My 2015 Reading List

images (4)Last year I listed the books I read in 2014 and it was a surprise to me to learn that from the total of 43 there was a gender bias in favour of women writers with me reading only 15/43 male writers.

cf91fb2755776eb65c8bc0f392dddd42I was interested to see how 2015’s list compared.

I didn’t make a conscious effort to read more male writers and I also felt I hadn’t read as many books this year (before and after my own book launch, ma heid wis mince, and I found it hard to concentrate on reading) so haud me back, the figures were almost identical to 2014’s stats! This time the total was 13/44 male writers – women win again.

I finished all of the books on the list apart from one book, a huge best-seller which I was very late to the party in reading (what’s new? trailblazer I am not!). I might struggle to find anyone who agrees with me but I abandoned it out of boredom and not feeling engaged with the characters.

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John-John Wisdom is one of the most memorable characters I’ve met on the page.

images (2)All others on the list are well worth a read but if I had to choose my top read of 2015 (which is really hard!) then I’ve got to thank Naomi Frisby for recommending Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers. This book appeared on my radar as I expressed an interest in writing using regional dialect and it blew me away with its powerful prose.

You can read more of Naomi’s suggestions for other books using dialect and accents in her excellent article for Fiction Uncovered. Need more recommendations? I rate Isabel Costello’s suggestions featured On The Literary Sofa and I also follow A Life in Books for more ideas for 2016, as well as being swamped by book reviews on the fantastic Book Connectors group on Facebook…

On the X Factor, they announce the results “in no particular order” but here’s my list in the order I read the books.

 

  1. Us by David Nicholls
  2. Baracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
  3. The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
  4. The Fields by Kevin Maher
  5. Academy Street by Mary Costello
  6. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (abandoned)
  7. The Humans by Matt Haig
  8. Rise by Karen Campbell
  9. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  11. Mixing the Colours anthology by Glasgow Women’s Library
  12. The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
  13. Elizabeth’s Missing by Emma Healey
  14. A Book of Death and Fish by Ian Stephen
  15. We Are All Called to Rise by Laura McBride
  16. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
  17. The Last Days of Disco by David Ross
  18. The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
  19. Find Your Thing by Lucy Whittington (non-fiction)
  20. Sane New World by Ruby Wax (non-fiction)
  21. Haus Frau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  22. Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers
  23. How To Make A Friend by Fleur Smithwick
  24. Alight Here: An Anthology of Falkirk Writing
  25. 4a.m. by Nina De La Mer
  26. Island of Wings by Karin Attenberg
  27. As Easy As A Nuclear War by Paul Cuddihy (short story collection)
  28. The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal
  29. Outline by Rachel Cusk
  30. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  31. Jellyfish by Janice Galloway
  32. Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly
  33. The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  34. The Vigilante by Shelley Harris
  35. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  36. Ridley Road by Jo Bloom
  37. Truestory by Catherine Simpson
  38. The Reel of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  39. Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello (publication date TBC)
  40. The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey
  41. The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  42. Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
  43. The Beautiful Game by Emma Mooney
  44. Stop What You’re Doing and Read This – 10 essays (non-fiction)

Did you have a favourite book in 2015? How many books did you read this year?images

 

 

My 2014 Reading List

download (2)I’m an avid reader (although there’s NEVER enough time to read all the books on my tbr pile) and my taste is not restricted to any particular genre. I recently blogged about my unconscious preference for female writers and one of the comments on the post was how many books Louise Walters (a writing friend from Twitter who’s debut is well worth a read) had read in 2104 and the breakdown of male/female writers. It made me look up the back pages of my 2014 diary where for the first time ever, I’d kept a record of the books I’ve read (or started to read) in 2014. Interesting (to me anyway) there was indeed a gender bias with 15/43 on my list being male writers.

Also, a surprise to me was I hadn’t read as many books as I thought as I’d assumed that I read roughly a book a week. But when life gets in the way of reading (I might’ve read more on holiday if I’d been lying on a beach but in Switzerland & Norway I was too busy then too tired to read much) that wasn’t the case (I blame Shantaram for taking up 3 weeks of my reading life and not being worth the investment!) Ayy1q4lCQAMkGVoWith hunners of new books released daily (not to mention all the millions of books already out there) I always find it fascinating to see each week what the folk on Twitter mention on #FridayReads. When the book choice is tweeted from someone whose opinion I respect I often seek out the book and also follow excellent review blogs such as On the Literary Sofa, The Writes of Woman and A Life in Books.

However, I’m a lover of charity shops and often can’t resist a gamble on a book for 50p. So between, Twitter, random charity shop purchases, a list of ‘must read’ books and a desire to support contemporary Scottish fiction (my thinking is that if that’s what you write, that’s what you should read) I’d say that my reading choices are quite diverse (albeit with 66% written by women) and although my gender bias might’ve been unconscious, I do deliberately vary my reading. If I’ve read something very dark, I pick something a lot lighter in tone next and if I’ve read something set in Scotland, I choose a book set in a different country to follow.

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Another issue I’ve blogged about is my reluctance to write reviews but I’m happy to highlight the books which really stood out from my eclectic 2014 reading list with an * (the list is in order of reading, not ranking). If I had to pick out my favourite book of the year it would be The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. They’re all worth a read for different reasons but I now apply the 50 page rule and if I haven’t engaged with the book by then, it’s off to the charity shop with it.

 

 

The best book I read in 2014.

  1. The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson
  2. Damian and Me by Damian Barr * download (3)
  3. The Guts by Roddy Doyle
  4. She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brocke
  5. The Book Thief by Markas Zusak
  6. The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker
  7. The Railway Man by Eric Lomax (memoir)
  8. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
  9. And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson *
  10. The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh *
  11. All The Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell
  12. The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
  13. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer *
  14. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (abandoned after 50 pages – life’s too short to keep reading a book you HATE.)
  15. The Crow Road by Iain Banks
  16. All the Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang by Neil Mackay *
  17. Americannah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie download (1)
  18. Baggage by Janet Street Porter (memoir)
  19. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
  20. We Can’t Be Strangers by Isabel Costello (as YET unpublished) *
  21. Thirst by Kerry Hudson *
  22. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler *
  23. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  24. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
  25. The Color Purple by Alice Walker *
  26. Call of the Undertow by Linda Cracknell
  27. A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bradley *
  28. Dear Allies by Margaret Henderson                                                                                             (non-fiction research for WIP)
  29. Nella Last’s Diary (non-fiction research for WIP)
  30. Man At The Helm by Nina Stibbe
  31. All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld *
  32. The Gori’s Daughter by Shazia Hobbs download (4)
  33. Resistance by Anita Shreve (abandoned after applying the 50 page rule – just couldn’t get into it at all)
  34. Fall Out by Janet Street Porter (memoir)
  35. The Birds That Never Flew by Margot McCuaig *
  36. Solar by Ian McEwan
  37. Tiger,Tiger by Margaux Fargoso (memoir)
  38. The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark
  39. Glue by Irvine Welsh
  40. Refrigerator Cake by Dickson Telfer (short story collection)
  41. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  42. Glaswegian Dialect by Kate Sanderson (non-fiction research for editing)
  43. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce*

What was your top read of 2014? How many books did you manage to read this year?

Panic Over a Podcast

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(The cute French bulldog pic is especially for Anne, my colleague and great buddy).

When I received an email inviting me to take part in writer Paul Cuddihy’s series of ‘Read All About It’ podcasts, my first reaction was one of confusion. Why was he asking me? It might help explain why to know that Paul is the brother-in-law of my friend Helen (she’s known as big ‘H’ in comparison to me, wee ‘H’ but in height only, I’m much wider!) so maybe he was desperate for willing victims and was scouring his list of connections.

I thanked him for the invite, said I was flattered but really and truly I didn’t believe that anyone would be in the least bit interested (self-esteem issues, who me?) in my answers to the five questions he set each of his guests. And yet, he replied that he definitely did want me to share my thoughts on my reading likes and dislikes and genuinely did want me to agree to take part. This led to my second reaction.

PANIC!

I have never done a podcast in my life.

I HATE the sound of my own voice (surely I sound more sophisticated than that???)

downloadAnd then there was the endless list of ‘What ifs?’

What if I make an arse of myself and stutter and stumble over the questions?

What if my answers are boring and stupid?

What if I make a mistake?

What if I talk gibberish?

And what if?…

There seemed like a lot of ‘What ifs?’ to panic about.

But, fighting off my inner critic (again!!!), I agreed to do it.

images (1)Here are a couple of reasons: my hubby encouraged me to “put myself out there”, and in the spirit of my last blog post, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, I wanted (some might say perversely) to challenge myself…

The ‘grow a pair’ decision meant I met up with Paul and put myself in the firing line (completely the wrong phrase relating to a man who welcomed me, put me at ease and listened as if I had something worth saying) to answer the following five questions:-

1. Favourite book from childhood

2. Favourite book from school/university/teenage years

3. A book you’d recommend to anyone

4. A book you couldn’t be paid to read again

5. The last book you read or are currently reading

After listening to the podcast, I cringed as much as I’d expected. I still HATE the sound of my own voice and I’d no idea that I used the expression, “Absolutely” or “Exactly” so often. It would make a good competition to count the number of times I repeat the same words (please don’t, there’s no prize on offer!) and I really don’t want the embarrassment of knowing the total.

If you want to endure my answers, click on the link.  Or a smarter move would be to click on this link to find out more about Paul’s new book and buy it here Read All About It.

Have you ever done a podcast? How would you answer Paul’s questions?

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Confessions of a Bookaholic

I was flattered to be asked to write a guest post on any aspect of reading for Glasgow Book Groups blog and it made me realise how much time I spend reading. Here’s my post…

imagesMy name is Helen and I’m a bookaholic. There are worse addictions to have and it’s a fairly inexpensive and harmless enough obsession. But it is a problem. The reason being that I keep buying books when I’ve still got a humongous To Be Read (TBR) pile to get through and unless I lock myself away for the next year or so, I’ll never reduce the mountainous stack of books on my bedside table.

images (2)My book fetish has become even more out of control recently and I blame Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter (@HelenMacKinven) now for a year and a half and was wary of entering the murky waters of social media. But I dipped my painted toe in and once I realised that the water was not shark infested, I began to relax a bit and engage with other like-minded folk who loved books too. Many of those that I follow on Twitter write blogs on their own writing or review books. This provided me with a never-ending supply of book recommendations to feed my addiction.  I could get a quick fix within minutes on Twitter and before I could stop myself, I’d be hitting the ‘add to basket’ button on Amazon.

images (3)But what makes me chose one book over another? Obviously, taste is subjective and just because my best pal likes to read sci-fi, that doesn’t mean I’d ever consider anything with wee green men in it even although I originally come from Bonnybridge, allegedly the UFO capital of the world.  I’m not a fan of crime fiction either but I make an exception for Kate Atkinson’s Brodie series. And much as I also suffer from being a shoeaholic and have more handbags than I could ever need, I’m not interested in fluffy chick lit either. Then there’s the book every woman seemed to be talking about.  Listening to my pals, I feel as if I’m one of the few women on the planet who hasn’t read 50 Shades of Grey and I don’t ever intend to!

images (1)I’m also one of the few folk I know who doesn’t own a Kindle. I appreciate all the benefits but I still prefer a ‘tree’ book rather than an e-book and as an avid book festival goer, you can’t get a writer to sign a Kindle. A friend (who shall remain nameless to spare her blushes) swears by her Kindle as the best way to read erotica without anyone else knowing. It’s understandable as who would want to be seen on the train reading a bodice ripper? But I did fall victim to the old cliché of judging a book by its cover when I dismissed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes because of its girly pink cover only to later read it after numerous recommendations and found it to be a far deeper story-line than the artwork suggested.

And there are some books that I’ve been told I MUST read but haven’t enjoyed at all. I used to force myself to finish a book even when I hated it but no longer beat myself up and abandon it early on as life is too short. The most recent example was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. It may well be a classic in Scottish literature but it did nothing for me and I’m not ashamed to admit that my wee brain couldn’t cope with the deep and meaningful concepts.

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As a writer of contemporary Scottish fiction aimed at female readers, I tend to choose books in the genre I aspire to be published in so I read and enjoy writers such as Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, Anne Donovan, Laura Marney, Isla Dewar, Maggie O’Farrell to name but a few. Writers are often given the advice to write the book you’d want to read so that’s what I’m aiming to do. EL James need not worry about her status as queen of erotica!

I’m a bookaholic and proud of it. Are you? What makes you chose one book over another?

Reading Like a Writer

I’ve mentioned previously that Reading Like a Writer by the aptly named, Francine Prose was one of the best set texts from my MLitt course. It taught me how to have a better appreciation of what I read but the one downside is that I now find it hard to switch off my writer’s eye when reading a novel. This means that I’m constantly analysing the characterisation, pace, POV, structure etc and failing to lighten up when I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure.

I wish I could buy the body to go with the T-shirt!

The result of this critical approach is that I’ve just given up on my 4th book in a row. My reading habits have changed over the years. I’ve always been an avid reader but for some unknown perverse reason, I made myself keep reading a book until the end whether I was enjoying it or not. I doubt if I’m alone in suffering from this affliction but somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany (just for the record, there were no angels involved or speaking in tongues, and it wasn’t after a few large voddies) that life is too short and my ‘to-be-read’ pile is already too high to bother sticking with reading books I don’t like.

This new ruthless approach has got even tougher in the wake of a house move and the knowledge that my TBR pile would either have to be read quickly or packed and carted off to my new abode.  Several books had been gathering dust on the TBR pile for various reasons, and many had made it on to the list due to being classed as a book I felt should read (but who says so and why should I care?).

The first one to be tackled was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. This book is hailed as a modern classic, Glasgow’s Ulysses, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that I just couldn’t get my head round it. The semi-autobiographical parts based in Glasgow appealed but the surrealism of Gray’s vision of hell was far too sophisticated for my wee brain. The next couple of books will remain nameless, let’s just say I might cross the paths of these writers in the future and I don’t want to have to run and hide from them if I dared to air my feelings publicly .

The queen of ‘tragi-comedy’ writing.

After a hat trick of failed read throughs, I went for a safe bet. Even although I rarely read crime fiction, I love Kate Atkinson’s novels in the Jackson Brodie series, I really enjoyed Human Croquet and rate Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of my all-time favourite books. The only one of her books I’d still to read was Emotionally Weird, so I felt sure that I was on to a winner, but I’m sad to say that for the first time ever, Kate let me down. For my tastes, the book seemed too self-consciously ‘literary’, with no plot to speak of involving unlikeable caricature characters and in no way lived up to my high expectations.

So I’m on to number five, with my hubby breathing down my neck to reduce the Everest proportions of the TBR whilst thrusting a packing case under my nose.  I’m quietly confident I’ll go the distance with this one, ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada, partly because I’ve got an interest in the Nazi regime of WW11, the city of Berlin and a love of novels based on true stories (which pander to my cynical nature).

But only time will tell if Alone in Berlin makes the grade and gets a hurl in the removal van…

Do you have a book that’s a permanent fixture on your TBR pile? Do you stick with a book until the end? Do you have a cut-off point? What makes you throw your book in the charity bag or even at the wall? And what makes a book worth packing to take to a new home?

Try telling that to my hubby!

I’m a Published Writer!

This week I celebrated turning 21 again and received lots of lovely gifts from my family and friends (and a joint present of a box of Radox salts from my teenage sons- they really know how to spoil me!) But my best present (sorry boys) was seeing my work in print for the first time! Woo hoo!!

I wrote a short story, ‘Talk of the Toon’ which was inspired by my gran- a real life heroine! When she was a young mum, she saved the life of a drowning boy and received an award from the Royal Humane Society for her bravery.  My story is included in the Telling Tales of Heroes Anthology and means that my name is alongside established writers as well as other novice writers. I’m sure my gran would’ve been chuffed to bits to see her namesake in print.

The anthology was launched as the finale of the Lomond Writers’ Gathering which also included the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Agnes Owens.  The evening included tributes to Agnes by James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead. It was really inspirational to hear about Agnes’s writing career. Like me, she was a late starter in taking her writing seriously and like me she comes from a working class background without writers and artists in her circle of influence. Agnes’s writing is about the lives of everyday, working people and the little tragedies within relationships and Liz Lochhead described her work as “genius”.

Alasdair Gray is well-known as being unconventional and his flamboyant speech was certainly entertaining as he ranted that despite Agnes’s work being highly esteemed by her fellow writers, her books have not received the critical attention they deserve, perhaps because Agnes is neither an eccentric or a glamorous celebrity and is simply an 86 year old housewife living in a poor Scottish town. Agnes signed my copy of Agnes Owens- The Complete Short Stories and told me to “stick in with my writing”.

It was a great event to be part of and thanks to the anthology, I’ve achieved my aim of being published but the event generated my next goal- to conquer my fear of giving a public reading.  When I arrived, the organiser asked me if I would like to read my story but I completely bottled it! I was star struck by the literary legends in the audience and I was completely unprepared for my first ever public treading. The irony is I’ve got over 20 years of experience in public speaking from my work as a Training Officer.  But delivering PowerPoint presentations is not the same as reading out your writing and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t take the chance to read aloud. My mum was disappointed in my failure to grab the limelight, “But you used to be a Reader at Mass every Sunday!” Yes, but reading out a letter from St Paul to the Corinthians when you are twelve was far easier for me than sharing my own words. But I’ve got Agnes now as inspiration for my apprenticeship in writing.

Book Culture

What was your first reading book at school? I remember learning to read by following the painfully dull “adventures” of Dick and Dora and their pets Nip and Fluff (the reading series was created in the 50’s and bore no resemblance whatsoever to my Scottish working class childhood in the 70’s)

The Happy Venture reading series

Thankfully, books became more exciting as I moved up through primary school. Back in the day, the routine was for the class teacher to read aloud from a book ten minutes before the final bell rang. I loved to listen to the latest instalment from books like Charlotte’s Web and I would board the school bus desperate to know what would happen next to Wilbur the pig.

I’ve been a voracious reader ever since my encounter with Dick and Dora and I was intrigued to see how many novels I’d read of the list of 100 Novels Everyone Should Read  in an article from The Telegraph. I smugly scanned the list and was embarrassed to find that I’d only read 10/100 (what’s your score?) I’ve never claimed to be well read but I wondered if I should feel any pressure to tick off the remaining 90 novels? Nah, I’m all for experiencing new books but every list has an inherent bias depending on the complier’s view of greatness. Life’s too short to read books just because some literary elitist declares a novel to be worthy and deemed a “classic”. I’ll stick by my own choices- intellectual or not!

I prefer contemporary fiction and I also enjoy to see the author up close and personal at book events (most of The Telegraph’s top 100 authors are long gone). I’ve attended most of Scotland’s book festivals over the last few years so I was interested to hear from the speakers at the ‘Book Cultures, Book Events‘ conference hosted by the University of Stirling. The conference explored the pleasures that readers derive from sharing their reading experiences through ‘live’ book events. With the bankruptcy of the Borders book chain and the closure of many independent bookstores, readers are looking for new ways to share their passion for books in a social context. One example of a new outlet for books and authors to reach the public was a Book Market based on the concept of a Farmer’s Market where book lovers can access a wide range of books in an informal setting. In the past, book events have often been held in cultural buildings and some people can be intimidated by a grand location. There’s also been a tradition of ‘ladies who lunch’ making up a large proportion of the audience at book events. Not everyone has the time or money to be part of this type of book culture, so any new idea to reach readers of all ages and backgrounds has got to be a good thing- as long as Dick and Dora are not invited!