This time last year, I set myself a reading challenge for 2016. My goal was to expand my horizons a bit, and discover authors and genres I might otherwise miss out on. You can see the original challenge list here – I think over all I did well, both in covering the items on the list (apart from “book in a foreign language” – I never quite got round to that!) and in reading more broadly than I have in the past. I also discovered that I read around 50 books this year, not counting those I read for work – I’ve never counted before, so it was interesting to put a number on it.
Here are a few of my favourite reads from this year, in no particular order:
Parable of the Sower (and its sequel, Parable of the Talents) – Octavia E. Butler (1993)
Octavia E. Butler was definitely my most important discovery of the year. Someone recommended her to me on Twitter, and I devoured about six of her books in as many weeks. If I had to recommend just one of her books, it would definitely be the Parable of the Sower. Unlike in The Road or The Handmaid’s Tale, in Parable there is no sudden coup or nuclear event which shatters American society – climate change, rising oil and water prices and severe inequality are enough to turn the world into a dystopian struggle for survival. Though it’s over twenty years old, Parable feels throughout like it could have been written in response to the events of 2016. Thoughtful, shocking and very relevant.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – Sydney Padua (2015)
This was a book I got for Christmas, and absolutely loved. It blends fact, fiction and science in one fun, fast-paced package. The illustrations are wonderful, and even the geekiest devotee of Lovelace and Babbage will be satisfied with the detailed explanations of the Difference Engine. I don’t read many graphic novels, but I’m guessing most of them aren’t as thoroughly footnoted as this. (In fact, it needs two readings – one where you delve into all the brilliant, witty footnotes, and one where you skip all that detail and just enjoy the story.) You can also follow Sydney on twitter.
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen (1811)
I’ve read Sense and Sensibility before, but it took on an extra significance for me this year, as it it set just a few miles from Exeter, which I’d never actually realised before. It made me feel really at home to read it after my move and then going on a walk to Barton Park, now a care home north of the city centre. Probably most of you already know and love it, but if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend both the book and the film adaptation by Ang Lee.
Aeneid Book VI – Seamus Heaney (2016)
I feel like I’ve been recommending this translation to people all year. Whether it’s your first introduction to Virgil, or you’ve been studying him for years, you’ll find something wonderful here. It’s weird and dark and very Heaney. Brilliant for my Roman Death course (as Book VI tells of Aeneas’ journey to the underworld), and brilliant generally.
So what will I be reading in 2017? I don’t think I will continue my 2016 reading challenge in this exact form. The most fun and interesting bit of the 2016 reading challenge for me was pursuing geographic variety, and ensuring better representation of books by women and minority groups in my reading, so that is the goal I’ll be sticking with. I have a few things in mind that I’ve been meaning to read (The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and the rest of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are all on my list), and I have a few books by South American and Asian authors that I have bought but not yet read. Recommendations from your 2016 reading are always welcome. Enjoy your books of 2017!