them decades ago. However, I have fallen behind with the books, and I find myself having a different and perhaps more critical reaction. I think I *do* read more deeply nowadays, which may have coloured my view; but I’m finding that, although there are passages of great beauty and insight in the books, there are also frustrations. Certainly Richardson makes few concessions to her reader, and I think that’s a problem at the end of the day – if you don’t communicate, you kind of lose the point of your writing, and there are plenty of times when all of us reading Richardson have been very lost. So I *will* finish the books in the new year, but my admiration of Dorothy Richardson’s writing is now tempered with a lot more criticism…

Putting that aside, I *have* had a very wonderful reading year – here’s to a 2017 full of books of all shapes and sizes and varieties and subjects! 🙂

Reads of the Year (possibly!)

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With the madness of Christmas receding a little, I thought I’d catch my blogging breath and try to put together a post on my favourite books of the year. It’s a hard thing to do, as looking back over the list I’ve kept of this year’s reading, there are so many wonderful volumes I’ve enjoyed. So I’ll probably summarise a little, but here are my thoughts about my favourite literary bits of 2014!

The Russians

russian lit week

No reading year of mine would be complete without some of my favourite Russian authors, and 2014 was a bumper one! As well as Dostoevsky’s long and involving “The Idiot“, I also lost myself in Bely’s “Petersburg”, a huge, impressionistic masterpiece. But there were also shorter works – newly translated gems from Teffi and Gaito Gazdanov, as well as previously unavailable treats from old favour Bulgakov and newer favourite Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. I have plenty more Russians on Mount TBR – in fact, I could probably spend a good few years of the rest of my life reading only them! 🙂

European authors

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-B0509-0010-006,_Christa_Wolf

I spent time with a good number of European authors this year, including several from Germany. Christa Wolf, a Virago author long on my must-read list, was a revelation when I finally encountered her “The Quest For Christa T.” Timur Vermes shocked and impressed with “Look Who’s Back” and Laurent Binet’s unusual take on the historical novel, “HHhH”, was very special. I read more of the wonderful Stefan Zweig and also discovered Antal Szerb‘s very individual, quirky storytelling. And of course I made my first inroads into Proust, making my way through the first two volumes of his mammoth sequence.

Georges Perec

lifeperec

I guess Perec might well be my favourite discovery of the year. His writing is individual, brilliant, thought-provoking and very, very special. After being knocked out by “Life: A User’s Manual” early in the year, I went on to read several more of his books. All are different, all are excellent and none have disappointed me. I wish I’d discovered Perec earlier…

The North by Paul Morley

morley

Another chunkster – a huge, personal, absorbing and idiosyncratic book about what the north is and what it means to be a northerner by one of my favourite ever writers, Paul Morley. I guess you’d class it as non-fiction – I didn’t read a lot of that genre this year, but The North was probably enough on its own!

Rediscovering my Roots

lanark

Well, sort of. “Lanark” by Alasdair Gray is a very Scottish book and its epic, inventive and unconventional narrative really hooked me. One of those reads I couldn’t put down!

A Special Mention

The authors looking very cool!

“Where There’s Love, There’s Hate” by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo was a short but exceptionally entertaining read, parodying the classic crime genre beautifully but with hidden depths. I wish the authors had written more in this vein!

I could go on and on – looking back I’ve been lucky enough to read some *amazing* books this year – but these are the ones that stand out and strike me most. Let’s hope 2015’s reading is just as wonderful! 🙂

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