My Favourite Books of 2016

It’s not quite the end of the year, but here are the books I’ve read in 2016 (so far) that I loved the most. But first, some statistics.

I only read 46 new books this year (new to me, that is), fewer than I usually read. This was partly because I was studying for most of the year, plus I’d started a new job, both of which took up lots of mental energy. I also read a great deal of (mostly depressing) political news in newspapers, magazines and blogs. So when I wasn’t doing that, I escaped into the comfort of old favourites from my bookshelves, including a dozen of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s books and a re-read of all the Rivers of London novels in preparation for the release of Book Six in that series.

So, what type of new books did I read this year?

Type of books 2016

Author nationality for books read in 2016

It was the year of British literature, it seems.

Author gender for books read in 2016

And women writers dominate, yet again.

Now for my favourites.

My Favourite Adult Fiction

My favourite novels this year included Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Slade House by David Mitchell and the latest installment of the Rivers of London series, The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch.

My Favourite Non-Fiction

It was non-fiction that really captured my interest this year. Favourites included The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists by David Aaronovitch, and two of Bill Bryson’s books, At Home: A Short History of Private Life and The Road to Little Dribbling. I’m only halfway through Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle, but I’m really enjoying it so far. However, my absolute favourite of the year was Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a brilliantly incisive yet accessible discussion of neurocognitive research into sex differences, which I realise I didn’t actually review on this blog because I was too busy writing assignments at the time. I will try to remedy that at some stage in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s a good review.

My Favourite Books for Children and Teenagers

I loved Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I was also beguiled by the first book in Antonia Forest’s Marlow series, Autumn Term.

My Favourite Picture Books and Graphic Novels

I was entertained (and occasionally enraged) by a collection of First Dog on the Moon’s political cartoons, A Treasury of Cartoons. I also enjoyed Night Witch, a graphic novel in the Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan and others (although it wasn’t as good as the prose novels).

Thank you to everyone who contributed to Memoranda in 2016. I hope you’ve all had a good reading year and that 2017 brings you lots of inspiring, informative and entertaining books. Happy holidays!

More favourite books:

Favourite Books of 2010
Favourite Books of 2011
Favourite Books of 2012
Favourite Books of 2013
Favourite Books of 2014
Favourite Books of 2015

Miscellaneous Memoranda

Rivers of London fans, here’s a good interview with Ben Aaronovitch at Radio National (although, beware, it contains big plot spoilers for the whole series). Also at Radio National, there’s an interview with Leanne Hall about Iris and the Tiger.

I liked this article about Mary Gernat’s lovely cover art for the 1960s editions of the Famous Five books – the artist used her four sons and the family dog, Patch, as models for her sketches and watercolours.

Here’s an interesting attempt to sort into Hogwarts Houses by asking two questions: Are you governed by morality or ethics, and do you derive satisfaction from internal or external validation? (As always, I get thrown straight into Ravenclaw.)

A recent BBC poll of non-British critics about the greatest British novels of all time came up with a list in which women writers dominated the top ten and made up half of the top fifty. As I’d only read fifty-five of the books, I’ve added a few titles to my To Read list, although I think I can live quite happily without Lucky Jim and the two listed D H Lawrence novels.

I feel I’ve read a few too many of these type of novels lately (“I’m going to write a story about a character who feels the way I feel! Middle class, educated, with seemingly every advantage, but who still feels aimless and dissatisfied … Someone with my lived experience will be able to shine a penetrating dramatic light on the problems that arise when you don’t really have other problems.”)

In happier news, the new(ish) Australian children’s laureate is Leigh Hobbs, and hooray, he has a new Mr Chicken book out – Mr Chicken Lands on London!

If you happen to be in London (with Mr Chicken) and are worried about air quality – fear not, the Pigeon Air Patrol is on the case. The pigeons, equipped with tiny backpacks, measure nitrogen dioxide, ozone and other volatile compounds and send the results to Plume Labs for analysis. Londoners can request a reading for their particular location (by sending a tweet, of course). The patrol team includes “Coco, the ‘maverick’, Julius, the ‘hipster’, and Norbert — the ‘intellectual’”.

Finally, in important cephalopod news, a previously unknown species of milky-white octopus has been spotted four kilometres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The octopus is currently nicknamed ‘Caspar the Friendly Ghost’. It joins another a new species, a tiny orange octopus discovered last year that scientists would like to name Opisthoteuthis adorabilis because it is just so adorable.

‘Iris and the Tiger’ by Leanne Hall

Disclaimer because this is an Australian book: I don’t know the author and have no connection to the publisher.

'Iris and the Tiger' by Leanne HallI absolutely loved Leanne Hall’s Iris and the Tiger, a charming, funny story about Iris, a twelve-year-old Australian girl who is sent to stay with her eccentric Great-Aunt Ursula in Spain. Iris’s parents want Iris to ensure Ursula leaves her sprawling country estate to them, but Iris falls under the spell of Bosque de Nubes, a surrealist Wonderland with its own special type of magic and plenty of mysteries. Were her late great-uncle’s famous paintings of tennis-playing sunflowers, five-legged dogs and giant costumed insects based on his surroundings, or is life imitating art? Why is a pair of leather boots shaped like human feet following Iris around? How can her ancient aunt look so youthful? Who is trying to destroy Bosque de Nubes? And most importantly, what happened to the original Iris, painted by her husband in an enigmatic portrait that now seems to be missing a tiger?

Iris is a wonderful heroine – thoughtful, compassionate and braver than she believes. She’s helped in her quest by her new friend Jordi, the gardener’s son, who relishes the danger (“‘I think this could be a very dangerous mission.’ He looked extremely happy as he said it.”). I enjoyed watching Iris grow in confidence and understanding, and although the novel contains some familiar messages (‘Be True to Yourself’, ‘Part of Growing Up is Realising Your Parents are Flawed’, and so on), it’s all done with a light touch and plenty of humour. Iris also happens to be Chinese-Australian, which is never treated as an Issue, although there was a spot-on ‘You look so exotic, where are your family from?’ conversation, which made me laugh and groan in recognition. I also liked the imaginative setting and all the fantastical creatures (Señor Garcia and the Exquisite Corpse were particular favourites). Young readers will enjoy the magic and the adventures, although there are plenty of layers for more advanced readers to dig into (for example, involving surrealist art, the history of Spain, and women being valued as models and muses but not as artists in their own right). The Australian paperback has a gorgeous cover and some charming black-and-white illustrations (and I would love to see this republished as a glossy hardcover with colour illustrations of all the surrealist paintings). It’s been a while since I’ve read such an endearing children’s book. Highly recommended!

EDITED TO ADD: You can see some of the book’s illustrations at Sandra Eterovic’s blog.