Last year was a weird year for many reasons, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an negative impact it would have on my reading. In all honesty, the numbers don’t matter a jot, for everyday life will always have an impact on the amount of time each of us have for reading. What did surprise me was that I couldn’t concentrate on reading – being fidgety and unable to settle – as it’s reading which normally calms me. So I re-read a lot of old comfort reads and a bit of non-fiction, which eventually seemed to set me on the reading road again.
The unexpected highlight of 2020’s limited new books haul was that for the first time ever, I rated over half as very good or excellent – unexpected for I’m known for being quite tough with my ratings. It led me to wonder if I’d been so pitifully grateful when the dam broke that I slipped into over-generosity, especially when none received less than the 3 star rating of good. But on reviewing my selections, I appear to have sensibly picked a combination of those authors I know will deliver for me, and books which have been widely well received.
The standout for me was Irish author Sebastian Barry – from whom I read six linked, if standalone tales, of the Dunne/McNulty family – the germ of each story coming from Barry’s own family history. Each individual’s tale is told with such unswerving honesty and yet a loving kindness. While they are very different, I particularly enjoyed the small overlaps, for they provided a new insight into the characters whose stories had gone before. I’ve read this well almost dry, as only two tales remain – one of which is a play. Much of Barry’s output was intended for the stage, so let’s see how I feel when I’ve run out of other options from his pen. Although the personal aspects of the stories are wonderful, I especially commend his books to you for the lyricism of his descriptive prose.
An old school friend (hi Sarah 🙂 ) suggested a Facebook group linked to UK newspapers The Times and The Sunday Times. Membership of this group has provided excellent recommendations, and therefore been hugely dangerous to the size of my TBR – indeed I wonder if this was the route to my discovering the works of Sebastian Barry. Certainly that is where I picked up recommendations for Jane Gardam and William Boyd, whose back catalogues I’m currently mining with pleasure. Both write wonderfully about people and relationships, with the added bonus that Boyd also writes marvellously about Africa. Not in a vast plains and wild life kind of way, rather by understanding the nuances of how it works and its people.
Another online recommendation (thanks Marty 🙂 ) for Pachinko proved fascinating reading – a family story in the sphere of the Korean-Japanese relationship – not an area I knew anything about. As a child of the third world, I love nothing more than a good story played out against the backdrop of a new (to me) country and its history.
Two other recommendations received from bloggers (although I’m afraid that my old brain cannot remember their source now) were Emily St John Mandel and Becky Chambers. Despite neither writing what would be my normal fare – the first being the author of post-apocalyptic tale Station Eleven which I read just as the COVID pandemic was spreading its tentacles, and the second whose genre is space opera – both have been rapidly added to my list of “authors to look out for”.
This is quite a sea change, as my previous go-to source for new works was literary fiction prize-winners – the Booker long & short lists in particular. My last Booker-winner read was Bernadine Evaristo’s co-winner, and while last year’s offering comes highly recommended, I’ve not struggled to find top quality reading material outside of those lists. I’ll probably never wean myself off them completely though…
One final reflection on 2020’s reading – at the beginning of last year, I set myself a target of reading one professional book a month. I didn’t seriously believe I’d achieve this target, but why not aim high? Still, I was surprised by how far I missed that target, for I read the sum total of two during the entire year. Oddly, this month, I’ve already equalled last year’s total. I also bought a fair few magazines – comfort reading at its best for me, but was careful not to return to my days of ‘house porn’ addiction. To be honest, the online sources of interiors to drool over are quite plentiful enough, so it wasn’t a serious concern.
As I also missed my Goodreads annual total of 52 books for the first time in years, this year I’ve decided that rather than setting a firm target in either the professional or fictional fields, I’m simply going to track my reading and see what transpires.
How was your reading last year? Did you notice any new trends? Do you have any recommendations for me?
© Debra Carey, 2021