A Month in Books · Books · Reviews

The Last Things I Read in 2016

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As I feel like I’ve said in every reading wrap-up post lately, 2016 was not the best reading year I’ve ever had. It is actually the first year since 2011 that I didn’t manage to read 50 books (coming in at 44). The combination of getting stuck in long books that I didn’t love that much and a hugely busy life meant that reading got sidelined a tad.

However, I thought I’d still put together a round-up of the final books I read this year and I’ll include my favourite picks in my 2016: In Review post.

How to be Both by Ali Smith (2014, Penguin)
Consider this moral conundrum for a moment, George’s mother says to George whose sitting in the front passenger seat.
I’d always been a little scared of Ali Smith, despite her being continually recommended, something about her narrative style made me nervous. However, my desire to read as many Women’s Fiction Prize winners as possible, meant that I finally read this. 
How to be Both 
is a duel narrative tale (which is even published in a different order), the first following George in contemporary Britain who is dealing with the death of her mother and the other following Franchesco, an artist in medieval Italy.
Whilst Smith’s writing (especially in Franchesco’s section) isn’t necessarily the easiest to read, it does beautifully bring to life emotions and I was entirely wrapped up in these two character’s lives. The novel tackles gender and sexuality brilliantly and the power of art through the years. I really recommend this, and am excited to explore more of Smith’s work.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016, Hamish Hamilton)
When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish Home.
I was so excited to read Here I Am. Safran Foer’s previous novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is one of my all-time favourite books, and was released way back in 2005 so I’ve been eagerly anticipating this novel’s release for years. And wow, was I disappointed. This novel follows Jacob and Julia Bloch who are dealing with the disintegration of their marriage against the back-drop of dramatic real world events.
On the one hand, Safran Foer’s writing about the pain of relationships is brilliant and so hard to read as it just felt so very real. However, I felt like a lot of the other things in this book were there just to be smart. Also as soon as the scope of the novel moved larger than the Bloch family it just didn’t really feel like it worked. 

number9dream by David Mitchell (2001, Sceptre)
It is a simple matter. I know your name, and you knew mine, once upon a time: Eiji Miyake.
I love David Mitchell, and am on a one-woman mission to read his back catalogue. number9dream is a pretty wild read which explores Eiji Miyake’s attempt to track down his father who he’s never met. This novel combines magical realism with gritty Tokyo gang culture, and it’s a really fun, engaging read. Mitchell is a master at creating great settings and characters; the streets of Tokyo seemed to just leap from the page and Eiji Miyake as a character is one that is really great to spend time with.
This is perhaps not the most accessible Mitchell novel to start with, but definitely a great one to get to once you get used to his style.

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox (2015, Sceptre)
Once upon a time, a man, a woman and a cat were walking through a deep forest.
I follow Tom Cox and his cat Twitter handles on various social media, and so I felt it was about time that I read one of his books. This particular one follows Cox and he moves across the country with his girlfriend and many cats. It’s a pretty fun book, and I do love how Cox gives all his cats, and any other animal that he comes into contact with really vivid personalities. Not one to read if you’re ambivalent about cats, but if you are a cat person and want a bit of a fun read then this is for you.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014, Penguin)
Lydia is dead. But they don’t that yet.
What an amazing opening line this novel has. And the writing just gets better and better from there. This novel is the story of the Lee family, who are Chinese-American living in 1970s Ohio. When Lydia, the favourite child of the family, is found dead in the town’s lake their carefully constructed lives begin to unravel.
Everything I Never Told You brilliantly explores what it means to want to fit in or to stand out. What it means to be a migrant in the States and what it means to be a woman. And particularly what it means to want to escape the wishes of your parents. This is Ng’s debut novel and I am beyond excited to see what she writes next.

Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman (2016, Fig Tree)
Three nights ago, in a restaurant by the sea, just off the coastal road in Puglia, some children at the long family tables next to ours were playing with their pencil cases, lining up the coloured felt tips in order.
I’ve read Vogue on and off since I was 13, and I unashamedly love clothes and fashion. Alexandra Shulman is the editor of British Vogue, and this book is a diary of her life and work during the magazine’s centenary year. The novel follows her launching an exhibition, the Vogue festival, secretly getting the Duchess of Cambridge on the 100th cover and being filmed for a BBC documentary. This is all happening against the backdrop of the EU Referendum.
Shulman cares a great deal about her job and it was just so interesting to read about a woman literally at the top of her game. She’s brilliantly biting in her descriptions about people and rather wonderfully doesn’t anonymise anything. If you’re interesting in Vogue or publishing or just real-life boss women, I’d recommend checking this out. 

And that’s it for my reading in 2016! I have my fingers crossed that 2017 will be better.

Amy
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