My recent vision problems have cut my reading-time to almost nothing, and I've felt lost without a book in my hands. Now my eyes are a little better I'm reading again, although at a slower, more measured pace, and here's a short list of the most memorable titles I've read this year.
My favourite general non-fiction title has to be Ben Goldacre's Bad Science which answered all sorts of questions I had about how research can be rendered unreliable by poor practise, and how results can be manipulated and designed. I consider it essential reading for all writers, whether they write fiction or non-fiction, regardless of whether or not their work has a scientific bias. It's informative, clever, beautifully-written and laugh-out-loud funny, and not to be missed. My other non-fiction pick of the year comes from Robyn Scott, who I met when we both took part in Sue Cook's The Write Lines radio show. Robyn was kind enough to give me a copy of her memoir, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood, which I've now read twice. It's an absolutely stunning book which deserves to win handsful of very significant prizes. My only criticism of it is that I wanted it to be longer!
Onto novels. Sue Gee's wonderful Reading in Bed delighted me. It was so beautifully-paced, so carefully-drawn: I loved it (and my friend, Sally Zigmond, felt the same). I've now read most of Sue Gee's books and am watching out for her next one, ready to snatch it off the shelves as soon as it appears. Patrick Gale's Notes from an Exhibition also had me spellbound: I'd not read him before I found this one on the three-for-two tables at Waterstone's. Gale is a beautiful writer, capable of using great lyricism and emotion without dipping into sentimentality, and I am looking forward to working my way through the rest of his books. As for Paul Torday: I resisted the urge to read his Salmon-Fishing book, popular though it was: the title didn't appeal to me, and I thought the cover was a little dull. Then a friend gave me a copy of The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce, and I was enthralled. It's a beautiful, sad, wistful book, and I love it.
The two most beautiful books I've bought this year have to be John K Bollard's companion pieces, The Mabinogi and Companion Tales to the Mabinogi. Bollard is a noted authority on the tales of the Mabinogi, and he tells the stories in his typically sparse and very Welsh style; his books are illustrated with stunning photographs of the Welsh landscape which come from Anthony Griffiths, a prizewinning photographer with an exceptional eye. I love these two books, and hope that more will come from this particular pairing. Lovely stuff.
I am particularly fond of short stories and this year I read two fabulous collections, both from Salt Publishing: Carys Davies' Some New Ambush, and Tania Hershman's The White Road and Other Stories. Both books show the short story at its absolute best and even now, months after reading them, the stories are still fresh in my mind: both Tania and Carys are expert at implication and their styles, while different, are sparse and poetic. They are now both on my list of must-buy writers.
I've read over a hundred books this year, and it's been difficult to pick out my favourite few: but as I've written about each one here, I've wanted to pick it up and read it again, right now. For me, reading is a constant, reassuring joy, and 2009 has been a wonderful year for books and for blogging: I thank everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read my blog this year, and look forward to reading my way through 2010 alongside you all.