Every now and then I take a photo of a book, or even a stack of books, with nice lighting and cute composition, with the intention of placing said photo on the Instagram, enthusiastically endorsing them so that everyone else can experience the same thrill and feverish page turning mania I did.
Then I forget to post it, start a new book, and promptly forget all about previous book, especially when someone says, ‘Read any good books lately?’.
So here’s a list of (some of the) Books I’ve Loved* this year.
That doesn’t mean they’re the only books I read, nor that they were necessarily released this year, by the way, just that I read them this year. So don’t get all fidgety if you see Are you there God, it’s me Margaret on the list. A good book is a good book! They don’t expire! Good on them!
Of course, it goes without saying (but not, apparently, without writing) that a book is a tremendous Chrimmus gift, especially since many people, like myself, get crippled with indecision at the book shop.
Another great gift is a homemade cream and sponge cake, in case anyone I know is reading this.
TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT, Maria Semple
If you are yet to read Maria’s brilliant Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, for the love of lice, do. It is a triumph in funny, clever, manic story telling. This is equally wonderful, her female protagonist again dancing dangerously between feisty, glamorous wife, mother and woman, and complete nervous breakdown. Semple is a former writer for SNL, Mad About You and Arrested Development. So, yknow, chops. She’s sharp as lemon and funny as hell.
Good for: Lovers of wit, sassy dames, and just all women with pulses, really.
THE DRY, Jane Harper
Utterly harrowing and at times difficult to read (as a mother – those who’ve read it know what I mean) this Aussie outback murder-mystery-thriller is a cracking yarn, which is not a sentence I thought I would ever write, but there you go.
Good for: People into crime stuff.
ELEANOR AND PARK, Rainbow Rowell
Not only does Rainbow win at names, but her tale about two misfit teens falling in love (in the EIGHTIES NO LESS!!!) is a masterpiece of deep feels and wonderful detail. I loved this book so much. Make me a mixtape already.
Good for: Romantics and nostalgics and ’80s kids.
THE GAP OF TIME, Jeanette Winterson.
A sexy, elegant, (get ready for it…) unputdownable modern retelling of Billy Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. (Also: Jeanette Winterson! She of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit!) Fun fact: The Gap of Time was the first in a series of modern Shakespearian re-tellings. Since then Anne Tyler has published Vinegar Girl (casually hanging out in the stack next to my bed) which is based on The Taming of The Shrew, and the inimitable Margaret Atwood has just released Hag-Seed, a retelling of The Tempest. Woo!
Good for: Shakespeare fans. And also non-Shakespeare fans.
BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent
I finally read this (2013) smash as a catch up before reading Kent’s new book, The Good People, which I have not got around to reading but it’s coming on holidays with me because what could be better than some dark and miserable Scandi Noir over summer. Like billions of others, Burial Rites grabbed be my the goolies and did not let go. And that’s saying something cos a tale set in rural Iceland in the 1800s about a woman condemned to death for the murder of her employer is not generally my jam. Kent is a phenomenal writer, and this is an exceptional book.
Good for: People who can read.
BEAUTIFUL RUINS, Jess Walter
I read this in 2015 and again this year because I’m lazy, sure, but also cos it’s great. It’s wonderful and often feels as though you are watching a film. There’s romance! Glamour! Mystery! Love! Italy! Movie stars! Death! Oh, what a ride! Jess Walter is constantly referred to as a ridiculously talented writer, but this book is rubbish. No, wait. This book proves it! This book proves it.
Good for: Romantics and film-lovers and fans of a good bloody story.
LETTERS OF NOTE, Compiled by Shaun Usher
I gift this book constantly. (Also it’s follow up, More Letters of Note.) It is a magnificent, very special collection of rare, romantic, historical, heartbreaking, harrowing, hilarious, breathtaking and bombastic letters from presidents, poets, painters and paupers, featuring job applications, suicide notes, letters from fans and the first recorded use of OMG. This is a brilliant, gutting, gorgeous book, full of gems, and OH, how I love it.
Good for: ANYONE. No, wait. EVERYONE.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED, (US) Esquire
My favourite page from my favourite magazine (note that it’s US Esquire, not that stinkin’ UK edition), where, thanks to the exceptional interviewing skills of (usually) Cal Fussman, you get access to the most crystallised, potent little mind diamonds from successful, fascinating and brilliant people. Often funny, always interesting, and with more wisdom than, I don’t know, something really wise like an owl maybe, there are a few editions, but the older ones can be tricky to get your mitts on. The most recent edition (featuring Ted Danson, Robert DeNiro, Aaron Sorkin, Lionel Richie, Sigourney Weaver, Amy Schumer etc etc) isn’t though.
Good for: Everyone but tis an especially terrific gift for any male human you’re struggling to buy for.
WE FOUND A HAT, Jon Klassen
The newest and maybe my favourite from the king of very silly and very perfect picture books. If you haven’t already bough his other hat-based tales, This Is Not My Hat, and I Want My Hat Back, then you’re a sweet fool.
Good for: Toddlers and – gasp! – their parents.
Also I hear that beauty book Amazinger Face is good, and that book that they made a telly show made out of, The Wrong Girl is great, and The Younger Man and Playing The Field and Textbook Romance and Air Kisses are really awesome and worth a read too, but I can’t remember who wrote them except I think her name had something to do with a beer and she has frizzy hair.
*I also read lots of (often dull) non-fiction (Unfinished Business, What To Do When It’s Your Turn, Big Magic, The Importance of Being Little, The Whole-Brain Child) and am totally up to date with Sweet Valley High, but they’re not books I loved with a big pink loveheart.