Wrapped Up In Books: 2010
3rd Jan 2011 in Books
In 2010 I read 88 books.
That’s 41 novels, 5 short story collections, 2 poetry collections, 20 nonfiction books, 9 young adult novels, and 11 graphic novels. It doesn’t include all the poetry, flash fiction and short stories I read in online or print magazines.
I list everything that I read, because I’m a nerd like that and because whenever anyone says “read anything good lately?” my mind goes totally blank even if I’m halfway through five amazing books. Inspired by Mike Young’s exhaustive book blog at HTMLGiant, I decided to tell you all about them. If you can’t be arsed to read the whole thing (and I wouldn’t blame you!), my favourites are the ones with pictures.
1. Genesis – Karen Slaughter. I can’t remember this at all. Did I really read it? I even looked up the plot summary and I still can’t remember.
2. The Midnight Library: Liar – Nick Shadow. And already my truths are coming out. See, I have this secret love for children’s scary stories. They’re my guilty pleasure. I don’t buy them or even get them out of the library, I just perch on the edge of a chair and flip through them. I can read three in half an hour. They’re like biscuits.
3. At Large and At Small – Anne Fadiman. Anne, I love you! I wish there were more books of essays, because I can’t get enough of them. This book gets a little star next to it because I enjoyed it that much.
4. Bonk – Mary Roach. Funny, interesting, inspiring. I love everything Mary Roach writes.
5. Six Feet Over – Mary Roach. Okay, I was on a bit of a nonfiction binge.
6. Skins: The Novel – Ali Cronin. I won it from Diva Magazine in a Twitter contest, honestly! It would have been rude not to read it. Plus I do have a soft spot for Emily/Naomi. But I don’t think you need me to tell you that the book is terrible.
7. Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female – Willa Shalit (ed.). All I remember is that this had shocking revelations about celebrities I’ve never heard of, and Brooke Shields was really whiney.
8. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell. I read this for my feminism book group, and holy shit it was a slog. It’s worth reading to learn how not to construct a sentence, but people seem to love it so what do I know. We got some good discussion out of it.
9. His Pregnant Housekeeper – Caroline Anderson. I should explain that this was for feminism book group too. We all read a different Mills & Boon romance novel and then discussed whether there was room for feminist characters or ideas within such a confined gender dynamic. Conclusion: no.
10. Pickpocket Countess – Bronwyn Scott. Obviously I had to read more than one Mills & Boon, so that I could do a proper analysis. This one was actually not so bad.
11. Christmas Spirit – Rebecca York. And I had to read one final Mills & Boon because…I don’t even know. I must have been having a really slow week.
12. Inconceivable Wilson – J.A. Tyler. This was the first book I reviewed for PANK, and I did not like it (though I do like JA the man).
13. Bluestockings – Jane Robinson. This had some wonderful details and I found it inspiring, but I think the author got too caught up in her research. People read nonfiction for stories, not lists of facts.
14. The Mist in the Mirror – Susan Hill. Oh, Susan. No matter how many times you disappoint me, I always come back for more. You know this book is not very good, don’t you? The atmosphere and the prose are fine enough, but the plot – come on now, Susan. You can do better.
15. Kindred – Octavia Butler. Another feminism book group choice, and a great one. Strong characters, a twisty plot, and a good interaction with history without being preachy.
16. Bad Science – Ben Goldacre. All I learned from this is that homeopathy is bullshit. Which I already knew, but it’s good to have some facts and figures behind it.
18. Strip – Angela Readman. This is my poetry pick of 2010 – it was utterly fucking amazing and I can’t recommend it enough. It reminded me why I read poetry. I reviewed it for PANK here.
19. The Killing Circle – Andrew Pyper. This was a horror story, I think. Seriously, I can’t remember. I think there was a subplot that was really great, about a woman who wrote this bizarre fairytale about a child-killer, but mostly it was just clumsy crap about writers going to boring writing groups and trying to Deal With Their Issues and blah blah blah. Onwards!
20. Dialect of a Skirt – Erica Miriam Fabri. This had some pretty poems, but I’m not sure anyone actually wants to read pretty poems. Some of them were fantastic, but most of them were just okay. I reviewed it for Prick of the Spindle here.
21. Cover the Mirrors – Faye L. Booth. I remember this well, because I spent a lot of time thinking about how bad it was and how good it could have been. As a writer currently struggling through novel rewrites, I know what drafts look like. This is a draft. With a ruthless editor and some serious rewrites, this book could have been surprising, interesting and memorable. As it is, it only sticks with me for its flaws.
22. Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill. Susan! You’re back! This book is beautiful and inspiring and engrossing and so many other good adjectives. Read it, read it. Every time I read the word ‘gloaming’ I think of this book. I reviewed it for PANK here.
23. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower. I reviewed this for Barrelhouse but I can’t find it in the archives. Apparently I “liked the smug face [Wells] was making in his author photo” and enjoyed his characters and some of the sentences, but this was my final conclusion: “Each one of these stories examines a different way for a man to feel like a man. They shoot animals, smash tree houses, lay drywall, fight, drink, and feel sorry for themselves; only to realise that none of these things will make them into a man. If that is the sort of thing you like, do take a break from cleaning your gun or thinking about tits, and read Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”. I must have been feeling mean that day.
24. We’re Getting On – James Kaelan. I was getting really sick of blokey hipster writing by this point, which will be clear in my review of it for PANK here. It led to SCANDAL. Well, not really. As much as book reviews on magazine blogs ever lead to scandal.
25. The Scheme for Full Employment – Magnus Mills. I don’t want to use the word ‘quirky’, but it’s hard not to. It’s like Kafka with a sense of humour.
26. Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison. I’ve read this twice and I still can’t remember the plot, but the atmosphere and tone are so vivid. Superheroes are always a hard sell for me, though I do like Batman.
27. The Long Night of Leo & Bree – Ellen Wittlinger. I used to work as a children’s bookseller, and I still like to keep up with what’s happening in YA fiction. This was entertaining but not particularly memorable.
28. Grey Souls – Philippe Claudel. Holy hell, this was a great book. The prose, the atmosphere, the scenes – all amazing. One day I hope to be able to write like this. I’ve been trying to review it for months but it’s just too much, I can’t explain what I want to say because I get so tangled up in the book. It’s beautiful and you should read it.
29. A New Century of Sex Killers – Brian Marriner. Okay, so along with children’s horror stories, my other guilty pleasure is true crime. This book was a misogynistic piece of shit, and Brian Marriner clearly doesn’t like women (especially feminists or lesbians, though it’s okay because lesbianism isn’t a real thing). I wish I’d told the library I lost it so that it wouldn’t be inflicted on anyone else.
30. Lady Killers: Famous Woman Murderers – Jonathan Goodman. Can’t remember anything about this. Myra Hindley? Belle Gunness? Probably.
31. Tales of Terror From the Tunnel’s Mouth – Christ Priestley. I love this series. Children’s ghost stories at their finest. I reviewed it for PANK here.
32. Endless Night – Agatha Christie. This was the graphic novel version, and it obviously had as big an effect on me as Agatha’s novels always do, because I can’t remember the plot at all. I think I just read this because I was hungover and couldn’t bear to leave the bookshop cafe.
33. Dumb Witness – Agatha Christie. See #32.
34. The Tinder Box – Minette Walters. I read this during my brief bout of insomnia because it’s short. It’s a bit scary how many of the books on this list that I can’t remember at all.
35. Scott Pilgrim #1: Precious Little Life – Bryan Lee O’Malley. I read this because I was in a bookshop with my mum and she was taking forever and so I sat on a kick-stool and read this.
36. Scott Pilgrim #2: Vs. the World – Bryan Lee O’Malley. This one too. Both books were cute and did some interesting things, but I felt no drive to read the rest of them.
37. Lord Edgware Dies – Agatha Christie. I read Agatha Christie books the way I’d have a cup of tea or go for a walk. I do it and it’s fun and then I think ‘right, what’s next?’ and forget all about it. I felt a bit odd about reading this one in coffeeshops or on the train because it had this awesomely gory cover.
38. No Lifeguard on Duty – Janice Dickinson. Yep, that Janice Dickinson. She has a book, who knew? I reviewed this for PANK (including some choice quotes about Sylvester Stallone’s penis) here.
39. The Price – Alexandra Sokoloff. I really can’t think of anything to say about this. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t good, just mediocre.
40. The Fox’s Window and Other Stories – Naoko Awa. Oh, how I love this book. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I think you should read it too. You won’t regret it. It reminded me of the whole point of reading and of stories. I reviewed it for PANK here.
40. The House of Lost Souls – F.G. Cottam. I loved this while I was reading it – the atmosphere! the prose! the jumps in time! – but after I’d finished it I had a sinking feeling. It was full of plot holes and the entire middle section was pointless and masturbatory. If you read it, I suggest stopping 20 pages before the end so that you don’t have that same feeling.
41. All That Glitters – Pearl Lowe. I’ve been searching for a good book about 90s Britpop, particularly one about the love triangle between Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, Blur’s Damon Albarn, and Suede’s Brett Anderson. As Pearl Lowe is married to the drummer in Supergrass, I thought this book would be stuffed full of Britpop anecdotes. It wasn’t. It was boring, whining self-indulgence from cover to cover. And then I remembered why I don’t read celebrity autobiographies.
42. The Toymaker – Jeremy de Quidt. The version I read featured a cover with a pretty dolly and birds in a cage, which seems odd as this is the most bizarre and terrifying children’s book I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s scarier than most adult horror books. It’s got lovingly-described torture, a truth-telling doll with needle-sharp teeth, violence, claustrophobia, and death. Lots of death. Do read it, but don’t read it to your children.
43. The Straw Men – Michael Marshall. It’s about a conspiracy or some missing girls or something. I don’t know, it’s completely fallen out of my head.
44. Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande. This is the best book about writing. Books about how to write are mostly just bullshit, but this book is about how to be a writer, which is very different. I keep coming back to it, and every time it shows me something new. I reviewed it for PANK here.
45. The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie. Cup of tea! A walk in the park! Right, what’s next?
46. An Underground Education – Richard Zacks. I read this while on a writing retreat, because it’s easy to read and full of odd and inspiring little facts. Because I was on a retreat I kept to myself, got on with my work, and didn’t talk to anyone unless I had to. One day at lunch a man wouldn’t stop being friendly (damn him!) and asking what I was reading, so I had to show him the book. And of course he flipped it open to an illustration of a nun giving a priest a hand-job. And of course the man turned out to be a minister. After that he just smiled politely and let me get on with my godless, sinful book-reading.
47. The Paper House – Carlos Maria Dominguez. A delicious and unusual fable, equal parts inspiring and tragic. It helped that the copy I read was this beautiful little hardback with thick watercolour-paper covers and lovely big margins. Gorgeous.
48. The Seven Dials Mystery – Agatha Christie. I read this because I had a four-hour train journey, and I ended up spending most of the time playing Chop Sushi on my phone.
49. The Yellow House – Martin Gayford. This focuses on the time that Van Gogh spent in Arles with Gaugin, and it talked a bit too much about technical stuff like lighting and palettes and dates, which I didn’t really understand. Despite that, I found the book so inspiring. Reading about painters/sculptors/musicians/dancers makes me want to write more than reading about writers does.
50. CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk – Sekov Hamilton. Who knew there were graphic novels about CSI? I don’t remember the plot, but I remember that the goth boy was the culprit.
51. Sorcerers & Secretaries – Amy Kim Ganter. I read this and #50 because it was the evening of the Fractured West Issue #1 launch and I was nervous and looking for a distraction. The books worked, but maybe not as much as the two glasses of wine I had after the launch.
52. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. It’s true what everyone says, this series is very enjoyable. I don’t really have anything to add to the screeds that have been written about this book, except to say that I liked it.
53. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins. See #52. You may notice that I haven’t read the third book in the series, though I don’t really know why that is. I think I just forgot about them.
54. Burnout – Rebecca Donner. Another wait in a bookshop cafe, another little pile of graphic novels. This had interesting elements and conflicts, but didn’t really come together.
55. Water Baby – Ross Campbell. I absolutely loved this, though I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s that the protagonist, Brody, has a shaved head and a missing leg and is totally fuckable. Maybe it’s the unspoken love between Brody and her best friend Louisa. Maybe it’s that the girls burp and scratch their armpits and can’t label their sexualities. The plot is lightweight – it mostly consists of a drawn-out and ultimately pointless road trip – and doesn’t conclude well, but I can forgive that. There’s just something about it that I adored.
56. Like a Charm – Karin Slaughter (ed.). This book is the perfect example of how when writers get famous, they stop giving a shit. It’s clumsy and hackneyed from beginning to end.
57. Sleepwalk – Adrian Tomine. I’m told this is a classic in the graphic genre, and I can see how you might like it if you wear black skinny jeans and drink cappuccinos and decorate your flat with ‘ironic’ neon plastic drinkware. Okay, maybe that’s harsh; I just felt annoyed that this was essentially a short story collection in pictures. If the graphic elements don’t add to the story, why not just be a prose writer?
58. The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby. I’m not a big fan of his books, but I love his column in the Believer. I’d quite happily read about other people’s reading habits all day, and I wish that there were more books about books. I’d like to read more book blogs but there are so many that I don’t know where to start – any suggestions?
59. The Carhullan Army – Sarah Hall. Another feminism book group pick. You might wonder why there was so much time between this FBG book and the last; this is because we spent one group discussing Lady Gaga (specifically, the ‘Alejandro’ video) and then another discussing sex work. We interpret the ‘book’ part of ‘book group’ liberally. Anyway, this book was heartwrenching and angrymaking and generally wonderful.
60. Unsleep’s Village – Jessalyn Wakefield. I reviewed this for Barrelhouse too but it’s not in the archives. I remember it had some terrifying descriptions of teeth dreams. From my review: “[Unsleep’s Village] explores the myriad contrasting ways that women move through the world – how they fuck and eat and sleep and suffer and laugh and fear, how they are callous and hurting and multilayered. It offers no answers, and instead asks you to explore the questions yourself.” I liked it.
61. Bestseller – Alessandro Gallenzi. It’s always fun to read scathing indictments of the publishing industry, but it’s difficult not to come across as bitter. I don’t think this author managed it.
62. Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion. Such a beautiful, horrible book. The prose is utterly wonderful and it really helped me to understand how and why flash fiction works (it’s a novel, but written in lots of small, self-contained chunks). I reviewed it for PANK here.
63. The Last Living Slut: Born In Iran, Bred Backstage – Roxana Shirazi. I loved the evocative atmosphere of growing up in Iran, the descriptions of being shunned as a foreigner in England, and the emotional conflicts of wanting to be a strong feminist but needing male approval that can only be achieved through sex and debasement. The book is ultimately a bit of a mess, but there is some great stuff in the mix.
64. The Attraction – Douglas Clegg. One of the worst horror novels I’ve ever read, and I’ve read some utter shit.
65. In the Dark of the Night – John Saul. Some interesting descriptions, but ultimately it was too white, too male, too American, too middle-class. I really need to read more interesting horror fiction.
66. Wicked Women – Faye Weldon. This was another FBG pick, and I really wanted to like it but I just couldn’t. I’m not sure what it was, the phrasings or the themes or the middle-class anxieties or what, but it just all seemed so dated. Maybe if I try this again in a few decades it’ll fit better.
67. The After House – Mary Roberts Rinehart. The first half of this book was amazing: atmospheric, mysterious, enthralling. By the time the boat reached the shore, it all went wrong. The courtroom scene just retold in boring detail everything we already knew, and the unmasking of the murderer was ridiculous. Still, great beginning!
68. Dispatches from a Public Librarian – Scott Douglas. Such an interesting idea, such a disappointing book. It was just a series of dull blog posts with no insight or sense of place. For shame.
69. Evil at Heart – Chelsea Cain. Serial killers? Something about hanging from hooks? A journalist? Seriously, reading crime fiction is like eating cake: it’s fun at the time but it’s not very enriching.
70. The Seance – John Harwood. I loved this. On the surface it’s a ghostly mystery, but the real drive of the story is the protagonist’s intense need for a mother. The atmosphere and locations are wonderful, and the emotional drive was gutwrenching.
71. The Beats: A Graphic History – Paul Buhle (ed.). It’s clear that the writers and artists admire the Beats, but they’re never idolised or romanticised. They were misogynistic, self-absorbed and self-destructive and none of that is denied, but they’re not made into villains either. Some of the stories dragged and covered the same ground, but I found this enthralling and easy to read. I read most of it in a coffeeshop, which made me feel like a bit of a poser.
72. Case Histories – Kate Atkinson. I read this during the two days I was down in England for the Bridport Prize ceremony (I won third prize!). I got to meet Zoe Heller and PJ Harvey and it was an altogether surreal and amazing experience. Good thing I had this lovely wee literary mystery to calm me down. The plot twists delightfully, the prose flows well, and there are some lovely observations on the human condition.
73. The Floating Brothel – Sian Rees. A nonfiction choice for FBG. It’s odd to read a non-fiction book that doesn’t weave facts into a narrative, and it took a few chapters for me to get into this. Once Rees started to create atmosphere – smells, tastes, textures – I was hooked. If you can get past the rather dry beginning, it’s worth it.
74. Without Blood – Alessandro Baricco. This is a short book, but it packs a suckerpunch. The atmosphere and locations are so vivid in my mind, particularly the first scene.
75. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson. This went on about 100 pages too long and had far too much backstory. The prose was turgid and I’m sure I skimmed over at least a quarter of the whole thing. But I liked the atmosphere, and the story (once I dredged it out) was engrossing.
76. Smashed: Growing Up a Drunk Girl – Koren Zailckas. I think I’m just the right age to find Zailckas’s prose beautiful and affecting and true. Ask me again in a few years and I’m sure I’ll find it overwrought and silly. But I’m 26, and I grew up drinking, and although I don’t think it’s the root of all evil (because British people always have and always will be big drinkers), I still loved this book. The way Zailckas describes the romance of the first time you share booze with a female friend, how it’s similar to but so intensely more than losing your virginity – I could relate. This book makes me want to read and write huge scrunched handfuls of personal essays. Recommendations, please!
77. The Red Tent – Anita Diamant. Ah, FBG. You do make excellent choices. This novel is so lush and so sensual that I can forgive the fact that the two halves don’t really hold together that well. I loved this.
78. Blacklands – Belinda Bauer. It was a good idea, but like most crime novels (the ones I’ve read, anyway) I found it ultimately pointless. I’m beginning to think that I treat crime novels like those little mints or lemony aperitifs that posh restaurants give you between courses to cleanse your palate.
79. Woman’s World – Graham Rawle. This was a re-read, and I never tire of it. I love everything Graham Rawle does, but I think this book is my favourite – it’s quirky and funny, like all his stuff, but there’s a strong vein of sadness and despair running through it.
80. Dark Matter – Michelle Paver. Oh, how I loved this! I’m a total nerd for Svalbard anyway, so mix in a ghost story, some local legends and an unrequited gay love story, and I was bound to adore this. And I did, I really did. It’s creepy and atmospheric and engaging and sad and, seriously, just read it.
81. Forbidden – Tabitha Suzuma. I blame Kathryn Harrison’s incredible memoir, The Kiss, for my fascination with books about incest. Well, maybe Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden is partly to blame too. I read them both at an impressionable age, and impressed I most definitely was. This book does have interesting themes and the brother-sister relationship develops in a believable way, but it’s too long and the prose is embarrassingly clunky.
82. Scabbit Isle – Tom Pow. I read this on my lunch break at work because someone had left it on the table. It went fine with my soup and sandwich.
83. The Winter Ghosts – Kate Mosse. I say again: writers who get famous just don’t bother any more. I didn’t realise it was possible for such a short book (a novella, really) to contain so much waffle. There is an interesting story here – that of a young man dealing with his brother’s death and his own sense of inferiority – but it gets lost. I love children’s ghost stories, and this author clearly does too as the plot is cribbed straight from kids’ books. Still, if you don’t have a short attention span then maybe you’ll like the descriptions of France.
84. The Leaping – Tom Fletcher. I’m still chewing over my thoughts on this book, so watch out for a PANK review in the near future. If nothing else, it gave me a newfound fascination with English folklore.
85. The Small Hand – Susan Hill. Susan, you’re back again! All is forgiven! Let’s just forget that The Mist in the Mirror ever happened, because this book is bloody great.
86. Room – Emma Donoghue. I have a mega-crush on Emma Donoghue. I’m not sure anything she will write can surpass my love for Kissing the Witch, her collection of feminist fairy tale retellings, but Room comes very close indeed. I reviewed it for PANK here.
87. The Silent Land – Graham Joyce. Let me just get this out of the way: the plot is utterly ludicrous, like a bad Twilight Zone episode. But I didn’t really care, because I read this on Boxing Day curled up on a big leather chair at my mother’s house, eating Chocolate Orange and watching the snow fall outside, and this was just the perfect book for those activities. I really enjoyed it.
88. The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Lerner. I don’t read books about how to write, but I do read books about being a writer. This one is a favourite; every other page is dogeared and covered in marginalia. I highly recommend it.
Well, that’s it! A whole year of reading. My hopes for 2011’s reading include more classics, more short story collections, and fewer trashy crime thrillers. Well, maybe a few would be okay.
What were your favourites from 2010?