It’s that post-Christmas, pre-New Year lull where, replete with chocolate orange and too much Prosecco, jaded from one too many Facebook posts of Christmas trees, the mind starts wandering through the pages of the past twelve months, wondering where the hell it all went and if it was really as horrendous as your exhausted body is telling you.
So as I sit, under a blanket on the sofa, having lunched finely off tea and cold stuffing balls picked direct from the plate in the fridge, I have my book diary in front of me and it’s telling me exactly where most of my year went: in the pages of other lives.
A grand total of eighty nine (I think I did some other things this year too) books were devoured, poured over, considered, fretted about, put to one side, taken to bed and accidentally sat on. The dog trod on at least two, I dog-eared countless pages, and the Teen quietly plucked one (How to be a Woman) from my hands on the grounds that if I didn’t stop reading, I’d hyperventilate.
There was a blissful period in Autumn where every book I picked up seemed tinted with gold. They carried me superbly away from myself and I had to reluctantly tear my eyes away whenever the real world intruded. Interestingly, those six novels were all written by women. They challenged and enthralled in equal measure.
So here is my list of books that have made me laugh, weep, think, love and rage against the world (my favourites have links* go look them up, go read them…they’ll change your life, I promise):
January: Dracula, Unpleasantness at the Bellona, Eat Pray Love, The Brontes
February: Winters Bone, Jane Eyre, Gossip from the Forest, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon
March: Life After Life, A Walk in the Woods, An Italian Affair, Carpe Jugulem, Harnessing Peacocks
April: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Married Love, Pies and Prejudice
May: Possession, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, Johnny Reed’s Cat
June: Ted Hughes’ Letters, A Fair Maiden, Touchy Subjects, Making it Up, The Road Through the Wall, Extra-Virgin, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
July: Handful of Earth, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Neither Here nor There, Ordeal by Innocence, Fanny Hill, Taken at the Flood, A Pause Between Acts, Offshore
August: The Brontes (different author), Ammonites and Leaping Fish, Lunch in Paris, Murder on the Links, Fludd, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Family Album, A Book of Silence, Claudine and Annie, Nothing to be Frightened Of
September: The Chemistry of Tears, A Murder of Quality, An Education, No Fond Return of Love, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, How it all Began, As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning, The Thirteenth Tale, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Mom & Me & Me & Mom, Dear Life
October: Digging to America, Engleby, Killing at Badger’s Drift, To Love and be Wise, Singing Sands, A Shilling for Candles, Between Friends, Lasting Damage, I Feel Bad About My Neck, That Part was True
November: Miss Mapp, Aunt Margaret’s Lover, Don’t Tell Alfred, Burial Rites, The Tortoise and the Hare, Belman and Black, Love in a Cold Climate, We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, Stranger on a Train, Housekeeping, Another Life, Mapp & Lucia
December: Notes from a Small Island, It Could Happen to You, Queen Lucia, The New Moon with the Old, Lucia’s Progress, The Pure Gold Baby, How to be a Woman, Death on the Nile, Mystery in White, Strong Poison.
Taking this time to look back, I can see my predilection for inter-war genteel crime dramas, thoughtful women authors and the Brontes (like that was news to me) guided most of my choices. Currently by my side, I have the Penelope Fitzgerald biography, The London Train, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, The Years (it’s time I read more Woolf than Mrs. Dalloway), and Lost for Words. On my phone is a long list of books that I’ll track down throughout the year: as the Teen and I are discussing getting rid of the telly, and the library is within walking distance, I might actually manage to work my way through it.
So now I’m curious. What have you read this year that’s stayed with you, haunting your days? What have you gone around shouting about and pressing into the hands of nearest and dearest (or random strangers)? Or even, which book would you never touch again and would happily erase from memory?
*none of the links go through to an Amazon page. Seriously, go to a proper independent bookshop. Visit the library. Save these places from disappearing – lives are infinitely richer with them.