My Favourite Books of 2016 (How is December Here Already???)

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December has arrived far too quickly. How is it this time already? It's been a pretty bad year, in more ways than one, and I seem to have been in a year-long reading slump. Luckily, out of the few books I have read, I've found some real gems.


I talked about this book here.

Basically, the epitome of all the books I've read this year. I've said that all of this in my review, of course - but the feeling hasn't faded. It's a beautiful read - touching, lyrical and political. It goes much deeper than perhaps first appears, and discusses much more than the blurb suggests. Divided Britain. Racist undertones in society. Brexit.

It's not just my favourite book of 2016 because it's so well written. It really sums up 2016, and my feelings about the major political shifts we've seen. Sometimes you love a book so much you can't explain it in writing - this is one of them.


This is the first book of Murakami's that I read - it introduced me to an author that I knew very little about. Now I understand the hype: Murakami's books are completely unique - unlike any other author I know. Actually, I think I started with his best book. I'm not saying I haven't enjoyed any of his other books - just none of them live up to this. So far I've read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood  - enjoyable, but not as riveting.

Based on Orwell's 1984, it's about.... everything. Parallel universes. Books. Writing. The joys of literature. Love. So much more. You can see the connections between Orwell's novel and Murakami's. Some are obvious. Some are a little more subtle. Overall, it's a bizarre, poetic read but really rewarding read.

The Evenings

Gerard Reve has been described as the Dutch Albert Camus.  I'm normally quite wary of books (and authors) described liked this - they normally raise my expectations and then fail to meet them. This was an exception.

Twenty-three-year-old Frits - office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes - find life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frtis's life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city street and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

At first, I wasn't sure about The Evenings. It felt like the whole thing was building up to a climax that never arrived. As it continued, however, I began to get drawn into the dark, perhaps slightly sarcastic, tone that lies beneath. (Maybe sarcastic is the wrong word.) By the time I finished, I was mesmerised. It reminded me a lot of Camus, also appearing slightly Kafka-like at times, and despite a slightly dodgy start, really surprised me. Profound and beautifully written - I don't think this is getting the attention it deserves.

What are your favourite books of the year?
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Autumn by Ali Smith

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Ali Smith
20 October 2016
Hamish Hamilton

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That's what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016?

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

This is the best book I've read this year.

That is not an understatement.

Post Brexit, post Trump - post truth - this is the perfect read. Touching, heart-warming - breath taking - it's one of those books that flies by and you want to read again and again.

Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Ali Smith fan. Sadly. Her books are unique - a breath of fresh air, when done well. I find her a little hit and miss - sometimes her prose is brilliant and I just want to read on and on - and other times I find her books a battle to even finish.

This is one of her books that I love. Her style is brilliant, witty, and touching. And sad. Sad, but beautiful. It touches on themes of death, ageing, the passing of time. It's about the friendship between a young girl and an old man, but also society. Ali Smith weaves different stories and realities and turns something deceptively simple into something beautiful.

This is one of those books that is more than just a book. It's one of those books that reminds you writing is art. I came to read this book from her previous - How To Be Both - and found the difference astonishing. Compared to HTBB, which I struggled to even finish, Autumn is on a different level entirely.

The Brexit vote crops up as a theme - it's the first time I've read about it in a book. Which makes it all the more sadder - depending on what you voted for. It discusses how the vote has affected British life, what cultural divides it has suddenly brought to the surface. It contrasts ordinary life with the huge political shifts happening behind the scenes - which is something you can appreciate whichever way you voted.

That's another post entirely.

Anyway, you should read this book. It's not just a story, it's a look at time and at modern British life, the mood of a post-Brexit country and the divisions that have suddenly ripped through society - and it does it in such a subtle way that you hardly realise it. 
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Do You Ever Feel Pressured To Read a Certain Number of Books?

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Do you ever feel pressured into reading a certain number of books? I mean, eight books a month? Twelve?

I do.

I feel really guilty when I don't read. I feel even guiltier if I do read, but hardly get anything read. I mean, I have a big TBR. It ain't going nowhere. It just sits there judging me. One day it will collapse. SEND HELP.

I've always been known as a bookworm. I've always seen myself as a bookworm - I sometimes wonder if that's where this comes from. When I was younger, I managed to get through hundreds of books a year, so it always feels strange when I don't. My reading habits are deeply engrained in my life - but it feels more than wrong when I don't read. It almost feels as though I'm a fake bookworm because I'm not reading enough - which in turn makes reading itself a whole load more stressful.

This is one of the reasons I don't do Goodreads challenges - or readathons at all (with the exception of #Victober). I often see people saying that they're reading books they wouldn't normally read, such as comics or novellas or whatever, just to catch up if they're behind schedule. I don't understand. I mean, I don't have a problem with comics or novellas - but why read stuff you don't necessarily want to just to hit a target? I think it's easy to get caught up in the numbers when you're reading and you actually forget about why you're doing it (i.e. to get as far away from reality as humanly possible).

I find I put enough pressure on myself to read without having a specific number to hit. I think putting that pressure on myself ends up taking the fun out of reading. Believe it or not, BOOKS ARE MEANT TO BE FUN. (Well, most of them. I'm not sure about Mein Kampf.)

I think it's important to remind yourself that books are meant to be fun - not just numbers on a graph. If I take a while over a book, or I only read one a month, it doesn't really matter that much, does it? Some books take longer to finish than others. Sometimes I want to read different genres. Sometimes I don't want to read at all. What matters is that I enjoy it - and I think sometimes it's easy to forget that.

Besides, on the bright side, a couple of books a month is more than most people read in a year. Which is sort of nice to hear, but also really sad. Ah. Sometimes I pity humanity.

What do you think?

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