I’ve started so I’ll finish


Janus: The Roman god of beginnings and transitions

I can’t prevaricate any longer. The cobwebs are starting to settle on the brain already and if I leave it much longer I will never remember my top books from 2015.

The outstanding book of the year was almost, but not quite,  the last one I read – Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient. It’s a beautifully written story of four damaged characters who end up in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War 2.  I enjoyed reading his most recent novel The Cat’s Table a few years ago but The English Patient was in a totally different league. Now I want to dig out the film version again ..

Other favourites from the year were: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton which has to be the most gloriously produced book I’ve experienced for many years. The cover design showing a miniature of the house that features in the book, was so delightful I went in search for some info on the illustrator and came across a fascinating little video about how a design company made the house. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac was my first experience of this author but will certainly not be my last.  Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton was as moving on a re-read as it was decades ago when I opened the pages for the first time.  Three discoveries came in the form of The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw and from the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar and The Redemption of Galen Pike, a tremendous short story collection by Carys Davies. I don’t usually care for short stories but Davies’ book knocks spots off all other collections I’ve read.

Were there any duds? Well yes, a few. Three were so bad I couldn’t finish them: In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman; Between  Tides by V.Y. Mudimbe and The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende.

That’s 2015 done.

What’s on the horizon for 2016?

Despite all the reading challenges I’ve seen in the last few weeks (I’ve been keeping a list here and it’s upwards of 30) I’m trying really really really hard to resist temptation. I like the idea of them but the reality is that I’m really hopeless at sticking with them. The minute I feel I have to follow a list, my interest in the books drops off markedly. Even if  the title was one that excited me when I bought it, the minute it gets written on a list starts to make it feel too much like a chore or a ‘to do’ list for work. Hence why I managed just 8 out of the 12 books on the TBR Challenge I joined last year.  I was all ready to join a Reading Shakespeare challenge but I’ve changed my mind.

I prefer the idea of reading projects rather than challenges. They somehow sound more relaxed and I can go entirely at my own pace. I have three on the go at the moment which are steadily making progress. I’m just over the half way mark with my Classics Club project, have read 27 of the 46 Booker-prize winners and novels from 30 countries around the world as part of my World of Literature Project.

2016 is going to be all about completion.

I plan to make it a year where I finish at least one of these (the Booker prize). I may even get close to finishing the Classics Club but I won’t make that a goal because I want space to be flexible, to go with the flow of whatever takes my fancy. I also want time to dip into a few short projects – Ali’s #Woolfalong reading project is perfect since I already have 4 Woolf titles in the bookshelves. Later in the year there’ll be a Reading Ireland month and a Spanish literature month which are already tickling my fancy. The beauty of these projects is that they’re short and free of pressure to read a particular number of books or to make lists in advance.

Here’s to a year of unconstrained delight……


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 7, 2016, in Reading challenges and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Many wonderful books on your list. It’s ben too long since I’ve read The English Patient. I remember liking it a lot but not the book itself.
    I was so unsure whether I should give The Miniaturist a try but you’ve convinced me, I should.

  2. I couldn’t finish The Japanese Lover, either! Phew! I’m so glad to know i’m not alone, as I keep seeing it on “all” the best of lists. Well, i think I’ve seen it on places like Barnes and Noble or newspapers; I haven’t paid that much attention because I so disliked it. It’s not even in the same league as The House of Spirits.

    I remember enjoying The English Patient so much as a film, even though it was distressing. I’ve not read the book yet, but I would like to compare the two. Usually, the novel is so much better for me.

  3. Woo hoo, I’ve actually read a few of the books on your list – The English patient, Cry the beloved country and The snow kimono (which of course you know I read this year too). I agree they are all wonderful books. I’ve read a couple of other Ondaatjes and I do like his writing, but The English patient is a real standout. So vivid, particularly for me the Italian scenes of some reason.

    I agree re challenges. So many sound great, but the only one I do (or have ever done) is the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and that’s because it’s not a challenge. I know I will complete it because I completed it before it ever was a challenge! If I did one other it would be a TBR challenge, but I’m not going to put myself through something that I know I won’t commit properly to. It’s just a desire! Clearly, I don’t take challenges seriously because in the end I try to just read what I want to read.

  4. I loved The English Patient when I read it may years ago. I should read it again as I’m sure I’ll get more out of it now. I must read The Miniaturist too!

  5. wow, lots of goodies here. I have not read any Allende yet, and your comment is not too encouraging

  6. I’m not a challenge sort of person when it comes to reading although I do Goodreads so that I have a way of keeping a list of which book I read when – I will be trying to join in with Irish Literature month though…

  7. The only Challenge I’ve signed up for this year is the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which feels quite relaxed to me. I’ve set a goal of 53 books – so one a week overall. 😀 I’ve not read The English Patient or seen the film, if I have time this year I shall try for both though!

    • You reminded me Annette that I signed up for Goodreads too – not really sure why but I did. its a bit of an odd way they do the calculation though because there is no category for did not finish so it gets counted as ‘read’

  8. I always enjoy reading reader’s lists. Glad to see I’m not the only person who lists duds! In 2014 (or 13) I listed them under the heading of “Epic Fails’. One of them was Proust.
    I like the idea of Reading Projects – as opposed to targets. Enjoy your Reading year – you’re certainly going to have a busy one. You may enjoy this BBC Culture link (but may already know about it) : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35261648 Title is ‘How could I read more books?’

    • Thanks for that link Alison – I gulped when I read that Roosevelt read two or three novels a day if he had a quiet evening. Does a president ever have such a thing? I saw the recommendations from Buzan about speed reading and groaned. That doesn’t sound like reading as much as gobbling up words.

  9. Le Père Goriot is a magnificent work! I read it about 5 years ago. Though I understood only about 60% of it then (my French reading skills were quite elementary) what I did understand blew me away. I will never forget the scene where the elderly father tells Eugène why he continues to give money to his prodigal daughters. I will be rereading it this semester. I’m excited.

    The Miniaturist sounds like a great book. The cover is so attractive. The only other book I’ve read set in Amsterdam is Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring.

  10. Sounds like you had a great 2015. I also enjoyed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton last year; it didn’t quite make my top 10 but I did give it a honorary mention. I wish you more happy reading this year 🙂

  11. A very good 2015 and it sounds like you have good plans for 2016. I wish you success on your projects!

  12. I could probably do the Reading Ireland month without even trying as so much of my list seems to come from their at the moment. I’m afraid I have to disagree with you about ‘The Miniaturist’ which I thought was very poorly constructed and tailed off terribly. But then it would be a dull world if we all enjoyed the same things. You make me realise that I have never read ‘The English Patient’ and I really should do that. I may even have a copy on the shelf. I just hope that saying that, and thus putting it on at least a virtual list, doesn’t put me off the book forever.

  13. I love your take on “reading projects” versus “reading challenges.” We’re not schoolchildren — we’re adults, and we can go at our own pace! Plus you’ve made very impressive progress already.

    A happy new year to you!

  14. Sounds like a good year planned! I sometimes forget you originally set out to read the Bookers and then when you do I have a big grin on my face each time! I need to pick up on my Classics Club list again soon.

    • there are times when I also forget that’s what I set out to do and was the reason the blog started. so in a sense Geoff I’m going back to the roots

  15. Cry the Beloved Country is a wonderfully poignant novel, and I’m not at all surprised that The English Patient was your book of the year – a book which has lived long in my memory.
    So glad you are joining in with #Woolfalong

  16. I know what you mean about reading projects vs. challenges. You already have 3 big, long term projects going, plus you want to be able to read whatever catches your eye without worrying whether you’ll make some arbitrary goal. You do you!

  17. I haven’t read The English Patient (or seen the film! I know, I’m the only person who hasn’t seen it…) but I do have The Cat’s Table in my TBR stack this year. I think I got it because I read an interview with John Irving and he said he was loving it – that’s recommendation enough for me!

    I also loved The Miniaturist – did you know Burton has a new book out this year?

    • I didn’t know about Burton’s new book – thanks for letting me know. The Cat’s Table is very different to the English Patient but enjoyable still

  18. My last read of the year was another one of Ondaatje’s books – In the Skin of A Lion, which is also very good. Maybe not as, though, by the sounds of it! Glad you liked it so much!

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