I can't tell you how many books I've read over the past year, because I don't keep formal lists. I have done in the past, and every time I find myself in a reading slump, unable to enjoy any book, going days without even opening one. This will go on for several months until I abandon the list, at which point normal service is resumed, and the pages start flying past again. It has happened too many times now to be a coincidence, so no more lists.
This time last year I know that I was in the middle of Dorothy Dunnett's 'House of Niccolo' series, because I was attempting to read all the Lymond and Niccolo novels before getting engrossed in dissertation. I clearly remember that I didn't quite succeed, which means that I must have been still reading them at the beginning of April. It's a Dunnett New Year again, because I am currently engrossed in 'King Hereafter', for either the second or third time.
I re-read a lot, which is why I am not particularly enthusiastic about getting rid of books, but I also read a lot of 'new' books. New to me, that is, not necessarily newly published (I tend to only have a hazy idea of what has been newly published, since most of my money is spent in secondhand and charity shops. Hence the quantity problem). The following are the books that impressed me most this year.
Best Novel 'As Meat Loves Salt', by Maria McCann, which I attempted to review rather badly here.
Most Eagerly Awaited work of Fiction 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', which was better than I had expected. The predictions I made while reading 'Prisoner of Azkaban' eight years ago in Ireland were surprisingly accurate, too.
Novel I was most surprised at enjoying 'Mrs Dalloway', by Virginia Woolf. Probably all intellectual teenage girls feel they ought to read Virginia Woolf. I certainly did, and I couldn't stand her then. "What's actually happening?" I uttered, all the way through 'To the Lighthouse', 'Orlando', and 'Jacob's Room'. I only forgave 'Flush' for featuring a Cocker spaniel. Ten years on, having lost my addiction to narrative certainties, I had enjoyed 'A Home at the end of the world' by Michael Cunningham,. and wanted to read his 'The Hours'. But I knew it was inspired by 'Mrs Dalloway', and I felt I ought to read that first. For months I couldn't even bring myself to buy the Woolf. Finally I cracked and chose the cheapest Penguin edition, without any notes or introduction, to see if concentrating on the text itself rather than what I ought to be thinking about it would help. Obviously it did, I whizzed through it, and even quoted from it in my dissertation (never one to miss an opportunity to show off my reading. I also quoted from Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. All made perfect sense in the context). I then loved 'The Hours'.
Best Children's Books Two very late entries, 'Little Katia' and 'Ellen', by E. M. Almedingen, a Christmas present from L that kept me up until the small hours of Boxing Day. I thought I had at least heard of if not read all the best children's books of the twentieth century, but obviously not. (I had also thought that it was compulsory for any book set in nineteenth century Russia to sigh and remark how all this has been swept away by the Revolution now. These didn't, and were all the better for it).
Best Non-Fiction I'm afraid my choice is wilfully obscure, but if I'm being honest I have to say it was a book called 'Space, Geography and Politics in the Early Roman Empire' by Claude Nicolet, which turned out not to be relevant to the subject I ended up researching, but which was surprisingly readable for an academic work, and dealt with one of my main academic obsessions, which is notions of 'borders' in Roman thought. Sadly it was not an obsession that suggested a topic suitable for research in 18,000 words or less, so I ended up writing about Virgil and politics and a bit of "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff" instead. Obviously to good effect.
Slightly less obscurely, Katherine Whitehorn's 'Selective Memory' was a fast and fabulous read, and Jane Brocket's 'The Gentle Art of Domesticity' is my coffee-drinking book (not a coffee table book, which I don't do, but a book that I look through while drinking coffee in order to feel refreshed and inspired. It has too much meat to it to be a coffee table book).
Re-read of the year Norah Loft's trilogy featuring a lightly disguised Bury St Edmunds, 'The House at Old Vine', 'The Town House', and 'The House at Sunset'. I hadn't read them since I was 15 or so, and found they were far more subtle than I had remembered, as well as far more vivid when read shortly after a trip to Bury St Edmunds, with a street map on the side of the sofa.
Funniest read of the year Not books, technically. This was the year that L introduced me to the Lopiverse. What is the Lopiverse, I hear you cry (well, actually I don't, but I'm imagining it very hard)? If Dorothy L Sayers were alive today and (for some reason) writing sequels to the Harry Potter stories for grown-ups (mostly on grounds of emotional explicitness rather than sexual, I would add), then you would have the Lopiverse. I have come across some dreadful things perpetrated in the name of Fan Fiction. These are not in that class. In fact, they make the originals look like hackery. I live in fear that they will somehow disappear before I get around to printing out copies to read in the bath.
Kniting Book of the year A very close-run thing between Lynne Barr's Knitting New Scarves and Veronik Avery's 'Knitting Classic Style'. 'Knitting New Scarves has it by a whisker because almost every pattern has me exclaiming "What! How?" and needing to know just how it was done.