The time for making, and attempting to stick to, resolutions is upon us again. The gym, eating healthily, no alcohol- we’ve all been there. But if one of your resolutions was to read more, read something different, or just read anything, then this could be the article for you. The Arts team has compiled our most important books of last year (taking shameless inspiration from the Guardian’s regular feature), in anticipation of another year of exciting literature.
The book I recommended the most.
Stella: Elmet by Fiona Mozley. She’s the university’s unrivalled success story, having had her first published novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, whilst writing her PhD here at York. Elmet, dubbed a ‘rural noir’, is the tale of a family of three living on the outskirts of society in the Yorkshire countryside. the It’s the kind of book you wish you’d been able to write yourself: lyrical, vividly described and completely beautiful.
Rosemary: Animal by Sara Pascoe. This ‘autobiography of the female body’ by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe is essential reading for women (or, indeed, anyone). A combination of autobiography and anthropology, Pascoe’s book is entertainingly and sensitively written, and covers a wide range of topics that are bold and relevant to women today. The result is a very informative but simultaneously very, very funny book.
Charlie: South Of The Border, East Of The Sun by Haruki Murakami. I recommended this book the most, specifically to people who said they wanted to like Haruki Murakami but just didn’t get him. Murakami’s work can sometimes be alienating and his weirder stuff isn’t for everyone, so this simpler story more focused on romance than the supernatural is a great book for those who want to love Murakami but can’t
The book I’m most pleased I read.
Stella: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Honestly, I can’t believe I spent twenty years of my life without this book. Spark weaves the story of Edinburgh teacher and her six favourite pupils with the wit and attention to bizarre detail that is so unique to her. The brevity is complete genius; in under 150 pages she addresses betrayal, coming of age, the confusion of romance, and the sinister nature of a teacher with far too much influence. Something about this novella sparkles. I’ve read it three times this year alone.
Rosemary: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. A compelling story of an American missionary family who, in 1959, against the backdrop of the Cold War, move from the US state of Georgia to a village in the Belgian Congo. As well as being extremely absorbing, the novel is beautifully written, and uses an ambitious narrative form of different five narrators. It is definitely the best novel I have read in 2017.
Charlie: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. This had been sitting on my shelf since I bought a hardcover edition in the first week of release. As a huge fan of Mitchell’s work, I was a little worried by the descriptions given that this would feature more of his indulgent tendencies and less of his eloquent writing style and speedy plotting, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The Bone Clocks isn’t Mitchell’s finest work, but it is still beautiful and well worth reading.
The book I wish I’d got around to reading.
Stella: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Mieville. This account of Russia’s most pivotal historical moment sounds refreshingly distinctive, retelling the fascinating events with an almost novel-like style and a new perspective on political intrigue. It’s top of my list for 2018.
Rosemary: The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Beatty’s darkly satirical novel about a man who attempts to reintroduce slavery and racial segregation in a Los Angeles suburb was the 2016 Man Booker prize winner. It is a novel that addresses identity with revolutionary insight. The fact that I have got to the end of 2017 without reading it is moderately shameful.
Charlie: Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders. The amount of new books I read this year was pitiful, but this year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize was the one I feel like I missed out on the most. It’s a fantastic sounding magical-realist novel combining alternative history and a touching personal story. It is everything I like so I’m very frustrated that I haven’t found the time to read it yet.
The book I wish I didn’t bother reading.
Stella: Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult. Though the idea for the plot is undoubtedly interesting and important, the execution is far less impressive. It tells the story of a court case between a black nurse and a Neo-Nazi couple whose baby has died under her care, alternating between the perspectives of the couple, the nurse and her white middle-class lawyer. While Picoult can certainly spin an entertaining narrative, the theme of race is inelegantly discussed and the consistently bold claims that Picoult makes through the voice of Ruth, the nurse, could be seen as borderline offensive.
Rosemary: The Conductor by Sarah Quigley. Quigley’s novel is a fictionalised account of the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. I was drawn to its content and exploration of a fascinating part of Russia’s history. However, this book is a testament to the fact that in fiction, substance is worthless without style, something this novel disappointingly lacks. Despite its compelling plot, Quigley’s writing style lacks the sophistication needed to make this book worth reading.
Charlie: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I’ve always been a bigger fan of period fiction in theory than in practice, so I figured this would be the book to finally change my mind and suck me into its world. I was wrong and was left thoroughly unmoved by the book, feeling particularly disappointed with the pedestrian nature of so much of the plotting.
The book that left the longest lasting impact on me.
Stella: The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. This collection reminded me just how stunning a well crafted short story can be. The whole book is a beautiful selection; each piece is completely absorbing, ending seemingly too soon whilst simultaneously being a perfect narrative in just a few pages. The title story documents, minute by minute, the collapse of a pier in a seaside town on a summer’s day in 1970. It is haunting in its detail of lives being devastated, and left me replaying the images in my head hours later.
Rosemary: Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie. Christie’s novel, published under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, is not a conventional detective story. Despite being simple and admittedly dated, it is widely considered to be one of Christie’s ‘quiet masterpieces’, providing a powerful insight into the human mind and the way in which we can deceive ourselves into believing what we want to believe.
Charlie: The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. This book is stunning in its descriptive imagery and powerful in its vivid descriptions of life in Malaysia during the war. It shone a light on a part of history I had never even considered andled me to discover so much more about a part of the world I previously didn’t know enough about, which is one of the most vital elements of good fiction.