When one lives the life of a postgrad, one begins to long for fiction, poetry, nonfiction – basically anything but another bloody textbook – with what my countrymen & women (or at least some of them) like to call a right powerful hankerin.’ Though my attempts at keeping track of every single book I read are never thorough, I offer you, dear reader, a summary of some of those which have lingered with me the most.
In no particular order, chronological or preferential:
1. ‘Twas the year I finally tackled The Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, I chose to do this during term-time which was not the best of life choices. But I just couldn’t stop – these books are much better and more complicated than I expected; the characters are both utterly typical fantasy staples and also incredibly relatable . I don’t often feel the need to throw books across the room* but the Red Wedding incurred generous cursing and book-chucking. Where is Jon Snow? Is Daenerys ever going to open up a can of whoopass with those dragons? Is Arya going to become some sort of Faceless Woman? Due to George R R Martin’s delay in bringing out the next book, there are about 1.4 zillion plotlines left hanging. Maybe these guys can persuade him to hurry up a bit?
2. Plane reading – when I wasn’t catching up on reading for uni or indulging in my usual plane fare in the form of The New Yorker**, I was reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Ah yes, the dreaded airport paperback, and by the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, no less. Go ahead and judge. I will openly admit to thoroughly enjoying The Time Traveler’s Wife and although I was intrigued by the premise of Her Fearful Symmetry – two Chicagoan sisters are bequeathed a flat right next to Highgate Cemetery by their aunt, who may or may not be a ghost now residing in same – it felt a bit like Niffenegger really ran out of steam towards the end. I will credit her with a devilish twist which turned what was a slightly eerie tale of ghosties and lost love into quite a horror story, but it was done sloppily.
3. Simon Garfield! Where have you been all my life? The man writes excellent nonfiction about everything about which I have a particular interest. The best of this that I read this year was Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. It was a charming investigation into the minutiae of the art which is typesetting, and helped me solidify my resolution to try and do an internship here as a working holiday this year.
4. Unapologetic by Francis Spufford was one of two really excellent and less-text-y books I took in for my Apologetics module at LST this autumn. My classmate who was presenting on it despaired a bit at Spufford’s arguments for Christianity (the book’s subtitle is ‘why Christianity still makes surprising emotional sense’), and Spufford isn’t interested in academic arguments or philsophical refutations. He also is apparently in a passionate, long-term relationship with a run-on sentence. He breathed such life, however, into the project of ‘always being prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within him,’ and that I highly value.
5. Dear Jane Austen, isn’t it the 200th anniversary of your birth (or something like that) this year? Well, perhaps I will delve into some of the Auten canon in 2013, but as for 2012, that thar was the year of Pride and Predjudice and Zombies which, for those of you who know me well, was bound to make my A-list. Five words: Elizabeth Bennet wielding a katana.
6. I yielded to the cultural behemoth that is The Hunger Games and found them intensely psychological, fascinating and disturbing. The way that the three books fit together as a trilogy was also impressive – none felt as if it were dragging, filling space, or somehow out-of-place. I harbor a not-so-secret hope that Suzanne Collins, the author, will team up with my favorite YA author, Robin McKinley, and write some stories. However I feel that this might mean the universe would collapse under the weight of all the Awesome, so perhaps I will be content if they both just keep the good books coming.
7. This summer I had the incandescently delightful experience of attending Poetry Parnassus on the South Bank. Such an event really deserves its own post. One of the books that I bought was A Fine Line: New Poetry from Eastern & Central Europe. In the spirit of Parnassus (which featured poets from all the countries that sent athletes to the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics) I bought this collection and in it discovered some brilliant poets I’d never heard of before, including Primož Čučnik, Taja Kramberger, Ioana Nicolaie and Asko Künnap.
8. Christine Valters Painter’s The Artist’s Rule has been our study book of choice at Forum for the latter part of 2012 and into 2013 – it’s a beautifully written, rich and encouraging book whose premise is how people of faith can integrate monastic wisdom & traditions into their creative practices. I’d highly recommend it for artists of any stripe and of any faith.
9. In the summer there was a street market just outside Spitalfields Market. In between shifts on the Christ Church stall I browsed the bric-a-brac and for £1 found the exquisite The Merchant of Marvels and the Peddler of Dreams by the French children’s author, book artist and collector Frédéric Clément. This is definitely a children’s book but like no other you’ve ever seen – it’s childhood in a book, with a fabulously large vocabulary and an attic full of treasures from around the world inside.
10. Ken Leech is one of those people whose writing I return to when I need reminding about why I really do want to be a priest. I picked up a copy of Doing Theology in Altab Ali Park which, besides being utterly local, was part spiritual history, sociological analysis, and rousing call to those involved in ministry and social justice work in the East End of London.
11. And now for something completely different: George Mackay Brown’s Winter Tales never stray far from Orkney, where the author lived much of his life, but their dark simplicity carried me through some dark & complex times this year. A great little collection of short stories.
12. One of the few times that I have willingly read fiction on my Kindle was on holiday this summer – mostly on trains going across France, Germany and Austria. I was perusing free downloads and found Ruthanne Reid’s The Sundered and thought, why the hell not? On the outside it’s a story about Harry Iskinder, a man who lives on a planet where the water is toxic and cannot be touched. On this planet, humans live in cities which teeter on the edge of revolution; their society runs on the slave labor of another race of beings called the ‘Sundered’ which the humans must catch and hold captive with sort of psychological/magical nets. I was torn whilst reading – Harry is a thoroughly annoying narrator and the book was seriously in need of a good edit. At the same time, he was supposed to be only 19 years old. There were issues with pacing in the narrative, and with too-easy resolutions of major plot points. But the twist at the end of the book kept me thinking for days – and that merits it a place on this list.
13. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho were also holiday reads. They are the sort of books that constantly had me giggling out loud and begging whomever happened to be in the room with me at the time to let me read passages out to them. They are essentially about a guy who joins the fuzz; at the end of his probationary period he assigned to the section of the Metropolitan Police that deals with magical and supernatural crimes, called ‘The Folly,’ which of course the whole Met is aware of but nobody talks about in polite conversation. Aaronovitch was a writer for Doctor Who (which I didn’t discover till afterwards) and his zany cleverness is suited well to novels, too. The third installment, Whispers Underground, has recently been published and it is my ‘you have completed your essays and may now read fiction!’ present to myself planned for the end of this month.
So here’s to 2013, and another 13 memorable books.
(Honorable mentions for re-reads: Jane Eyre by Bronte, Sunshine by McKinley, Christina Rossetti’s Complete Poems, A Generous Orthodoxy by McLaren, The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry)
(Another honorable mention for this website, which I promise is G rated: http://bookshelfporn.com/)
* Fiction, at least. With theology it’s a common occurrence.
** Which, although I haven’t included any here, regularly features excellent writing of all stripes.