Books I’ve read in 2016

Maybe it’s too early for a round up of the year. But when I’m feeling low I tidy my flat; and the rest of the flat was already so tidy that today I even got as far as the books piled on the floor. In no order, but in three categories, here’s a lot of what I’ve read in 2016, with some comments that you shouldn’t take too seriously:


Giorgio Bassani: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. The Jewish WWII book that barely mentions the Holocaust. Full of unrequited love, coloured marble monstrosities and tennis.
Han Kang: The Vegetarian. Weird. Korean. Probably so esteemed because the book world was befuddled by that conjunction.

Anakana Schofield: Martin John. I didn’t like this; but I admire it enormously. A benchmark for my writing life.

Anakana Schofield: Malarky. I read this to check out how good she was with her debut. (I am not competitive at all.) The answer: very good.

Siri Hustvedt: What I Loved. Given to me by a beloved friend. She’s too writerly for me; but I like her ambition.

Robert Anton Wilson: Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati. Actually non-fiction; but so loony it’s basically fiction. And research for my next-but-one book.

Peter Robinson: September in the Rain. Fabulously tender evocation of the uncertainty of youth.

Vladimir Sorokin: The Queue. Russian queuing equivalent of Nicholson Baker’s Vox. Without the sex. Proper avant garde writing.

Dan Clements: What Will Remain. Not well-structured. Not really a novel at all. Very compelling on what it’s like to fight in a modern war.

Dan Micklethwaite: The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote. Don’t.

Jemma Wayne: Chains of Sand. Also don’t.

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life. Unbelievably credible on self-hatred against all the odds. I read it compulsively and in a trance. I use neither of those terms lightly.

Elena Ferrante: The Lost Daughter. Doll stolen on beach. Psychic hell ensues.

Meera Syal: Anita and Me. Growing up Hindu in provincial Britain. Research.

Vladimir Nabokov: The Luzhin Defense. Brilliant book about chess.

Elizabeth Hardwick: Sleepless Nights. Can’t remember a thing about it.

Elena Ferrante: The Days of Abandonment. More psychic hell. Read it.

Elena Ferrante: The Troubling Love. Even more. Read this too. Really. Especially if you were under-awed by the Neapolitans.

Nora Ephron: Heartburn. Must have read this too fast; don’t remember a thing.

Nikita Lalwani: Gifted. British Asian child goes to Oxford to study Maths at age 14. Not a good outcome.

Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia. Another world.

John Lanchester: Capital. A warning to all of us who try to write beyond our own experience.

Anon: Diary of an Oxygen Thief. Cult book about addiction.

Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping. Took some time to get through. Haunted me ever since.

Cynan Jones: Everything I Found on the Beach. Small canvas, wonderful writing.

Cynan Jones: The Long Dry. Largely about a cow. Same wonderful writing.

Jon McGregor: So Many Ways to Begin. A writing hero of mine.

Jon McGregor: This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. Just how does he do this?

Alex Pheby: Playthings. Fascinating depiction of a certain type of madness. I’m interested in depictions of madness.

Books about writing

Tony Litt: Mutants. On the go. Better than any of the others here. Not light reading. Massively worth it.

ed. Meredith Marah: Why We Write. Some snippets to hoard away.

ed Nicholas Boyle: The Art of the Novel. More snippets to hoard away.

Stephen King: On Writing. If you haven’t, you should.

Lidia Yuknavitch: A Chronology of Water. Revelatory style of women’s writing.

Nicola Morgan: Tweet Right. How to use Twitter. Nuff said.

Other non-fiction

Ben Judah: This is London. Brilliant. I say no more.

Elie Wiesel: Night. One of the books about the Holocaust. It tore my heart.

Karen Blixen: Out of Africa. Not as romantic as the film. But astonishing as a woman’s life.

Steven Heller: Monsters and Magical Sticks. Lessons from a hypnotist about trance and reality. More research for the next-but-one book.

Norman Doidge: The Brain’s Way of Healing. How to believe you can one day get well from developmental PTSD.

Stanislav Grof: The Holotropic Mind. Odd stuff to do with Jung and LSD.

Caitlin Moran: Moranifesto. Mostly worth it.

Amy Liptrot: The Outrun. Not so interesting on the alcoholism. Wonderful on Orkney and swimming.

Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking. Taught me about artistic permission.

Matt Haig: Reasons to Stay Alive. Inspired me to write my own version. Watch this space.

Adrian Gill: Pour Me: A Life. Addiction memoir plus. Read it for the brace of grouse.


I imagine there will be more read by December. And I conclude I should write this down monthly not annually. So tell me: what have you read? what have I missed?


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4 thoughts on “Books I’ve read in 2016

  1. I am reading East West Street which, if you are investigating the holocaust (above list would indicate it’s a part of what you are doing), is a definite must read. The story of the men who came up with the legal definitions of crime against humanity and genocide, told through the connection of the town they both came from – now Lviv but previously Lemburg and Lvov among other names – and which the author’s grandfather also came from. That town changed hands at least 5 times in the 20th century.

    I have also read my friend Thomas Harding’s book about his family history – the House on the Lake – which is also excellent.

    And ‘the mongol empire’ by Jon Man which is fascinating as I just didn’t know this bit of history. Very interesting on the importance of culture to longevity and legacy.

    And ‘what works’ by Iris Bohnet which shows the evidence on gender equality. Very well written.

    The rest are a bit of a mish mash and much less writerly than yours!


    1. Emily – all of those sound very interesting as well, particularly East West Street. I’m not deliberately reading Holocaust books; but it is true that my interest in that period of history has grown again recently. The other one on my part-read list is ‘A Brief Stop on the Way from Auschwitz’ by Goran Rosenberg; the memoir/coming of age story of a Swedish child of Holocaust survivors.


  2. I agree with you about Days of Abandonment, it is very harrowing but better I feel than the Neopolitan quartet.

    I can’t agree with your view of Chains of Sand – one of my books of 2016.

    And Jon MacGregor is also one of my writing heroes 🙂 He has a new novel out in 2017!

    Faves of mine this year include Barney Norris’s debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain; Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; Small Great Things by Jodi Picault; All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan.


    1. Ah – how interesting that we agree on Ferrante and disagree on ‘Chains of Sand’. There certainly were aspects of it that I enjoyed and admired, particularly the complex depiction of Israel and the effects/necessity of its military service and the attraction of Israel for Jews living elsewhere. But I didn’t like the writing style and found the changes in point of view didn’t work for me.

      Yes – I am also absolutely looking forward to McGregor’s new one. And I will also look up the Donal Ryan – I found The Spinning Heart very interesting last year.

      Liked by 1 person

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