Hello! Me again. Wrapping up my reading year.
Once again I set a new record for the amount of books read. This year I managed 156, which divides nicely to be 13 books a month. Not that volume matters, it's about the quality, and there's been a lot of quality this year. But before we begin, let's take a look back over what I got up to in 2022.
This year, both my gorgeous daughters graduated (one was delayed a year because of Covid) from Swansea/Houston and Liverpool Universities respectively. Exceptionally proud dad moment, especially as they have both managed to get themselves excellent graduate jobs already.
I changed jobs for the first time in six years, and realised the long-held ambition of working for one of my favourite charities, by joining the National Trust. Whilst it was sad to leave behind the lovely people and worthy cause of Age UK, I'm delighted to be where I am, and with any luck this job, or at least this employer, will see me through to retirement.
And after lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, it was lovely to catch up on some foreign travel which included Majorca, Norway (Bergen, Balestrand, Fjaerland, Flåm, Borgund and Trolltunga), northern France (Gerberoy, Giverny, La Roche-Guyon, Les Andelys and Rouen) and mainland Spain (Costa Blanca). All were wonderful, though Norway absolutely stole my heart. I did a separate blog about the trip, here. I also managed three great UK walking mini breaks, twice to the Lake District and once to Yorkshire.
My bookish highlights include return trips to the fabulous Hay on Wye, Aardvark Books in Herefordshire and the Ironbridge Bookshop, as well as discovering two great secondhand bookshops in Winchester, and finally visiting John Sandoe Books in Chelsea. I also managed to visit Virginia Woolf's home Monk's House for the first time, which was wonderful. The bookish highlight of the year though was the visit Norway's booktown, Fjaerland, on a gorgeous sunny day. It really is Nirvana for booklovers.
So lots of good times, though of course it wasn't all sunshine - this year we lost Queen Elizabeth II, probably Britain's most amazing monarch. And I'm no royalist. But I valued her professionalism, her service, her dedication and the positive part she played in the national identity. It was good to go to Windsor the day before her funeral to be a part of everything.
Right, onto the books!
2022 reading summary
It was my most prolific reading year. I finished 156 books, surpassing my previous best of 136 books. I read a mixture of poetry, non-fiction and fiction, some short books, but several chunky ones too. Most of my reads were for the first time, but I did manage 14 re-reads mostly poetry). If I had to define my reading year I would say That 2022 was the year which I had no reading slumps and had total belief that I could read it anything. This proved to be true.
I finally read Ulysses from start to end! What an achievement. I’m not sure I would say that I really enjoyed it, but I certainly appreciated it. And I will never read it again. It was also the year in which I finished my last two unread Charles Dickens novels - Edwin Drood and Barnaby Rudge - so I can add his name to the Brontë’s, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, and a few others of whose works I have read everything.
Once again, I was a bit light on the blogging, with blessed work getting in the way. One day this will change.
Coleridge, Hesse, Mantel and Patti Smith
I set out with the intention of Deep diving into Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry, writing and life. This went very well and for a large part of the year I was reading either volume one or volume to Richard Holmes’ majestic Coleridge biography Early Visions, and Darker Reflections. These two books comprise undoubtedly the best biography I have ever read blending sources of information and interpretation is Coleridge’s own poetry and prose in a comprehensive and eminently readable whole. Interspersed with this I read Coleridge‘s poetry, a collection of his table talk, Excerpts from his journal The Friend, as well as his essays and criticism. An absolutely extraordinary man. I will definitely write a blog piece on him to expand my thoughts.
I was already reading Hillary Mantel before her sad passing, but I was moved to read more. I read a Giant O’Brien, her French Revolution magnum opus A place of greater safety, and the third volume of her Cromwell Trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. Of this more later. Checking my Goodreads it seems that I read both Patti Smith’s M Train and The Year of the Monkey this year, although I feel like I have known them for years. I also read some of her poetry as well as a book about her life. Also this year I somehow discovered Hermann Hesse. How I have not read him before I don’t know. He’s writing blew me away and his ideas sent me down philosophical rabbit holes. I think I read three of his novels this year.
My reading diversity was not too bad:
· 92 by male writers and 64 by female writers.
· Books from 29 different countries, including: Sweden, Italy, Canada, Ireland, Iran, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Russia, Nigeria, USA, Finland, Wales, France, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, Belgium, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Norway, India, Denmark, Turkey, Poland, Spain, Antigua, Germany, New Zealand, and England.
· LGBT. Plenty, and many that were really clearly in the genre, but it’s so hard to classify LGBT accurately. Is it the author or the book content that is classified? And usually I don't notice. There were some obvious ones though like the collection 100 Queer Poems that I picked up at the Queer Britain exhibition in London, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, JL Carr’s A Month in the Country, EM Forster’s Maurice, Andre Gide’s The Immoralist, Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol/De Profundis, Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, Walt Whitman and Mary Oliver’s poetry, and Rose Tremain’s Sacred Country.
My 2022 Book of the Year
I have broken down my reading into four categories – new fiction, non-fiction, poetry and re-reads. I’ll start with new fiction…
New works of fiction
(starting with the best):
1. The Mirror and The Light, by Hilary Mantel
2. Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse
3. Hunger, by Knut Hamsun
4. A Heart So White, by Javier Marias
5. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
6. A Month in the Country, by JL Carr
7. Still Life, by Sarah Winman
8. Faces in the Water, by Janet Frame
9. Jenny, by Sigrid Undset
10. The Big Gold Dream, by Chester Himes
It was such a strong year that I have to list some of the books just outside the top ten, any of which I would recommend. They were:
11. The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
12. Ripening Seed, by Colette
13. The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers
14. The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink
15. Nana, by Emile Zola
16. The Go Between, by LP Hartley
17. Here Goes Nothing, by Steve Toltz
18. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
19. Epitaph of a Small Winner, by Machado de Assis
20. The Immoralist, by Andre Gide
Also this year, I finally managed to get two monkeys off my back, by reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Ulysses I found surprisingly enjoyable, but it was hard to find anything likeable about Gone with the Wind.
This is a new subsection, but included as I read some great kids’ books this year:
1. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
2. Moominland Winter, by Tove Jansson
3. Stonestruck, by Helen Cresswell
4. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
5. Anne of Avonlea, by LM Montgomery
I reread a lot fewer books than usual, as I was making a concerted effort to reduce my TBR pile. Certainly under 20 books. The highlights were:
1. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
2. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien
3. The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono
4. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
5. Red Rackham’s Treasure, by Goscinny and Uderzo (a Tintin adventure)
It was another very strong year for non fiction:
1. Early Visions/Darker Reflections, by Richard Holmes (Coleridge biography)
2. Dear Ijeawele, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3. How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division, by Elif Shafak
4. Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith
5. On the Move, by Oliver Sacks
6. Playing to the Gallery, by Grayson Perry
7. 10 Rules of Writing, by Elmore Leonard
8. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
9. Bloomsbury, by Quentin Bell
10. Time Come, by Linton Kwesi Johnson
Many of these were rereads, but still fresh:
1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, selected poems
2. Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman
3. Mary Oliver, selected poems
4. A Shropshire Lad, by AE Housman
5. John Keats, selected poems
6. The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde
7. 100 Queer Poems (collection)
8. Thomas Hardy, selected poems
9. Paradise Lost, by John Milton
10. John Clare, selected poems
So which book wins the big prize?
So finally, out of all this lot, the toughest decision. My BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020 is…
The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel
The third and final piece in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy - and what a gift to leave us with. No words of mine can adequately express how wonderful this was. The writing is sublime, the history alive, the characterisation, pace and plotting superb. Her prose was Tolstoyan, with visionary poetic flights. I’d recommend the trilogy to anyone.
It is a worthy addition to my book of the year winners, but I must mention that Richard Holmes’s Coleridge biographies and Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf could easily have won it too. Do check out my Goodreads account www.Goodreads.com/places_and_books for more of my thoughts on any of the books mentioned in this piece. And do comment below what your favourite book of the year was.
And in case you are interested, here are my books of the year from when I first started keeping records:
1982 Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien, England
1983 Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger, USA
1984 To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, USA
1985 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, USA
1986 Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, France
1987 Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy,England
1988 A Room with a View, EM Forster, England
1989 Middlemarch, George Eliot, England
1990 Villette, Charlotte Bronte, England
1991 All Quiet on the Western Front, EM Remarque, Germany
1992 The Scarlet and the Black, Stendahl, France
1993 Crime and Punishment, Fyedor Dostoyevsky, Russia
1994 As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee, England
1995 Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, Russia
1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte, England
1997 Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, France
1998 Kim, Rudyard Kipling, England
1999 The Grand Meaulnes, Alain-Fournieres, France
2000 Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan, France
2001 Catch 22, Joseph Heller, USA
2002 The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, USA
2003 A Secret History, Donna Tartt, USA
2004 David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, England
2005 Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, England
2006 A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, USA
2007 White Teeth, Zadie Smith, England
2008 The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Australia
2009 A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz, Australia
2010 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, England
2011 Any Human Heart, William Boyd, England
2012 The Road, Cormac McCarthy, USA
2013 We, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Russia
2014 The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, USA
2015 Quicksand, Steve Toltz, Australia
2016 Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbons, Scotland
2017 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey, USA
2018 Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, USA
2019 Underland, Robert Macfarlane, England
2020 Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf, England
2021 Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, Olga Tokarczuk, Poland
2022 The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel, England