It’s been a pretty good year for reading despite getting off to a heavy start. Having requested The Goldfinch for Christmas 2014 I felt obliged to plough my way through its 800-odd pages, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. Fortunately things improved as the year went on. Here are my reading highlights from 2015.
It was a good year for Stephen King novels. I found 11.22.63, Misery and Cujo whilst browsing my local library. 11.22.63 is about a guy who goes back in time to try and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s a sprawling novel combining time travel, historical fiction, romance and an in-depth exploration of how our actions impact the world and other people. I think this was the first Stephen King book where I really understood what a great writer he is. Like Dickens, he is not afraid to take on enormous projects, write with passion and explore his subject in-depth. I don’t enjoy everything that Stephen King writes, just as I don’t enjoy everything that Dickens writes, but when they’re good, they’re amazingly good.
11.22.63 has dozens of characters but Misery only really has two who are “on stage” although others are talked about. I loved the intense focus of this book. As well as being a psychological thriller, it’s also an exploration of how to write a novel.
Whilst reading Cujo I commented to my husband that it was one of the most stress-inducing books I’d ever read, but in a good way of course. By stress-inducing I mean that the situation of the characters was so fraught that it made me feel genuinely anxious for their safety. If fiction is supposed to evoke emotion, as Sol Stein writes, then this book evoked almost more anxiety than I could handle.
Helen Grant brought her Forbidden Spaces trilogy to a satisfyingly scary end with Urban Legends. I love Helen Grant’s writing and have written a round-up of all her books here.
It took me quite a few weeks to work my way through A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, but I’m very glad I did. It’s less about science than it is about the men and women who discovered what we know and how they went about it, often with mistaken assumptions or woefully inadequate preparations. This book manages to be informative and funny at the same time.
I’ve read everything that Kate Atkinson has published so I was eager to get my hands on a copy of A God in Ruins as soon as it came out. I wasn’t disappointed. Following on from Life After Life, A God in Ruins explores the life of Teddy Todd, Ursula Todd’s younger brother. The writing is a tour de force, often managing to combine multiple time periods within a single sentence. I find Kate Atkinson wonderfully funny and poignant. This book also does a fantastic job of describing the life of a World War II bomber.
Emma Haughton was a new writer for me this year and I thoroughly enjoyed her dark, young-adult thrillers Now You See Me and Better Left Buried. Written with compelling first-person voices, they are both gripping and moving reads. I’ll be looking out for more from her next year.
My son had a school project to do over the summer. It could be on any suitably serious topic and he chose Why is the iPhone so Expensive? I won’t go into his arguments, but I suggested he read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and I read it too. It was a detailed, incisive look at a man who was clearly a genius but was also one of the most difficult individuals to work with. A very engrossing book, and having read it, we were both better able to appreciate the film when it came out in the autumn.
When The Casual Vacancy was first published I heard some reviews that were rather lukewarm and I thought I wouldn’t bother reading it. Then I watched the BBC adaptation earlier this year and really enjoyed it. I came across the novel as I was wandering around my local library and I thought, why not give it a go? I’m so glad I did. The book is a dark, comic tragedy which is even more biting and witty than the excellent TV adaptation. People seem to have had a problem with the novel because it was so different to Harry Potter, but I applaud J.K. Rowling’s verve and confidence in publishing something so different. The Casual Vacancy deserves to be better regarded, and I will definitely read anything else she publishes under her own name.
This House is Haunted by John Boyne has clear overtones of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. A governess goes to look after two orphaned children in a haunted house. What stood out for me here was the sheer quality of the writing. Boyne’s prose is flawless and the pacing of the novel is perfect. It just goes to show that you can take a relatively simple story and really make it sing through good writing.
What have you enjoyed reading most this year? What are you looking forward to reading next year? Please let me know in the comments below.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!