The First Book of the Year

I still keep a hard copy list of all the books I read – old-fashioned, I know, not to mention a wee bit anoraky, but I feel the need to do it. After entering the first book I finished this year I checked what the last decade’s first books had been, partly out of curiosity but also to see how many of them I remembered. A typical book nerd pastime but in case others of a similar persuasion are interested here they are:

Cover image 2004: Aloft by Chang-rae Lee about a late-middle-aged man who’s spent his life ducking involvement but finds himself succumbing, which I do remember, and enjoyed, but I was commissioned to write a reading guide for it so would be dismayed if nothing had lodged in my brain.

2005: Make Believe by Diana Athill one of her autobiographical books about her relationship with a young black radical, which I have some memory of as much for Athill’s elegant writing style as anything else.

2006: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka which was the sensation of that particular time but I remember being disappointed by it and haven’t read anything else by her.

2007: The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies was an enjoyable first novel although I don’t remember much about it – his second was disappointing

2008: The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. Surrounded by a good deal of anticipation, this was a novel which took an apartment building as a microcosm of Egyptian society. It stood up to the hype well and might be an interesting one to re-read given events since. I wonder if the author still practices as a dentist.

2009: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton in which Mr de Botton observes people at work. I read this for Waterstone’s Books Quarterly – lead reviews carried a short Q&A which I had to set. I remember imagining the author sitting in the corner of my office as I packed up books to be sent out to reviewers and wrestled with the reams of packing tape that publishers so often secured packages with.

2010: American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio about JFK in which he spends most of his time contemplating his next sexual conquest and fending off back pain with a cocktail of drugs.

2011: Walking to the Moon by Kate Cole-Adams of which I’m sorry to say I have no memory whatsoever.

2012: The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney,  a novel about Roma which I had been looking forward to after the much-acclaimed The Tenderness of Wolves but which I found disappointing.

2013: The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, an excellent novel about an American town Cover image which decides to shut itself off during the 1918 Spanish ‘flu epidemic.

And this year’s? It was Charlie Hill’s Books which I reviewed in my last post and can remember very well indeed, I’m relieved to say.

I started this post convinced that I’d have trouble remembering much about any of the books but I’ve ended it surprised by how well I do remember many of them, and I promise the only thing I’ve looked up is the date of the ‘flu epidemic and a quick scan of the Diana Athill synopsis as, coincidentally, a fellow blogger had mentioned her in a comment. All very comforting for someone suffering from the predictable afflictions of a middle-aged memory! How well do you remember books? And what was your first book of 2014?

24 thoughts on “The First Book of the Year”

  1. Well strictly speaking my first book of the year was The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (I loved Black Water Rising her first book). But I gave up on it – could not get going. I used to feel I had to finish books but not anymore as there are too many in the pile waiting to be read. So the first book of the year to be finished is Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss which is excellent. It was great to read a well written travel book – seems to me there a lot of not very well written books in this genre at the moment. I am looking forward to the new novel by Sarah Moss this year.

    1. I enjoyed The Cutting Season although it took me a while to get into it, but I agree, life’s too short to stick with a book that’s not for you. I loved Names for the Sea – she captured that puzzlement of not quite knowing how things are done in a foreign country so well. And the elves were hilarious!

  2. This is such a good idea – I have absolutely no idea what my first book of the year has been the past few years. I actually get quite excited about the first book but usually end up still finishing off something from the previous year. I may make an effort to start the year with something exciting in future.

    1. I’ve been keeping a record of what I read for more years than I care to remember. I can recommend it! Very satisfying looking back. Hope this year’s first book turns out to be an exciting one for you.

  3. I have yet to finish a book in 2014 but that is what you get when the two books you start right at the end of the year have over 1200 pages between them! I am so glad to find someone else who wasn’t impressed by ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’. We read it in one of my book groups and I was left asking ‘so what?’. To be fair, everyone else enjoyed it, but I haven’t gone back to her again either.

    1. Would that be The Goldfinch or The Luminaries, or both? Tractors was very much the book of that particular moment, I think. Some books soak up so much publicity that others, sometimes better, fail to get a look in. A great shame!

  4. Okay, here we go (you did ask):

    2004 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    2005 Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Salley Vickers
    2006 The Sea by John Banville
    2007 Amaryllis Night & Day by Russell Hoban
    2008 Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
    2009 The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
    2010 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
    2011 Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
    2012 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
    2013 Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
    2014 Gillespie & I (still reading …)

    Favourites were Freedom and 1Q84 (and Great Expectations) and I really liked Foreign Bodies. The Sea was a big disappointment.

    1. That’s a great list! Thanks for sharing it. I loved Cellist, 1Q84 and Gillespie, and I also liked Amaryllis – such an inventive writer. I agree with you about The Sea. Hard to see why it won the Booker unless it’s the old committee theory.

  5. What an interesting exercise! I suppose I could track my first books by checking backwards in the blog but they don’t return to mind immediately. I know I always begin the year with a great deal of excited optimism, which is probably why the first couple of books of the year often don’t seem as great as they could be (I’m road testing a theory that it’s expectations that have the biggest influence on our reading experiences!). My first book this year is Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which in fact I am loving – though I didn’t expect to! I’ve read The Conjurer’s Bird (book club in real life) and The Yacoubian Building (online bookclub) and enjoyed both, though neither have ever made a best-of list. But they were good, solid books.

    1. Your expectations theory is an interesting one. I know I sometimes give up books that I’ve lost my original excitement for, half expecting not to like them. I’m glad that you’re enjoying Kafka on the Shore even if it puts the theory in the balance!

      1. Well my theory is sort of perverse – the fact that I didn’t expect to like the Murakami means that my feelings are magnified now I find that I do. Alternatively, if I’d expected to love it and been disappointed, my disappointment would feel all the greater. That’s the basic gist of it! 🙂

  6. I only began recording mine a couple of years ago so:

    2012: Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Should hope I remember that one as I’ve taught it!

    2013: Doppler by Erlend Low which I loved. Man takes himself to live in the woods and contemplate life, adopting himself an elk along the way.

    2014: Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore as I’m rereading her backlist.

    1. Any synopsis that mentions a man adopting an elk has to be worth a look! I’ll be investigating that one. Hope you’re enjoying the Dunmore backlist. I’m looking forward to your post on her.

    1. Thank you, Cathy, and good to hear that your reading year has started well. Mine did, too. This year’s first book was Will Boast’s Epilogue – very sad but a very good read.

  7. Pingback: The Last Book of the Year | A life in books

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