For the last four years I’ve kept a list of the books which I have read each year. There was no great thought given to it – just a way of looking back on what my reading had been that year. A Google sheet was good enough.
Then, at the start of 2016 I decided to set myself a target. To read 52 books that year.
Unbeknown to me my friend and fellow Trustee at Code The City, Steve Milne had set himself the exact same challenge. It wasn’t until November that I realised we were both aiming for the same target.
I did make my target of 52 books with 14 hours to spare on 31st Dec 2016 – thanks to a couple of slim publications to round out my year.
Steve’s approach was more rigorous than mine. He was only counting novels, whereas I counted all books that I read. The only qualification was that they had to have an ISBN. So, in addition to novels I was counting programming, reference, political and photography books and anything else that caught my attention.
Inspired by Steve’s blogging about his progress I’ve decided to do the same this year. So here is my round up of January 2017. While Steve reads everything on paper most of my reading (especially fiction) is done on Kindle. So, I’ll have fewer pictures of groaning bookshelves then him too.
I started January with one of a number of political e-books I’d book I’d bought in Verso’s holiday sale. Four Futures: Life After Capitalism by Peter Frase ISBN: 978-1-781688137 This shortish (160 pages) work sets out four potential futures for mankind given the widely held view that Capitalism has run its course: communism, rentism, socialism and exterminism. While only one of those has any great appeal, the conditions for, arguments why, the alternatives could by the route down which mankind goes are convincingly discussed.
My son kindly gave me a present of a lovely photography book at Christmas: On The Night bus by Nick Turner (which I read in Dec 2016). I was really impressed, not only by the beautiful images but also by the presentation of the book. So I sought out the publishers and discovered that it was the second in a series: Tales of the City, portraying London through many photographers eyes. So I bought the first: People of London by Peter Zelewski ISBN: 978-1-910566-15-2 (160 pages). This volume is also cloth-bound and features more formal street portraits native and immigrant London population – many with captions which give a little of their story. I’ve subscribed to the next four, yet to be published, editions.
Over the festive break I had decided to improve on my very rusty programming by cramming four Coursera courses back to back. As that concluded I was left with a challenge – how to keep the momentum going. I decided on tacking 100DaysOfCode, of which you can read more here. I’d started reading Python for Informatics by Charles Severance (the inspiring tutor on those Coursera courses) ISBN 978-1492339243 (244 pages) during the festive break and finished it in the first few days of January. This is a very readable, well-structured introductory guide to working with data in Python and very generously made available for free on Kindle by Dr Chuck!
My first novel of the year was Exposure by Helen Dunmore ISBN: 978-0091953942 (400 pages). This was first novel by this author that I had read – although my wife is a big fan of her writing. It is a compelling tale of British spying during the cold war – but told largely from the viewpoint of the wife of the suspect. An easy, engrossing read which I read quickly and enjoyed very much.
Immediately I’d finished that novel I started on another: The People In The Photo by Helen Gestern IDBN 1908313544 (273 pages) which I’d bought in an Amazon sale of titles which had been shortlisted for awards. This epistolary novel started with one of the main protagonists replying to an advert – ‘do you know who these people in the photo are” and so begins the unravelling of the interconnected family histories of both people who were previously unknown to one another.
I picked up my next photography book in my local branch of Oxfam: Jane Bown: Observer ISBN 9781871569889 (128 pages). I’m a huge fan of the late Jane Town – her natural style, with an emphasis is using natural light, using only lightweight 35mm Olympus cameras, putting people at their ease. I had picked up a Lifetime of Looking last year which was the definitive collection of her work, but this slim paperback had a few images which I didn’t recognise from that.
While in Oxfam I also picked up Saucy Postcards: The Bamforth Collection by Marcus Hearn ISBN 9781472105462 (224 pages) Reading this was a nostalgia trip – evoking both memories of holidays in the 1970s, and surreptitiously leafing through postcard stands at the newsagent where I was for a while a paperboy. This, like Benny Hill, Dick Emery and Carry On films were part of our shared and largely vanished culture.
My final read of January was another novel: The Sea by John Banville ISBN 978-0330483292 (272 pages) which won the Booker in 2005. This is a slow meditation on loss and memory, told from the standpoint of a recently bereaved widower who revisits the scene of a childhood tragedy in which he was involved. I particularly enjoyed the language – poetic and lyrical and the examination of memory.
According to my Google Sheets record, I completed 8 books in January with a page count total of 1861.