As arbitrary as a year-end can be, having a project and a date to work towards always motivates me. One ongoing project I have is writing down all the books I finish reading; a task which gets progressively more satisfying as the year passes. Rather than counting down to Christmas, I measure the month by the number of books I believe I can read. I’ve learned that my wellbeing is enriched with a ‘done’ list, and writing it all down helps me to see where I may go next.
Is there another book in the series? What else has the author written? And what am I not reading?
I can tell you a little about what I have read. 2022 included a range of fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, poetry and children’s titles. Perhaps my range has not been as wide as usual, but this year was one for exploring more languages.
Alongside English (I must admit, quite literally alongside), I have tentatively explored books written in Welsh, German, the Shetland dialect, Hebrew (lots) and Aramaic (a little).
So, did my dog learn Welsh this year?
Or did I?
Read on to find out…
Many of the books this year were mood-lifters, and although some were long, most were shorter than average. Most books I finished scored highly for me out of ten; perhaps this is because I am getting older. Or more discriminating. Or less concerned when a book isn’t what I’m in the mood for. If I feel stronger in 2023 I’ll go back and complete some of the books I’ve left halfway this year.
I love well-written or evocative prose, cleverly rounded characters and a plot thick enough to rest a spoon on. (Briefly, I mean). I also thrive on originality and wit (in either order).
Some of my reading highlights from 2022 follow. Do you agree with these recommendations?
The Song of Achilles had been on my ‘must read’ list since I read Madeline Miller’s Circe a few years back and it did not disappoint.
Miller knows Greek mythology and she knows how to spin a story.
Whether you are familiar or not with the originals, there is much drama, spice and inspired evocative writing here.
I have read a number of Rachel Joyce’s works and love her writing. She takes people so ordinary you think you know them and puts them in progressively extraordinary situations. In Miss Benson’s Beetle, two unlikely companions take a quest to New Caledonia to look for an elusive gold beetle.
I had to look up New Caledonia. It’s a French overseas territory east of Australia. Joyce must have had a lot of fun writing this and I hope she got to visit the place.
(Author aspirations… must write about somewhere exotic myself, hmm…)
I do recommend this, particularly as my plot-predictor radar must have been off and I didn’t see all the clever twists coming.
Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint is written in free verse, one of my favourite forms.
The seventeenth century painter Artemisia Gentileschi may have been used and forgotten, but her paintings of Susanna and Judith still challenge the violent unfair patriarchal system she lived in.
In McCullough’s artful retelling, Artemisia’s father is passing her work off as his own, but the young girl has bigger worries to deal with. Stories of injustice and pain are not new, but this tale of stories within stories deserves to be retold; this book does it exquisitely.
I picked up The Lion and The Saint by Laura E. Wolfe as I was intrigued by the concept and reviews. It was a stunning read.
This is a novella, so relatively quick to get through; it is told in first person by a lion, a hamadryas baboon and St Gerasim. Compelling and powerful, a well-crafted parable for all ages.
Amy Scott Robinson has chosen and retold a number of international folk tales in Louisa Freya, Dragon Slayer, all with female heroes, for this book. It is perfect for children and certainly shouldn’t be limited to a female readership. I loved the artwork as well as the writing and recommend it as a great gift option for young readers. Incidentally, if you can stretch to the sister-book, Queen Esther, Nation Saver, I highly recommend that too.
Ruth Leigh is ridiculously witty and her poor heroine, the influencer Issy Smugge, is now established both in her Suffolk manor house and in the hearts of readers around the world. This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion.
Smugge (it rhymes with Brugge) is unaware of how she really appears to regular folk, some of whom hate her, but life has been very difficult despite appearances. Underneath the glamour there are deeper issues lurking. And upstairs Mummy has come to stay.
Leigh’s clever observational humour made me chuckle frequently. If you’ve not yet discovered Issy Smugge you’re missing out.
I met Ruth through our connections with the Association of Christian Writers and we had wonderful chats in her car when we travelled together to a conference in May. We bonded over Frasier quotes, families and comedy writing and recommended books to each other. Ruth was astonished that I had not heard of the Australian writer, Graeme Simsion. She told me to get hold of The Rose Project without delay and, as fate would have it, I saw it on sale second-hand at a village fete shortly afterwards. She was right, of course.
The Rosie Project is the first in a trilogy about Don Tillman, a genetics scientist who decides to find himself a wife using science. Don’s attempts are truly laughable but the story resolves beautifully, works through various adventures and creates a memorable, if utterly naive, protagonist.
Simsion’s strength is his assiduous planning. The books in this series are each poignant, funny and captivating, but it is the thoroughly prepared characters and plot that really work for me.
In The Rosie Effect we see Don and Rosie move to New York, and in The Rosie Result Don has to confront various truths about himself and his family, including questioning whether he is autistic.
The character Don Tillman operates a cyclical meal system which sounds simple enough, but has seasonal variations, a number of more advanced recipes and allowances for visitors on certain nights.
A spin-off from the Rosie series, I have to say this is the funniest recipe book I have ever read.
As a confirmed ‘Plotter’ (as against a ‘Pantser’), Simsion’s writing methods are fascinating. He and his wife write together at times, but both like to plan out the details in advance to such a degree that writing a first draft of a book takes a remarkably short time within the larger plan.
Check out Simsion on Youtube if you don’t get the chance to read this but want to know how he does it. He uses details and plots from The Rosie Result and another excellent book of his, The Best of Adam Sharp to explain how he writes, so it is well worth reading those first.
I love this little book, filled with all kinds of principles of design. Some are intuitive, some give you ‘aha!’ moments and some explain why buildings, or fonts, or items, look or behave the way they do.
Paul Kerensa is not only a comedian and comedy writer, but he really does his homework when it comes to research. He’s done a great job of researching the history of the BBC (now conveniently 100 years old) elsewhere. However, Hark! The Biography of Christmas, which I recommend for December reading, is packed with so much information on the history of Christmas you’ll be amazing at how much you didn’t know.
Yes, even you.
I finished it on Christmas Day, aptly. Altogether funny, fascinating and festive. Get a copy, for yourself or someone else. As Miranda Hart points out, it does make a great present.
Talking of presents, this one was given to me during the year.
John Pavlovitz’ If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk was an inspired gift – I loved it. Like many Christians who don’t want to be lumped with those who carry the name but not the loving actions, I needed to hear these words.
There is hope for us – even those of us who are hypocritical messes. Pavlovitz is provocative at times and the content is US-centric, but there is still plenty to make us sit up and chew on elsewhere.
I bought Joanna Watson’s book Light through the Cracks in May at the writers’ conference and found her book compelling and arresting.
There are few books which detail people’s experiences of miracles and how God works directly in their lives. I believe we should all be open to listening to these, and Joanna retells the stories of people she has met with sensitivity and intelligence.
During the year I read a couple of infographic maps books, but Wild Maps stood out for me as one to recommend more widely, with dozens of diagrams showing where animals are, the impact of humans and positive as well as negative sides to the current state of the world.
Did my dog learn Welsh?
Well, as she doesn’t yet speak English, that was always going to be a tall order. I’m not even sure she understands much English to be fair. She doesn’t even know ‘walkies’ yet and she’s nearly nine. She may be a muppet, but we love her anyway.
All of which I cannot say in Welsh.
Over to Scotland for the final recommendation this year.
I was introduced to this book by Onesimus at the Bible Society Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. As a visitor I was asked if I wanted to request any obscure language Bibles. Onesimus found me a Cornish one for one part of my heritage, but nothing in Orcadian (see my post on Scottish Roots).
However, this book, written in Shetland dialect, was both difficult and ridiculously fascinating. It is a selection of familiar Bible passages and stories told in dialect.
‘Dunna be in a trachle’ (John 14:1)
In 2018 I challenged myself to read the entire Bible in the original languages. I started with the New Testament in Greek, and progressed to the Old Testament in Hebrew (and some Aramaic, which I have not studied).
As of today, I only have a few minor prophets to go to finish the lot. It will have taken over five years, but I have learned lots in the process.
I’ll then have to decide what to do next, of course. An in-depth look at one part may be the solution.
Pages and years turn. We start books and (hopefully) finish books. Who knows how the next chapter unfolds?
Wishing you every peace and joy for 2023. God bless you and your reading in the year ahead.
Oh, and let me know if you have recommendations for books you think I might like!