New Year’s Reading List

New year, new books: now there’s a resolution I can get behind. In my opinion, there’s no finer way to kick-start the year than by getting your teeth into a new book, whether that means taking a chance on an author you’ve never heard of or knocking a few of those Christmas gifts and holiday sale bargains off the to-be-read shelf.

With all the new beginnings in the air, I also like to spend some time on the approach to spring tackling some of those books I feel I should have read already, the Steinbeck and the Nabokov and the D. H. Lawrence—those books I buy from charity shops because they look all literary, but somehow never get round to reading at the time. Last year it was the time for To the Lighthouse and Fahrenheit 451, but I think with the way things are looking for the foreseeable future, it might be a good idea to make my reading list a little more dystopian this year…

The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Last year it took me pretty much forever to get round to reading the 2015 Man Booker winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings, so this year I’m determined not to be so sluggish with Paul Beatty’s 2016 winner The Sellout. Yes, that does mean giving it quite the bump to the top of my 80-strong to-read list—but given its satirical look at race relations in the US, and with many Americans currently re-evaluating whether racism is really as bad as everyone says (yeah, it really is), there doesn’t seem to be any more fitting time than the present to make myself acquainted with The Sellout.

img_3230His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet

Another to-be-read from last year’s Man Booker shortlist, with all the praise Graeme Macrae Burnet’s fictional murder case study has garnered I could hardly say no to giving it a spin—not to mention my love of all things Scottish wouldn’t let me pass it up if I tried.

img_32351984, George Orwell

1984 is one of those books mentioned above that caught my eye in a second-hand shop, but once brought home was consigned to wait patiently at the tail end of my to-be-reads. But, as with The Sellout, the zeitgeist is pointing me towards Orwell’s Big Brother classic; after all, we probably haven’t got much time before 1984 stops being fiction and becomes enshrined as legitimate prophecy.

img_3234The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

One of the many books to arrive mysteriously in my stocking on Christmas morning, I fell in love with The Essex Serpent‘s thistly cover and dreamlike prologue so quickly I actually started reading it the minute I unwrapped it. Now two weeks and 150 pages in, this already looks like a pretty solid nominee for my book of the year.

img_3237Stone of Farewell, Tad Williams

I read the first volume of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, The Dragonbone Chair, back at the end of last summer, and after taking a few detours through Middle-Earth and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I feel it’s about time I got back to Williams’ sword-and-sorcery epics. I’m hoping the series does something to pick up in Stone of Farewell: The Dragonbone Chair was plenty enjoyable but got a bit stale towards the end, and it’ll be a shame if Stone does nothing more than pick up where Chair fizzled out.

September in Books: The Dragonbone Chair; The Gospel of Loki; The Order of the Phoenix

The Dragonbone Chair, Tad WilliamsThe Dragonbone Chair

Young, inept servant boy Simon falls into a world of monsters, mages and magic swords after accidentally rebelling against the High King of Osten Ard. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a good bit of absolute pulp.

And that’s exactly why I loved The Dragonbone Chair. Sure, the plot is very much a remodelled Fellowship of the Ring, the dialogue is stuffy and melodramatic, and every other character has the classic Exotic Apostrophe wedged into their name (hello, Khendhraja’aro); but Tad Williams doesn’t seem to care. He’s cheesy and he knows it – and with the fantasy genre firmly entrenched in the serious and the grim these days, a little unashamed cheese is no bad thing.

The Gospel of Loki, Joanne M. Harristhe-gospel-of-loki

The rise and fall of Asgard, retold from the perspective of Loki the Trickster.

I won’t lie, I bought this one purely for the cover. I thought the premise – reimagining the villainous Loki as a victimised anti-hero – was neat, but if it weren’t for the oh-so-shiny cover, I doubt the blurb would have been enough to sway me.

In fact, I actually put off reading this for months purely because I was worried the book itself wouldn’t live up to its packaging – and now it’s finished, I can’t honestly say that it did. I’m not sure whether it’s because my love for the cover art set too high a standard or because I was never really invested in the ‘sympathy for the Devil’ angle to begin with, but I just struggled throughout to find any real foothold in this. I think perhaps if I were younger I would have found something more in the snarky, misunderstood tone (Harris really does reduce Loki from a god to a seething, “oppressed” teen sometimes) but as I am now it just didn’t do it for me. A shame, considering how great it looks on my bookcase…

the-order-of-the-phoenixHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling (reread)

After going straight from Ulysses to Don Quixote to A Brief History of Seven Killings, I needed a bit of a detox – and what better for that than the favourite book of my childhood?

I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve read Order of the Phoenix, but clearly not enough times for it get stale. One of the things for which I’ve always loved this book is introducing two of my favourite characters in all of literature – Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange – and also for developing Ginny Weasley into something more substantial than the hapless damsel she was pared down to in the films.

And then there’s that great climactic set piece as Dumbledore finally confronts Voldemort himself; until now, I’d never really appreciated Dumbledore’s weary sense of duty as he marched into the Ministry, entering a fight he was too old for but couldn’t yet leave behind. “It was foolish to come here tonight, Tom” – one of those sublime moments when J.K. Rowling truly nails the scene.