I have read a lot of great books this year, some new and some not quite so new. Here are some of my favourites:
Among new fiction titles, The Nix by Nathan Hill and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng were both memorable stand-outs. I also reread His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman ahead of the publication of La Belle Sauvage, the first part of the Book of Dust trilogy – a thrilling and imaginative story which did not disappoint. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack was an unexpected delight from this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist – beautifully written, gripping, funny and inventive.
For translated fiction, The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw) was my personal favourite from this year’s Man Booker International Prize longlist although Compass by Mathias Enard (translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell) was a worthy unofficial winner chosen by our shadow panel. I also really enjoyed Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston which I read during Women in Translation month in August and is a refreshingly original take on the thriller genre set in Israel.
In terms of non-fiction offerings, How to Survive a Plague by David France is a fascinating account of the activists who campaigned for AIDS research funding in the 1980s and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize and won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. Another narrative non-fiction highlight of the year was Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry which is a moving account of the aftermath following the devastating tsunami in north-east Japan in March 2011 while Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond is a powerful examination of the private housing rental crisis in the United States.
In August, I explored various literary attractions and bookshops in Edinburgh during the Book Festival. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell is the best memoir I have read this year and I enjoyed hearing O’Farrell speak at the festival about what prompted her to write about her life in a snapshot format, only focusing on her most harrowing experiences. Admissions by Henry Marsh was another highlight of the festival – an excellent medical memoir by a former NHS consultant neurosurgeon who is as thoughtful and erudite in person as he is on the page.
In November, I was also on the official shadow panel for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. We chose The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico as our winner which is an intriguing collection of interlinked short stories mostly set in Colombia. The official winner Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney is one of my favourite debuts of 2017 which I read back in June – a sharp and witty take on dilemmas faced by the millennial generation set in Dublin.
I made a new year’s resolution to read more books from the back catalogues of my favourite authors. On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Innocent by Ian McEwan have been among my favourites this year. Elsewhere, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates are my favourite “classic” discoveries of the year and I hope to make more next year as I continue to chip away at my TBR pile.
Which books have you enjoyed reading this year – both old and new?