I don’t normally read much. That’s changed.
Some stats and some books I really enjoyed in 2023.
A confession: part of my university degree was in English Literature 1 but in an average year I don’t read too many books at all. Life gets in the way, aside from a week or two in the summer when I can laze by a pool somewhere and plough through a book a day.
That changed at the very end of 2021. I was given a lovely ereader, a Kobo with page turning buttons 2 and started reading voraciously.
I hadn’t read so much since I was a student. But now I was free!! I didn’t have to plough through Milton or Chaucer because it was part of my studies 3. And the weird capitalist society we live in meant that if I diligently kept a wishlist up-to-date I could get most of what I wanted to read for 99p a time.
I’ve kept the habit going into 2023 and fully intend to do the same next year too. I was curious just how much I was reading, so I started using The StoryGraph. Most days I’d log onto the site and update it with a note on how much of my current book I’d read, resulting in some nice statistics.
A summary of my reading activity in 2023:
I had a week abroad in September, hence the big number there. April was the opposite - I had time off of work but used it to do DIY projects.
What happened in June? Well…
Favourites in 2023:
Fern Brady’s Strong Female Character. Autobiographies by comedians have such a weird gender split. In the main, male comedians publish books that tell of their jolly japes or the silly adventures they had growing up. Female comedians publish… heart-rending accounts of horrible childhoods and mental anguish. 4 Fern Brady is disarmingly frank, openly discussing her misdiagnosed autism, her sex work, her obsessive personality, her destructive tendencies, her homelessness, and how she tries to understand the world around her when her autism is so isolating. It’s not a funny book. It’s the best writing I’ve ever read to help me understand what autism actually is, what it feels like and how it affects just about everything. It’s a really powerful read, and one I recommend highly.
Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. In the January bleakness I tried a few 99p novels and none really left me with much impression at all. This is different. A novel which flits between different eras, tells related stories that intertwine, that wraps everything together in a lovingly-crafted piece of prose. It bears more than a slight resemblance to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, though with far less sci-fi. Doerr’s other major novel, All The Light We Cannot See, sits quietly on my ereader waiting for my next lull. Hey, January’s here again, maybe it’s time!
Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Somehow, everyone seems to have read this despite it being a relatively niche story about three people who decide to make computer games. There’s a bit of nerding out in here but what could have become a full-on ‘let’s talk about the history of the Commodore 64 and the buffer limitations thereof’ boreathon is actually a delicate story about love-in-friendship and friendship-in-love. It’s a delicate, lovely story that’s destined to be ruined in some limited series adaptation before too long. Enjoy it while it’s still fun.
A final thought.
As I sit here, late in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, I’m struck that relatively few books amongst that 47 from the year were actually bad. Some were poorly translated, or overly hyped, or just a bit of a drag 5, but even they were a palate-cleanser between other rich morsels.
And unlike music, where I feel that I should be listening RIGHT NOW to the NEWEST ALBUM by the HOTTEST NEW UNDERGROUND ACT that’s out RIGHT NOW, books can come and go and I’ll read them whenever they strike me. I’ve read books on release this year, and books that are out of copyright. They’ve sat nicely next to each other.
In short: I’m glad I’ve reconnected with reading. I won’t write something like this every year but, man, this felt like something to celebrate.
The other part was a humanities computing course. Weird, huh? ↩︎
Swiping and tapping is fine, but lying on a bed somewhere feeling warm and secure with the ereader in one hand and a thumb on the next-page button is glorious. ↩︎
Although both Paradise Lost and The Canterbury Tales are excellent. Nothing like a shallow God, a complex devil, and gratuitous use of the word ‘arse’. ↩︎
Yes, this is a crass generalisation and it’s easy to find exceptions. Take James Acaster - I loved Perfect Sound Whatever’s dark examination of his horrible year through the eyes of the music released that year, but his two other books fall squarely in the ‘jolly japes’ camp. ↩︎
At one point I wondered if London Fields would ever end. It’s put me off Martin Amis for a long time. ↩︎