Everybody loves a Top 10, don’t they?
As I am a literature student, and we are coming to the end of 2016, I thought I may as well share the most informative, influential and enjoyable pieces that I read this year. Not all of them are fiction, and they range from short essays to sprawling long novels. The ranking order should be taken with a pinch of salt; on a different day I would probably organise them differently, though Number 1 would always stay in its top position.
So, without further ado, here we go…
10) The Wasteland, T.S Eliot: I had an absolute love-hate relationship with this one, the masterpiece of one of the most pretentious (and brilliant) poets of the English language. First I couldn’t stand it for its strangeness and sheer incomprehensibility; once I managed to unpick its many layers and read more about its context, I grew to admire it for the incredible piece of poetry that it is.
9) Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card: I picked this one up because it was a classic that had been sitting for a long time on my metaphorical “to read” shelf. I wanted a nice easy sci-fi novel, but did not expect it would be as meaningful and thought-provoking as it is. The book has a lot to say about human interactions, society and information; it is not without its flaws, but is still a great read.
8) The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks: To be honest, I tend to love anything by the late and great Iain Banks (or is it Iain M. Banks?), and have read a lot of his work this year, especially the Culture novels. He had to go on the list, and so I chose the book that made him famous, The Wasp Factory. For those of you who haven’t read it, the novel is basically about a psychopathic, misogynistic Scottish boy who lives on an isolated island. Dark, brutal but absolutely hilarious if you have the right sense of humour, and it ends with an incredible plot twist.
7) Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe: I have been slowly reading this series over the last few years, and finally finished it this summer. Wolfe is considered to be something of the James Joyce of Fantasy, and indeed his books are incredibly literary. If you are in the mood for something intellectual, they are definitely worth a read, full of allusions and unreliable narration. If not, the world that Wolfe creates is still absolutely fascinating, and the story itself, while glacial and strange, ties itself up neatly at the end.
6) Howards End, E.M Forster: Ah Edward Morgan, how I love thee. This book started my adoration for Forster’s work, and I think it is probably the most readable of his novels that I have read so far. As well as being just a beautiful book to read, it is full of humour and the virtues of tolerance and sympathy. Well worth a read.
5) A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James: This epic won the Man Booker Prize in 2015, and justifiably so. It recreates the (real-life) attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1970s Jamaica, and follows the lives of those involved. James’ novel is certainly not for the faint-hearted – it is big, extremely violent and deals with some very dark subject matter; the Jamaican patois in which much of it is written also takes some getting used to. However, if you are prepared for it, the book is an absolute treat, and will keep you hooked right up until the end.
4) To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee: incredibly, I only got round to reading this classic late this year, but better late than never! A wonderful book, full of important messages that kept me thinking throughout. Beyond that, it is easy to read, often fun, and full of great characters, not least of course the mighty Atticus Finch.
3) Deep Work, Cal Newport: I have generally been very snobby and dismissive when it comes to self-help books, seeing them as a waste of time and money. Deep Work, lent to me by a friend, has changed my view of the genre. Newport really analyses a lot of problems that I noticed I had myself, and his ideas are informative about how to change in order to not only be more productive, but potentially happier as well.
2) Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: Another classic that I only got round to reading this year. What can I say about it that hasn’t be said already? Strange and often disturbing, but as a work of art almost unsurpassed in the canon of prose fiction.
1) What I Believe, E.M Forster: The shortest piece on this list, but for me by far the most profound and important. More than any other work, I think this essay has had the greatest impact on my beliefs about politics and society. Written on the eve of the Second World War, when prejudice and illiberalism was rampant, it is a modest cry for love, sympathy and practical good nature. In 2016, when politics has become similarly unstable and less and less tolerant, Forster’s beautiful little essay is more relevant than ever. Please read it – you could not ask for five minutes better spent.
So that’s my list. What has everybody else been reading this year?