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A Year of Reading


Ever since my stroke I've struggled with reading books, something which I used to love prior to 3rd February 2002.

But this year as part of my exploration of the Fediverse I discovered BookWyrm and, specifically, Rambling Readers and set myself a challenge to read 52 books in 2023. Never thought I'd succeed to be honest but I did and you can see them all logged here1.

There's some themes through the year. For a start I made it easy for myself by re-reading some books which I knew I liked, like EF Benson's Mapp & Lucia series2 and I also worked my way through most of Colin Watson's Flaxborough novels again from the beginning. That also lead me into a side alley reading Watson's (now long out of print) Snobbery with Violence - English crime stories and Their Audience, his analysis of the early years of crime fiction, which was fascinating.

But there were some new discoveries too, helped in part by High Life Highland's ebook service using Borrow Box. That lead me to try some new books, some good, some really bad.

I also allowed myself not to finish books I didn't get on with. I used to feel really guilty about stopping reading books before the end but life is too short: if I'm struggling better to discard it and move on. Ones that fell into that category included A Spoonful of Murder which felt it was trying to be follow in the spirit of Richard Osman's 'Thursday Murder Club' books (of which more below) but failing and The Pine Islands which I described at the time as "A weird ramble through Japan for no good purpose, either for the reason our hero goes, or what he does when there". It was apparently shortlisted for the International Booker but not my sort of thing at all.

See Them Run by Marion Todd
But on to the good, of which there were lots. A special mention to Marion Todd's Tartan Noir books about DI Clare Mackay who works out of St Andrews. These were so good that after borrowing a couple as ebooks I went out and bought the first six as a block (and I still have two to read in 2024).

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
E-book borrowing meant that I had already read the first two of Richard Osman's 'Thursday Murder Club' books and had enjoyed both but this year I read books three and four. The plots are ... well ... unlikely, but you really don't care as he has such an agreeable writing style and an excellent collection of characters. As with Marion Todd they were such a pleasure to read that I now have all four in dead tree format, and in hardback for the two I've read this year3.

A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett
And while we're on the subject of Osman's books there are many trying to ape him, if only cover wise in some cases as with Janice Hallet's The Twyford Code (which I stopped so early that I didn't count it in my 52), but some which have a similar feel of style over plot which works and A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett was one of those. Yes, as unlikely as it seems the Queen is solving crime ... but it works.

Daniel Defoe's Railway Journey by Stuart Campbell
Other honorable mentions go to Marian Keyes' Again Rachel and Rachel's Holiday both of which should go in the 'Chick Lit' pile and were a cracking read. On the non-fiction side I also enjoyed Daniel Defoe's Railway Journey: A Surreal Odyssey Through Modern Britain by Stuart Campbell (his earlier book Boswell's Bus Pass which I also read this year is less good - I don't think he'd found his voice then).

There are lots more but I want to give a special mention to two books.

The Maid by Nita Prose
First The Maid by Nita Prose. It's written in the first person and our hero, who is a maid in a hotel, is ... special ... as becomes increasingly clear as the book progresses and you grow to love her, despite her weirdness.

If I had a criticism, although it's only a small one, there's a final twist in the tail which I didn't think really fitted well with the rest of the narrative and it wasn't really needed, but this shouldn't distract you from what is a very fine, if rather different, novel.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The second is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

Set between the wars Cassandra, the first-person narrator, tells the story through her journal. It's a coming-of-age story in which she passes from being a girl to being a young woman by the end.

I found it fascinating as, like in The Maid, our hero is missing things which are there in plain sight. Again I won't say much more but the ending is very moving.

I bought a cheap paperback copy of this book from eBay on a whim after it was recommended by Chantal Joffe on an episode ofA Good Read on BBC R4 but I enjoyed it so much I've bought another copy: a pristine slip case hardback published by Folio as a reward to myself for my year of reading.

Anyway, that's enough on my book wibbling. Onwards into 2024.
  1. Sadly as I read more books this link will show future books read too, so it's the oldest 52 which are relevant here
  2. I bought those (again!) in a Folio slip case edition a few years ago and I'd already read Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp in that format the year before which is why I seem to start with Lucia in London.
  3. I've never been a great one for buying books in hardback - I buy for content, not format, but with old age and money I'm starting to find pleasure in having hardback copies of favourite reads

Tags: books, fediverse Written 24/12/23

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