My Books of the Year

I’d like to have a picture of a pile of books I’ve read this year, but as I generally get them out of the library or buy them when they’re cheap e books, it’s a bit tricky. In fact for someone who loves reading so much I’m surprisingly dismissive of actually owning books, they’re a bit of nuisance in my not too big house. Of course, I still have 100s of the buggers cluttering the place up. Anyway, I read some cracking books last year, and like the idea of sharing them so here goes.

The Worst Journey in The World – Cherry Apsley-Gerrard. Having read Sara Wheelers excellent bio of Cherry Apsley Garrard last year, I decided to read this this year. It’s a stunning account of two years in Antarctica on the expedition which cost the lives of Scott + his companions. This wasn’t in fact ‘The Worst Journey..’ – that title goes to a winter journey of 6 weeks to collect some eggs of the Emperor Penguin which were thought to contain a missing link in the explanation of evolution. 6 weeks in savage weather and constant darkness, insanity in the name of science. It’s a great read which really conjures up the minutiae of life in the great age of Antarctic exploration and the tragedy of the expedition in which Scott lost his life.

Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel. I picked up Wolf Hall cheap in Asda to read on holiday last Feb but was a bit wary of it as I had heard it was quite heavy going. Incongruously lying by a pool in Tenerife I was immersed into the world of Henry the Eighth’s England and found it was much more readable than I expected. I loved the characters, political intrigue and descriptions of London of the time. Same goes for BUTB. Rich writing. 

Maddadam – Margaret Atwood. This is the final book of the Maddadam trilogy. Oryx and Crake – the first book of the trilogy – is one of my favourite books ever, and this final book didn’t disappoint. Some of the ‘futuristic’ predictions are chillingly close to things that are happening now. I’m a bit sad that that’s it for the future Atwood created in these books, but I shall start at the beginning again in a couple of years and read them all one after the other. 

Red or Dead – David Peace. This is the biography of the legendary Bill Shankly by the author of The Damned United. It is written in a very particular style which was hard to get my head round and which I found infuriating to begin with. It builds a strangely hypnotic account of Shankly’s life and his obsessive attention to detail in building the Liverpool team of the 60’s and early 70’s. Everything in football’s history of the time is seen through the prism of Shankly’s view of the world. It’s stayed with me, despite being hard going at the time, and made me wish I’d supported Liverpool when I was a kid. But I didn’t.  

Hummingbirds and Wild Hares – Stephen Moss. I read this despite the fact that the Daily Mail described it as ‘delightful’, an anodyne insult to a much more thoughtful book than that. It’s an account of a year in the natural life of a village on the Somerset Levels (one of my favourite parts of the country). The observations of the rhythms of migration and the seasons made me realise again how closely connected much of our birdlife in this country is to the fortunes of countries far away – particularly in Africa. It was a beautiful book, especially to read in the depths of our mild and muddy winter. 

My book of the year though was (drum roll please)….

Viv Albertine’s – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. This was simply brilliant. Viv Albertine, in case you didn’t know, was the lead guitarist of The Slits, one of the great bands of 70’s punk. I found them a bit hard to listen to on record, but live they were electrifying, and how brilliant to see a group of women up on stage not giving a f**k. The first part of the book is an account of being at the epicentre of punk in London, where she met everyone who was anyone and became part of The Slits. The second part of the book is an equally gripping account of the rest of her life, finding herself ten years later as a yummy mummy housewife in Hastings, then finding her way back to music and her independent self via an unlikely boot up the bum from Vincent Gallo. It’s a really fantastic read, a feminist tour de force. Read it. 

I would like to claim to have read some education books, but I haven’t.