I thought I would sneak in a quick post before my final book review of the year and my posts on my top reads of the year go live over the next few days before a shiny new year opens before us. (I love a new year, have I mentioned this before, it is like the epic version of a night of new bed linen.) Anyway, I have been having a small sorting out of the shelves before the new year begins and discovered, to my slight horror, that I there have been lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of books that have come out this year that I have meant to read, haven’t and have that slight ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ feeling about them all. There were about 50 – just a small amount – but I whittled it down to 22 (I am rubbish at whittling down, very good at whittling on) and here they are in no particular order…
I Saw a Man – Owen Sheers
Girl at War – Sara Novic
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
The Year of the Runaways – Sunjeev Sahota
The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
The Shore – Sara Taylor
The Fisherman – Chigozie Obioma
Devotion – Ros Barber
Daydreams of Angels – Heather O’Neill
Did You Ever Have a Family – Bill Clegg
Before the Feast – Sasa Stanisic
Beatlebone – Kevin Barry
Public Library – Ali Smith
Music for Wartime – Rebecca Makkai
Trans: A Memoir – Juliet Jacques
An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It – Jessie Greengrass
I’m Jack – Mark Blacklock
The Loney – Andrew Micheal Hurley
The Not Dead and The Saved – Kate Clanchy
Mislaid & The Wallcreeper – Nell Zink
I am not a believer in regrets or of ‘what if’s’ so I have simply decided to be excited about the fact that a) books don’t go anywhere unless you remove them from your life yourself b) these will all be out in paperback over the next year so I can talk to you about them all then. Plus I am 95% sure I am going to love these as people I know who read them really, really did. Are these going to be my first reads of 2016? No. I have decided I am going right off on reading tangents next year, more on that in the next few days. I just thought I would share these ones with you in the interim. We all love a selection of books and a bookshelf to nosey at don’t we?
Have any of you read any of these and what did you make of them? Which are the books you should have, would have, could have read?
I have fallen in love with short stories again this year. Not that I am sure I ever fell out of love with them. I think if anything I tended to read collections by authors I knew, and saw them rather like bonus scenes to the full novels, which I know is daft but it is true. It was rare that I would read a completely new to me authors collection, though when I did and they were like Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles (which if you haven’t read after the amount of times I have recommended it, you are bonkers and there may be no hope for you, ha) I was lost in them completely.
This year they have really come into their own though for me. During Fiction Uncovered I was introduced to several collections of which the standouts were longlisted The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett and one of the winners The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, both of which I will be telling you about and raving about in due course.
Collections can be an interesting experience as some will blow you away and some will leave you cold, I hasten to add none leave you cold in the two I mention above, which can create an interesting reading experience of peaks and troughs. When a short story is amazing though it can blow your mind and as I said when I was talking about how intense reading taught me about my own read habits and that Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel, which is true.
I also think they could be the perfect way to get people back into reading more if they think they haven’t the time or that reading isn’t really for them. You can read a story or two on a commute, or when you are on the loo (sorry over sharing) or when you’re waiting in the car park for your partner to finish faffing around Homebase or any other DIY store, or clothes store if your partner is more into that than DIY or just on your lunch break and need a quick fiction fix.
They are a few pages of magic and so I am planning on reading lots more over (what is left of) the summer. Here are some, not all, of the collections I have been buying and others I have dusted off for just such a short story binge…
- Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman – This is a collection that The Beard bought me after I had heard great things about it from various lovely sorts on Twitter and also declared I wanted the cover art as bedding.
- The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg – I saw this collection from Daunt Books (who have a publishing house as well as gorgeous bookshops) out the corner of my eye, because the cover shimmers, in Waterstones in Newcastle where they have wonderful displays of eclectic books, so purchased it.
- The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim – This collection won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year (why all prizes don’t include short story collections I do not know) and my lovely pal Natalie was one of the judges and raved about it, a lot.
- Young Skins by Colin Barrett – This won last year’s Guardian First Book Prize and whilst it pains me that the author was born in the same year as me, 1982, and is so talented it does mean I can tick off a box on my BOTNS Bingo Summer Reading card. This also links nicely with…
- Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan – This was longlisted for last year’s Guardian First Book Award and was the public’s addition to the longlist. I read and really liked May-Lan Tan’s chapbook of two short stories Girly earlier this year and then randomly sat next to her at an event and had a lovely long chat about all sorts.
- The Not-Dead and The Saved by Kate Clanchy – I do not know a single person who has seen Clanchy read her stories that has not been in hysterics and in tears in both happy and sad ways. This was enough of a recommendation for me.
- An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass – One of the first books to come from the John Murray Originals imprint (the cover is stunning) which I want to read for the title, and title story, alone.
- Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas – I love Tsiolkas’ writing and this is one of the collections I have been most excited about this year, it is out in September.
- Jellyfish by Janice Galloway – Almost everyone I know loves Janice Galloway so by default I am sure I will and I think short stories can sometimes be a rather wonderful way of trialling an author, or maybe trying them out sounds nicer.
- Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers – Again all the right people have been raving about this.
- Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – Why on earth has this gone unread for so long, I am frankly embarrassed. She is a genius, we all know this, and this is meant to be a brilliant collection of nine tales.
Phew. You may notice that there aren’t any classics on this list, which I have realised is rather remiss of me. That said I am reviewing a modern classic collection next, so you’ll be hearing all about that. I have also been contemplating Hemingway’s short stories in September as I will be at some of his old hangouts and watering holes by Lake Michigan when I go on my road trip around some of northern America, we will see.
Have you read any of the above collections or other collections by some of those authors? What did you make of them? Are you a fan of the short story? As always I would love your short story recommendations be they new, recent or classic (I have a feeling many of you will mention Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck, which I have read and adored but am struggling to write a review of) so let me know which other collections I should look out for and why…