So to get the ball rolling on this book blog I thought I’d look back over my favourite books of 2016. Apologies for the categorisation of my favourites, it’s very Hilary-specific. Actually it’s my blog, so #sorrynotsorry.
2016 is definitely the year I began to appreciate and enjoy the non-fiction genre more than I ever had before. That is perhaps because in February I broke the spine in what was supposed to be a joke Christmas present from Santa. The book was Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography. Not to sound too cliché or melodramatic (nor to quote a character in my own book) but this book changed my life. I know Wolf is a journalist, not an expert of female reproductive health, and that the book is heavily scrutinised by feminists and scientists alike; but Vagina opened my mind to several entirely new and different ways of thinking about female sexuality. So much so that it inspired my dissertation topic and my first novel. While I don’t take anything in the book as fact or at face value, Wolf’s own experiences and those of the people she interviews enlightened me to realise that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is not as analogue as I had previously been led to believe. Vagina made me think, and that’s exactly what a book, especially a non-fiction book, should do, in my opinion.
As tempting as it is to say Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy since 2016 was the first time I sat down and read the first book, I had already discovered Douglas Adams. Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden took a while to capture my attention when I read it in 2015 but the sequel Mother of Eden, which I recently read in December, dragged me back into a world I hadn’t realised I had been missing. I mostly loved how Beckett explored how a brand new society somehow ends up in the same messes as our 21st Century planet Earth does but Beckett and Starlight give me far more hope than planet Earth ever does. This is particularly true in relation to the function of gender, the sexes, and sexuality in society, but maybe that’s just because ever since my first year of university I haven’t been able to take off my ‘gender goggles’. I highly recommend the Dark Eden series, and can’t wait to read Daughter of Eden.
No surprises to anyone that knows me well but Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can storms this category for me (especially since I already gave Wolf to best Non-Fiction). A Gilmore Girls fan to my stone-cold core, 2016 was a pretty exciting year for me with it returning for its revival and Graham writing another book, this one all about her and the show. I listened to Someday, Someday, Maybe while running a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed this biography. What’s lovely about Graham is she writes how she talks, and when you’ve watched as much Gilmore Girls as I have her voice is a pretty special one. Graham doesn’t just write about reprising Lorelai Gilmore though, she tackles her childhood, finding her feet as an actress, writer and woman and writes a bloody lovely ode to being single, the latter of which hit pretty close to the mark. Graham manages to make everything and anything, no matter how sad or uncomfortable, funny, something I myself aspire to do.
Favourite in the French language
I started the year reading Madam Bovary back to back, once in English and once in French. While I love the story, Flaubert’s classic missed the top spot just because of how sick of the poor old Bovaries I was by the time I was done (twice). Though I’ve read some really classical and ‘racy’ French literature for a university module (love, lust and the meaning of life: a theme in French literature) my 2016 favourite in French probably goes to a Czech-man. Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being landed in my lap and in my heart in 2015 (I love it especially because it led me to read Anna Karenina) and I had read it in English. Just before leaving Lyon though I grabbed a few books from Decitre including Milan Kundera’s La Fête de l’Insignificance. The biggest reason this is my favourite French Language book of 2016 is because I was amazed at how Kundera’s voice sounded the same in French as it had in English. I don’t know how but it amazed me, that the voice in my head for The Unbearable Lightness of Being returned for La Fête de l’Insignificance. Isn’t language cool?!
Since Vagina opened my eyes, books about female sexuality have been pouring into them. From Erica Jong, to George Eliot, and the likes of Kate Chopin, D. H. Lawrence, Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterson in between, 2016 has been full of licentious literature as well as the mammoth task that was reading War and Peace, some more Orwell and my first Victor Hugo. No doubt about it though, discovering Doris Lessing and The Golden Notebook was my favourite fictional treat of the year. I don’t think it needs explaining and I’m not sure I even could, I just love this book and could talk, read and write about it all day, but I’ll save that for my dissertation, or maybe another blog post.
A personal favourite
I couldn’t talk about books that I read in 2016 without giving a shout out to a family friend who wrote and published his own book. It is Interleaving by Richard Hopkins. It made me miss London when I was stuck in a miserable classroom in Isère and is nothing like anything I’ve ever read before, although perhaps that is because I haven’t read any Dr. Johnson, who’s pretty major in Interleaving. It’s available on the Kindle store for £2 and the proceeds go to charities supporting homeless people in London – so there’s no good reason not to read Interleaving!
There are a few other books I’d like to ramble on about here but I fear I’ll just start making up categories for the sake of it if I don’t stop now. So before I go, here’s a quick shout out to a few others that I enjoyed in 2016:
How to be a Writer – David Quantick
Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters
L’immeuble des femmes qui ont renoncé les hommes – Karine Lambert