Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Top Ten Books of 2017

Turns out 2017 was a really good year reading wise, certainly in terms of quality, there have been some excellent books - to the point that choosing which 10 of them seemed particularly worth shouting out about at the end of the year has been a proper challenge. After a bit of pondering though, and in no particular order, these are the ones that have really stood out in the last twelve months.

Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks' has been a fairly constant companion this year, I have a handful of excellent vintage drinks books, but this one is my favourite. It's not necessarily the best of the bunch in terms of the breadth of drinks it talks about, but Heath is the most enjoyable author to read. That it was written for home use rather than with bartenders in mind is helpful too, and I like that almost half the book is dedicated to non alcoholic drinks. A book like this is a useful thing to have in a kitchen - and I can't recommend it highly enough.

On the foood and drink theme there's also Kate Young's 'The Little Library Cookbook'. I love this book, not just for the recipes, but for the concept behind it. The recipes are good (the hot chocolate epic) but it's the way they're linked to books that I really like. It's a joyful way to think about books and food, giving both more personal meaning. The result feels fresh, inspiring, and above all fun - and who doesn't want that?

Carol Dyhouse's 'Heartthrobs' is a book that shifted the way I think about how we treat women's desires, how they manifest themselves publicaly, and why we find them so threatening. Romance as a genre is still looked down on, and along with plenty of other women I feel somewhat guilty about occasionally burying myself in a romance with few literary pretensions. Dyhouse hasn't lifted that guilt (it's not her job to either) but her book is fascinating and illuminating in equal measure.

Mary Beard's 'Women and Power' is a book I'd like to press on everyone. The examples she draws from classical literature to show how women's voices have been silenced from the earliest records of our western civilisation had mostly passed me by (I could be much better read in the classics), but I am aware that those same texts have been an integral part of our educational system until really very recently, and those same attitudes filter through time and again. Even more interesting to me is her suggestion that if we want equality then we need to redefine what power looks like.

Sharon Miller's 'Heirloom Knitting' is easily the book I was most delighted to find in my letterbox this year - I didn't know it was being reissued, and had given up hope of finding an affordable copy. It was a groundbreaking book about Shetland lace knitting when it was first published, and is now a classic. It's probably not that interesting if you don't knit/know Shetland but there's a lot of history here and it deals with an art form (and the best lace knitting is art) that hasn't always had the appreciation it deserves.

Meike Ziervogel's 'The Photographer' would be the book that provoked the most personal reaction. It draws on the stories of Meike's grandparents, and their experiences during the war, including the mass movement from East to West Germany. It's only now that enough time has past that it feels possible to talk about what happened in the war from a German perspective. It's a book that really helped me find some perspective on my own family history; my grandmother was German, and wouldn't talk about her past at all. I know understand how common her attitude was. It's a powerfull novel that takes a familiar bit of history and shows it from a to me unfamiliar point of view. I think it's Ziervogel's best book yet by quite a way, and a truly remarkable achievement by any standard. I really hope it wins some serious awards.

I'm late to the party with Nan Shepherd's 'The Living Mountain' but will add my voice to all the others that will tell you it's a magical, flawless, bit of writing that speaks deeply of the power of place. Seeing the Cairngorms through Shepherd's eyes is revelatory. It is a polished sparkling gem of a book.

'The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books' by Martin Edwards is a sort of companion to the British Library Crime Classics Series, and more broadly a companion to the whole genre of golden age crime fiction. It's not exhaustive, but it's an absolute treasure trove. I'd also like to mention 'Taking Detective Stories Seriously' the collected reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers, also edited by Martin Edwards, and an absolute treat. You really need both books if you have even the most passingbof interests in the genre, and yes, you will end up with a very long wish list.

The most anticipated title of my reading year was 'Silver Bullets', a collection of classic werewolf stories published by the British Library and selected by Eleanor Dobson. This is the latest in a small, but hopefully growing, series of supernatural stories from the BL. Dobson's choices are inspired, showing that the genre has much more to offer than might be expected, and some of the different things the device of lycanthropy has been used to explore. They're also really entertaining stories - it's just a brilliant book.

And last, but not least, another British Library anthology, this time Tanya Kirk's 'The Haunted Library' it's another brilliant collection of Library and book related ghost stories, some more haunting than others (in that some are pleasantly chilling, and others are best not read just before you try and go to sleep next to a bookcase). It's also an interesting reflection on our relationship with books and how they effect the imagination.


  1. A very interesting list! Heartthrobs and Women and Power had already made their way onto my TBR list but I'd somehow missed your earlier review of The Photographer. It sounds very intriguing and like something I'll really enjoy.

    I hope your 2018 reading year is just as successful!

    1. And yours! The Photographer is excellent, so is Heartthrobs - but then I'm saying that about all of them!

  2. Ooh, how did I miss Tanya Kirk's 'The Haunted Library'???? *races off*

    1. I hope you found a copy, there are some gems in there.

  3. Thank you for your list. I plan to read the cooking book and Nan Shepherd in the first quarter of this year.