I wouldn’t call 2015 a classic year of reading, despite its excellent start. In fact, the first book I read in this western-based time period was probably the best thing I read all year.
I read 49 works of long form fiction and 3 short story collections including some of the biggest names around such as The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – the latter a bit of a disappointment… There were some interesting and unusual books that crossed my path too. I was quite taken with The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley which had an unsettling atmosphere to the narrative, but lacked the killer punch I’d been hoping for. Scarlett Thomas’ The Seed Collectors was not my kind of thing on paper (despite me being a big fan of her previous novels) but I really enjoyed the prose and underlying mythology Thomas created, if not the story itself. I was a little disappointed by The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies by Martin Millar, simply because it was decent but not a patch on his Kalix novels, which I adore. I read a lot of books that came highly recommended or I’d been swayed by hype, and which I thought were good and enjoyable, but nothing special. These include Way Down Dark by James Smythe, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Chimes by Anna Smaill, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord and Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.
So with that in mind, the novels I enjoyed the most are (in order): The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, Bête by Adam Roberts, Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Honourable mentions should go to Tigerman by Nick Harkaway and Touch by Claire North. These books all moved me in different ways. Pinborough’s book is beautiful and dark. Robert’s is technically brilliant while Hardinge’s was like nothing I’d ever read before both in terms of subject and style. The ambition and achievement of both North’s novels are extraordinary. Chambers’ debut was the most fun I’ve had with a book for quite some time. And Harkaway’s was just a great story with great characters. Other books I’ve enjoyed for various reasons include Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, and Day Four by Sarah Lotz.
Last year I decided to read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels in order. I’m ploughing through them nicely, and I’m up to Jailbird which I hope to read fairly soon. It almost should go without saying that I loved Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade and Breakfast of Champions the most so far but both Slapstick or Lonesome No More and Player Piano were awesome reads too. I’ve read a few other classics and favourites this year too, so nods must go to Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, The War Of The Worlds by HG Wells and Atomised by Michel Houellebecq.
My least favourite reads this year where The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason, Steeple by Jon Wallace and Rooms by Lauren Oliver. The former two are fairly bog standard science fiction which I find more and more uninspiring as I age, while the latter failed to grip me with its style or conceit. Which is a shame as it had a lovely cover.
A quick analysis of the authors I’ve read is a bit better this year in terms of gender equality. If you only count each author I read once, I read 21 males and 19 females. Non-white or non UK or US writers did well too. Faber, Heuvelt, Houellebecq, Ishiguro, Itäranta, Lord, Lotz, Novik, Yanagihara and Zamyatin graced my reading shelf. I also read and enjoyed The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4
My non-fiction reads were fewer, as usual. My top 3 were:
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson,
The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It by Owen Jones
The rest in no order are: Discovering Scarfolk (Richard Littler – although this should probably come under fiction, but it is satire I guess), How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime (Roger Corman), I Think You’ll Find it’s a Bit More Complicated Than That (Ben Goldacre) The ‘If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One’ EP (Stewart Lee), The God Argument (A.C. Grayling), The Meaning of Human Existence (E.O. Wilson), The One-Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide (Heidi Buchanan), The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography (Joan Fontcuberta) and The Psychopath Test (Jon Ronson).
I picked up some interesting comics this year. I got a little bored with Saga and Zero and my interest in The Wicked + The Divine is starting to slip. However, I’m loving Monstress, Injection, Negative Space, Trees, Ms Marvel and The Dying and the Dead. I really enjoyed Wytches and adored Supreme Blue Rose, but was massively disappointed by Nameless and I didn’t get past issue 1 of Bitch Planet. Hipsters vs Rednecks was kinda fun. I really enjoyed the collected Alias vols 1 and 2 and I’m slowly working my way through the glorious Library Editions of Hellboy – I’m up to vol 4. Batman: Nine Lives is awesome as I love a bit of noir! I found the artwork on the first two volumes of Rat Queens frustrating and annoying, so I’ll pass on any more of those. I think my favourite comic book of the year is probably Leaves on the Wind (Serenity, #4). But then, it is Firefly! I also re-read V for Vendetta as everyone should in these troubled times!
My year according to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/6304958
I also made a Sway: https://sway.com/Tmkrix8u5gWtdBTG
All of which is interesting because there is loads of great stuff out there which I’ve not read, either because I’ve not come across them, they are still on my to-be-read list or pile (the new Adam Roberts for example) or because they are simply not for me. That doesn’t mean that I’ve chosen well or badly over the last 12 months. The books I’ve listed above will not match anyone else’s best of year lists and for that I’m thankful. These are my books, the ones I enjoyed, the ones that spoke to me. These are not books that you, gentle reader, should read. Or agree with me if you have read them. Perhaps they might pique an interest and you might go and explore further. Great if you do, great if you don’t. Books are personal and these are mine. My only hope is that I read more brilliant books in 2016 and fewer that are just good.
I love reading, by the way…
For a sense of completion, I’ve seen 42 new films this year, which isn’t bad. My favourites were (in no order) Whiplash, Star Wars The Force Awakens, Inside Out, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Big Eyes, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Birdman, Lucy, Nightcrawler, Avengers Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Mood Indigo and Odd Thomas. Probably a better year for films than books for me.
In terms of TV, nothing topped Jessica Jones but I also enjoyed Daredevil, Sense8, Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, Better Caul Saul, House of Cards, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Dr Who and Once Upon a Time.