Friday, 1 January 2016

Reading in 2015

I reread way less than last year, and a bit less on kindle, but rather more non-fiction. I think I probably read a bit too much again -- a lot of what I read was pretty meaningless filler, but then it's so hard to work out what will be good. Next year I think I will aim for between 150 and 180 books.
  • Total number of books read: 211
  • Gender of authors of each book: 94 male, 111 female, 4 not sure, 2 anthologies
  • Number of non-fiction: 39 (18.5%)
  • Number of re-reads: 28 (13.3%)
  • Number read on Kindle: 68 (32.2%)
The stand-out things of the year were Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan books, and Jane Smiley's ongoing Last Hundred Years trilogy. I read the first three Ferrante books in January after they got so many rave reviews on the Millions End-of-Year summaries for 2014, then pre-ordered the fourth one out of impatience. I don't know of any other portrayal of female friendship that's so unsentimental and true. I've always been a big fan of Jane Smiley, but I think her Last Hundred Years trilogy may be her best work. I read Some Luck and Early Warning this year, and Golden Age is out in paperback next year. They tell the story of an American family from the Depression to the near future, and they are really strikingly good. Every now and then I start reading a book and realise that I am in safe hands -- I remember feeling that when reading Wolf Hall and The Children's Book -- and I felt the same way when reading these books.

There hasn't been anything this year that's felt like an amazing find, though. I enjoyed Astray by Emma Donoghue, a collection of short stories based on American historical documents. K.J. Parker's serial Two of Swords is very good -- it tells the story of a war from lots of different angles in monthly installments. I liked Claire North's three Gameshouse novellas, and Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. Perhaps the most remarkable book was Sarah Gainham's Night Falls on the City, the story of an actress in Vienna in the 30s. Her husband is not only a prominent left-wing politician but Jewish, and the Nazi tanks are about to roll across the borders. The next two in the trilogy are not quite as good, but are still worth reading.

In non-fiction, I particularly enjoyed Mr Foote's Other Leg, about comedy in the London theatre at the time of the more famous Garrick. It makes a reasonable case for the eponymous Mr Foote's being the inspiration for the famous Pete and Dud sketch 'One Leg Too Few'. The Moth, a collection of true(-ish) stories, is very good indeed. The Rainborowes is a very interesting story of a family of Puritan merchants who fought Barbary pirates, emigrated backwards and forwards between the London dockyards and Massachusetts, and even got involved in the famous Putney debates -- it was a Rainborowe who said "It seems to me that the smallest he that is in this kingdom hath a life to live as the greatest he." But the most important non-fiction book I read this year was probably Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, which seems like someone saying something believeable about race in America, at last.

This is the fifth year I've done this so I can now make a nice table:
Total number of books read209175155217211967
Male:female authors (percentages)51:4452:4549:5150:4945:5349:48
Percentage non-fiction132214101915
Percentage re-reads112241301320
Percentage read on Kindle355727413239

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