Last year’s reading

January 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

I bought myself a new diary yesterday and this morning, I held the official changing of the calendar ceremony – somewhat like the changing of the guard, but with less fanfare and, if I’m to be honest, less ceremony.

As midnight has long since ticked over, there seems no better time to look back on the reading I did last year and share with you some of the best and worst of it. I read a total of 36 books in 2012.


I was very lucky with my non-fiction reading last year.

The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book by Sherman Young was a perfect way to start it off. The Book is Dead champions the changes taking place within the publishing sector right now. Young argues that digital publishing, rather than the destroyer of printed books and literary standards, can be viewed as an opportunity to rekindle a book culture based on the sharing of ideas that vanished long before the coming of digital. Although published in 2007, Young’s book still holds compelling insights and predictions for the future of books as well as theories regarding the evolution of reading and publishing with it. A quick, easy and well-researched read, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the evolving publishing landscape.

Also worth a mention is Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination by Frank Partnoy. Initially drawn to the book by the hope it would justify my procrastination habit, Wait did that and then some. Published this year, Partnoy’s latest book draws on research about decision-making from a variety of different fields including psychology and economics. Through countless case studies and examples, Partnoy illustrates what intelligent decision-making looks like and the integral role that timing plays in the process. My review of Wait can be found here.


Read Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. It will break your heart. There’s a reason why this book won awards.

Biggest Disappointments

I was disappointed by a considerable number of books I read this year, unfortunately. Shappi Khorsandi’s memoir A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English was one. I assumed that because Shappi herself is a gifted stand-up comedian that her book would be funny. Oh, how wrong I was. Though it did have its moments of genuine humour, A Beginner’s Guide was more repetitive and confusing than anything else.

Shappi adopts a distinct voice to tell her story – the voice of her four-year-old self whose photo features on the book’s back cover. However, despite Shappi aging during the course of the story, her voice does not mature. In fact, Shappi after having her first child, recounts the event just as she did her farewell to her extended family in the Iranian airport at age three. In fairness, maybe it’s not that Shappi is adopting the voice of her younger self, maybe this is her current voice, or at least her authorial voice, but there are several clues that indicate otherwise. The repetition for one.

The food Shappi’s mother cooks is explained in detail throughout. Initially, the descriptions of the Iranian cuisine had me salivating, however as the story continues and begins to outline the terrible realities of the Iran-Iraq war, the references to food became distracting. I appreciate that eating and preparing food is a large part of Iranian culture, but the constant reference to it at times made Shappi’s offering sound more like a cookbook than a novel. I felt that the book would have benefited tremendously from one last heavy edit.

Similarly, Kate Summerscale’s historical narrative Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady was comprised more of superfluous details than worthwhile facts. Summerscale tells the true story of Isabella Robinson and her very public divorce case in the 1850s. Civil divorces had only recently been legalised in Britain and actions put into place to make them more affordable for the people. Isabella’s case was of particular interest because of the diary she kept throughout her affair that was used as evidence in court and consequently pasted all over the papers.

All the makings are there for a great book, but it just doesn’t deliver. Summerscale pursues obscure tangents that seem more about her showing off all the research she did rather than enhancing Isabella’s story. A high percentage of the book is superfluous fodder and the drawing of tenuous elements together in an attempt to make them appear significant. At its conclusion, I couldn’t help but wonder what Summerscale’s objective had been in writing the book.

Did you read any of the titles above? What did you think? And what would you recommend of the reading you did in 2012?

My five top reads are up tomorrow.



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