I finished 78 books this year. Looking back, there are still a fair few I’d have been better off abandoning rather than finishing – I still can’t break the habit of finishing books that was drummed into us at primary school. Despite that, I read some very good books, and picking an arbitrary ten means not talking about some of those.
My very favourite book this year was Rosy Carrick’s Chokey. Of course I’d say that, since this is a book I have a close connection with, having seen early performances of most of these pieces. All of them I love dearly, but the epic Thickening Water is one I remember from searing performances; and Vanishing Act is one that mentions my running – something I’ve been too injured to do for years and hearing that poem always makes me sad. But Chokey is a very good and moving book of poetry.
Ten other books, in alphabetical order by title:
- The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States was recommended on Warren Ellis’ mailing list. It’s a fictional account of a nuclear war, written by Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on the North Korean nuclear program. What makes the book disturbing are the footnotes, showing how the scenario Lewis is describing is a plausible and real danger.
- I’ve been reading more horror and quite liked The Cabin at the end of the world. It was pulpy book, but read quickly. It describes a family who find themselves on the wrong side of a save-the-world scenario.
- An Era of Darkness is Shashi Tharoor’s brisk account of the British Empire’s crimes in India. Even having read a lot about India, elements of this came as a surprise to me. Given the resurgence of Imperial pride in Britain, this is a sobering read.
- Everyone I Know is Broken-Hearted is a collection of non-fiction by Josh Ellis. Some of these pieces I loved at the time and it was good to revisit them in a single batch. Ellis is an incredibly talented writer, and there is fire in these early pieces.
- Michal Lewis’s The Fifth Risk was heavily excerpted in the Guardian. It’s an interesting view on how government is more than politics, and how much work goes into keeping infrastructure running. In the midst of ongoing austerity it’s sober to see how much money goes into keeping us safe and how easily we take that for granted.
- Fire and Fury is an astounding book. Wolf has written a fascinating and gossipy account of Trump’s first months in office that reads like a Delillo novel. I read a lot of books on politics this year.
- New Dark Age by James Bridle was another Warren Ellis recommendation, which also featured in the Guardian. While it reads more as a collection than a single narrative, Bridle has drawn out some striking elements of the modern world.
- A chunk of Charlotte Higgins’ The Red Thread was also featured in the Guardian. It’s a book about Theseus and labyrinths that wanders through many academic and cultural themes. It was just what I hoped it would be.
- I saw Raynor Winn talk about The Salt Path at Port Eliot festival and it reduced much of the audience to tears. The book is unavoidably moving but it is also inspiring, the story of someone getting up and embarking on an epic walk against significant odds. This is one of the best books I’ve read on hiking.
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed is another book on hiking, most interesting for the vividness with which Strayed writes, and the trail culture they describe.