The Last Book of the Year

At the beginning of 2014 I wrote one of those posts that I thought was just for my own satisfaction but which generated some interesting discussion. It was called ‘the first book of the year’ and it covered a decade of reading, all neatly recorded in a notebook that I still keep. I know we’re not yet done with 2015 but it’s a safe bet that I won’t finish another book before we are so I thought I’d write a counterpart. That first post was also a test of what I remembered about each book. So, two years further into middle-aged memory syndrome – that ‘what did I come into the kitchen for?’ state that will be all too familiar to some of you – here are a decade’s worth of my last books of the year.

Cover image 2006: The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan And I’m off to a bad start here. I’m sorry to tell you that I remember little or nothing about O’Nan’s novel, although I know that it had supernatural overtones leaning towards horror. I’ve a feeling I read this in preparation for some magazine work as it hardly seems up my usual alley.

2007: Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson I read this because I’m a Thomson fan. No one could accuse him of endlessly ploughing the same furrow: this year’s Katherine Carlyle leapt into the twenty-first century after Secrecy‘s exploration of Medici court politics. I remember that the eponymous murderer was Myra Hindley, one of the infamous Moors Murderers, who had died several years before.

2008: Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale This one’s easy. It was one of those titles that Richard and Judy made into a bestseller, naming it as one of their book club choices in the days when that meant shifting shed loads of books for booksellers. It’s about an artist, as its title suggests, whose death uncovers many secrets the revelation of which rock her family. Having been a Gale fan since The Aerodynamics of Pork way back when, it was a delight to see it race up the bestseller charts.

2009: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde I’m going to forgive myself for forgetting which particular Fforde this is. They’re very funny – the kind of books that irritate your partner as you snigger your way through them – but instantly forgettable.

2010: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood Cover image Unusually for me these days, this was a re-read prompted by Tom Ford’s beautiful film. Set in the early ‘60s, it’s the story of a gay English professor teaching in California, left devastated by the death of his lover whose family shut him out, sweeping their relationship neatly under the carpet.

2011: A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan I feel I should remember this in great detail – I enjoyed it very much at the time and it isn’t that long ago – but all that comes to mind is that it involved two characters from the music industry who worked together, and that it wandered about all over the world.

2012: Alligator by Lisa Moore Same goes for Lisa Moore’s Alligator which I read having enjoyed February so much. Surprisingly that’s the one I remember despite reading it several years before. It’s the story of a woman widowed while pregnant when her husband’s oil rig sinks, and her long slow emergence from grief. As for Alligator, well I’m not at all sure…

2013: Wild Hares and Humming Birds by Stephen Moss Not a novel, Wild Hares.. was a birthday present, given to me because of a newly awakened interest in nature writing. It’s a year of the Moss’s reflections on what he saw around him on the Somerset Levels, not a million miles away from where I live. I’d love to tell you that we, in the West Country, are beset by humming birds but the title refers to the hummingbird hawk-moth, which I remember seeing once at Abbotsbury Gardens.

2014: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton Also not a novel, this is chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir. I remember it for its gorgeous descriptions of food and the many places that Hamilton has eaten and cooked it with friends and family. It’s a glorious celebration of all those things – I’m tempted to use that tired old cliché ‘life-affirming’ to describe it.

2015: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo This seems an appropriate last book for this year given Naomi over at The Writes of Women and Dan’s Twitter initiative #DiverseDecember, now extended to #ReadDiverse2016. Bulawayo’s novel is set in Zimbabwe against the backdrop of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of tens of thousands of homes in 2005, seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Darling and her friends. Darling eventually joins her aunt in America only to find life there is not quite what she expected. Both funny and heart-wrenching, it’s a strikingly vivid piece of writing.

That’s my last, somewhat nerdy post of 2015. I’d love to know what your last book of the year is, present or past.

40 thoughts on “The Last Book of the Year”

  1. Some lovely last reads, to really end the year on a high. Well done for keeping a notebook that goes back so long! I only have notebook from high school (and had forgotten half of the books I’d read back then). With my Goodreads list I now at least can go back 3 years and see what I was reading then, but very meagre memories, unlike yours.

    1. Thank you for that! I always feel that my memory is pretty fuzzy perhaps because my father’s was phenomenal. I’d loved to have inherited it.

  2. The last book of 2015 for me will be a review copy I’ve had a couple of months and need to get out of the way; My Shangai 1942-1946 it’s a novel based on the author’s mother’s experiences as a Japanese woman in occupied China. It’s quite interesting but not anything very special. I’m fairly sure of finishing it tomorrow as I am not going anywhere today (still on holiday from work ). My last book of 2014 was Strangers by Antonia White a green virago, a book of short stories . Further back than that would take some research.

    1. If I hadn’t had the anoraky habit of keeping a notebook I don’t think I’d remember even 2014’s last book. I hope you come up with something more absorbing for your next read.

  3. What a lovely idea. I know my memory would let me down if it tried this withiut the aid of the reviews and list on my blog. I’m just about to begin Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter for the book club that is next week. I’ve never read him previously but of this is a good experience I will want to read Pictures at an Exhibition.

    My last read of 2015 ( completed that is) I am glad to say is something I thoroughly enjoyed. Michael Ondaatjee’s The English Patient. I would have hated to end the year with a so-so book….

    1. Me, too – We Need New Names was an excellent, memorable read to end 2015 on. I remember enjoying The English Patient very much. I hope you get on well with A Place Called Winter – it’s not a typical Gale book but it’s a very good one and lots to discuss.

    1. Thank you, Janet! It’s a bit of a mixed bag but that’s what I like about looking back and finding books you’d forgotten all about. I’m so pleased that Gale is getting the attention he deserves. You’re right – his charactericisation is spot on.

  4. My last book of this year is The Wind up Bird Chronicle – Murakami – which I am very much enjoying although at the moment it feels a slightly elusive book. Maybe it all comes together. If I don’t get a move on it will be my first book of 2016 as well. No idea what any other last books of the year were although I do remember very strongly scaring myself silly when I was about 12 by reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising on New Years Eve.

  5. This is a fun idea. I know that when I look back at the books I’ve read over the years there are some that I don’t even remember reading (my notebook goes back about 28 years). It’s interesting to note the ones we remember the best, isn’t it?
    My last book of the year this year is In the Skin of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje (almost done!). Reading is slow going for me these days, and it was a good choice for that – it kept me interested, but wasn’t the kind of book that you can’t put down.

    1. I know what you mean, Naomi. I knew that the Bulawayo would be my last this year despite starting it some time ago. It’s quite harrowing at times and I’ve felt the need to put it down now and then.

  6. I don’t know what my last read of this year will be yet. I’m currently getting through at least a book a day so it’ll be whatever I pick up tomorrow!

    I’m impressed at your record keeping. I don’t know what mine was last year. In 2014 it was Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life which was very good (although I mostly recall I was reading it because I read a substation section of it in the pub!)

    1. I started keeping a record hoping that it would help me better remember what I read. It hasn’t always worked, as you can tell. The Examined Life’s quite serious reading for the pub!

  7. What a great idea, Susan. So interesting to see what we do and don’t remember about books. As for me, with two days left, I don’t think I’ve reached my last book of 2015 yet, although I have scheduled my last review for tomorrow: Last Night on Earth in which the eve of the millennium plays a significant part.

    1. Thanks, Anne. I started both posts with some trepidation about how much I would remember, it has to be said. Last Night on Earth looks interesting. I’ll look out for your review.

  8. You whetted my curiosity and I had a look over the past 2 years to see what my last books of the year were: in 2013 it was Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino (profoundly unsettling and grim), while in 2014 it was Tove Jansson’s memoirs ‘A Sculptor’s Daughter’ (beautifully calming and luscious). This year I think it may be Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian – a police procedural set in the Basque country.

    1. That’s a nicely varied bunch! Given a choice I think I’d plump for the Jansson which sounds like a quiet, contemplative end to the year.

  9. Patrick Gale and Christopher Isherwood are both on my list for 2016. I can’t decide if I want to read the Bulawayo or not; I sort of do and don’t at the same time. Your comments do incline me towards the positive, though. I’m not sure what the last book will be as I’m in the middle of several. Could well be Patrick Modiano though!

    1. Modiano would make a good end to the reading year! I was very impressed with We Need New Names. Having a ten-year-old narrator gives it such immediacy, and Bulawayo carries it off beautifully

  10. It looks as though my last read of the year will be a re-read of Anne Tyler’s ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’. I didn’t realise when I first read it that I was going to have to lead a discussion on it and so I need to refresh my memory before next Monday. I’m really interested to see Rupert Thomson in your list. I hadn’t heard of him but read some excellent reviews of ‘Katherine Carlyle’ and have just picked it up from the library. If I enjoy that it’s good to know that there are earlier books to explore as well. I’m glad to see that you’re another Patrick Gale fan. Have you meet him? He is gorgeous in every way possible 🙂

    1. Funnily enough, I once served Mr Gale when I was a bookseller, so long ago that he wrote a cheque which confirmed who he was at which point I should have told him how much I admired his writing but was too shy to do so! I hope you get on well with Kathrine Carlyle, Alex.

    1. Thanks, Helen, and glad to hear that your finishing your reading year on a good one! All the best to you, too.

  11. Well, you knew I’d get excited by this one Susan! Mine are:
    2006 Come Dance with Me by Russell Hoben
    2007 The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
    2008 The Road Home by Rose Tremain
    2009 The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
    2010 The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
    2011 IQ84 Bk 2 by Haruki Murakami
    2012 Music for Torching by AM Homes
    2013 The Presence by Dannie Abse
    2014 The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
    2015 Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith (the book I’m currently reading will probably end up as my first book of 2016!)

    1. I remember that you commented on my ‘first book of the year’ post, Claire. Great selection but I expect nothing less from you!

  12. I often finish with something quick and easy to try to make a reading goal, like a humour book. This year, though, I met my target long ago so have just been reading whatever’s on the review pile. I managed to finish this year with a strong contender: Specimen by Irina Kovalyova, eight stories and a novella that incorporate science and family ties in a way that reminded me of Andrea Barrett and A.S. Byatt.

    Strangely, my first book of the year often tends to be a disappointment, like last year’s This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (I much preferred the film). I hope to buck that trend in 2016!

    1. I hope you do, too, Rebecca! The Kovalyova sounds interesting. I’m quite a convert to short stories, particularly the linked variety.

  13. A really interesting selection of books! The first book I’ve started reading this year is Fishnet by Kirstin Innes which has been excellent so far. I’m also still reading Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon which I actually started last year – it’s excellent but very long and as it’s non-fiction, it’s been good to read some fiction alongside it.

    1. Ah, another from the Guardian Not the Booker list! I like the look of Fishnet and Far From the Tree’s already on my list. I don’t read as much non-fiction as I should but I always like to have one on the go even if it does take me some time to get through it.

  14. Hi there, My last book of 2015 was, can you believe it, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto – only a decade or so after everyone else read it! I’d heard so many good things about it that in the end I was underwhelmed.

  15. My last book of e year for 2015 was Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy, which on reflection was kind of apt for the end of a year, a funeral, wake of a man who was also feted, who had carried a few burdens throughout his life and lost himself once too often in the liquid amber that made things seem better.

    1. What a great book to end on, Claire. I’m very fond of Alice McDermott’s writing and Billy’s one of my favourites. Sadly out of print in the UK.

  16. I can’t even remember books I read earlier in the year, so this is impressive. I think good writing will always make something memorable, whether you enjoy reading it or not. This means that the only two books that I’ll probably ever remember from this year are Cannery Row and The English Patient.

    1. I often stand in front of my shelves looking at books I can remember absolutely nothing about. Quite a good prompt for me to weed them out and pass them on to the charity shop!

      1. One of my resolutions is to be a lot tougher about books that go to the charity shop. As my sister pointed out to me over Christmas, there are only so many books I can read/reread between now and when I step off this mortal coil.

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