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Archive of ‘I like making lists’ category

A Year in Books

Back in January 2010, I decided that I wanted to keep a list of all the books I read for a year, and since then, I’ve been faithfully recording my reading. Keeping the list has proved quite a fascinating process, and I think I’ve ended up learning a whole lot more than I ever anticipated about my reading habits – not to mention myself.

Lots of things I discovered about my reading surprised me: for example, how many more books by women I read compared to books by men; how little poetry and non-fiction I read; and just how many children’s and young adult books I read, – even considering that it’s fairly essential for my job. And also, just how much I read. I’ve always been a pretty avid reader, but I hadn”t expected to discover I read over 100 new books in a year.

Keeping a list of just the books that were new to me – first reads, if you will – was a deliberate strategy. I’m absolutely not one of those people who can only read a book once. In fact, I frequently revisit favourite books over and over again, and certain moods may draw me towards particular titles, so I decided there wasn’t any point listing every single book I read, but only the new ones.

I also set myself some other rules, for example: I wouldn’t list any books that I didn’t actually finish, and I wouldn’t include anything that I simply ‘flicked through’ rather than reading cover to cover. So art books I skimmed wouldn’t count, but a graphic novel I sat down and read properly would; recipe books I dipped into wouldn’t count but a biography or collection of essays that I read from beginning to end would.

Twelve months and over 100 books later, I thought it would be fun to revisit my completed list, and take a look at some my highlights from a very interesting year of reading. First up I thought I’d focus on the adult books I read this year – I’ll have to revisit the children’s and teen books later as there are so many of them!

My favourite new fiction:

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: a crumbling country house in the unsettled post-war society of 1947 is the setting for this compulsive, intense page-turner with a hint of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
  • The Children’s Book by AS Byatt: spanning the period from the end of the 19th century to the conclusion of the first world war, this sweeping, highly-charged, multifaceted novel is the best Byatt I’ve read since Posession. Probably my book of the year.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: In spite of all the hype, I wasn’t disappointed by Mantel’s latest novel. Focusing on the fascinating figure of Thomas Cromwell and his place within the complex, richly-evoked world of the Tudor court, Wolf Hall is a slow burner: it took a little while before it grabbed me, but once it did, I was hooked.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: I was in two minds whether or not to include this as in general, I’m not a huge fan of McEwan. However, I did rate this slender, understated tribute to misunderstanding and disappointed love, which was to me at least, more compelling than most of his books that I’ve read
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: Surprise! I do read something other than literary fiction with a historical setting! This companion volume to Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, set in a dystopian bioengineered future is an incredible feat of imagination: fascinating, startling and moving by turns.
  • The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger: from the author of the hugely popular The Timetraveller’s Wife comes this surprisingly understated graphic novel. And it’s about compulsive reading, so of course it struck a chord with me. My review of it on the Booktrust website is here.
  • Corrag by Susan Fletcher: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story of the Jacobite rebellion, told in part through the eyes of a young woman imprisoned and condemned as a witch, but was soon impressed by Fletcher’s luminous, lyrical evocation of the Scottish highlands.
  • Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla: All right, so I know this one is by my buddy Nikesh, but all the same it is genuinely deserving of its place amongst my best books of the year. I have enormous admiration for any book that can make me laugh out loud, and this book didn’t just do that, it actually made me laugh out loud, many times, on public transport. Now that really is pretty cool.
  • Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt: Another surprise entry: a book about a giant, gin-swilling dog? And Winston Churchill? Huh? But this promising debut novel is actually an unexpected pleasure: bold, witty and well-crafted.

My favourite new-to-me fiction (otherwise known as the ‘how come I hadn’t read this before?’ list):

  • The Collector by John Fowles: I re-read The Magus on holiday in Croatia this year and enjoyed it so much I had to seek out the other Fowles titles I hadn’t read, including this, his first novel, the tale of a sinister butterfly collector. Compulsive, fascinating and incredibly clever, it didn’t disappoint me.
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (and indeed the entire Jackson Brodie series): Simply brilliant. I’ve been a fan of Kate Atkinson’s other books for years, so why did it take me so long to discover Jackson Brodie? I’m recommending these to everyone I know.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer: Much more than just a whimsical love story, this charming and nostalgic wartime tale is a delightful, heartwarming read.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes: Like everyone else on the planet, I loved Downton Abbey this year, and so I thought I should seek out more of Fellowes’s writing. It’s no Gosford Park but this entertaining satire of upper class life is great fun: a little bit E.M. Forster, a little bit Nancy Mitford, with maybe a touch of the Jilly Coopers thrown in.
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield: The other book that made me laugh out loud on the tube a lot this year. This one is going straight onto my all-time favourites list. Quite simply brilliant.

Best non-fiction:

  • So Much to Tell by Valerie Groves: For anyone who knows their children’s book onions, the name ‘Kaye Webb’ has a little bit of magic about it. This fascinating biography of Webb’s odd and extraordinary life had been on my must-read list for ages, and it didn’t disappoint
  • Home by Julie Myerson: I’m always fascinated by the history of old houses – thinking about all the people who might have lived there in the past. Julie Myerson takes it a step further in this readable ‘biography of a house’, researching the story of everyone who has ever lived in her Clapham home.
  • Mrs Keppel and her Daughter by Diana Souhami: I’m reading a lot about the Edwardian era at the moment, and this vivid biography, focusing on the King’s mistress Mrs Keppel and her difficult daughter Violet, is one of the best things I’ve discovered.

What were your most memorable reads of 2010?

[Image via Tumblr]

making lists

As an avid list-maker, I like the look of this exhibition about lists, currently running at the Laurence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington D.C., discovered via the BBC website.

The exhibition includes hundreds of lists drawn up by modern artists, ranging from lists of ideas or paintings, right through to apparently straightforward ‘things to do’ lists. Amongst them is Picasso’s handwritten list of recommended artists for the historic 1913 Armory Show: amusingly, he couldn’t spell the name of his contemporary Marcel Duchamp. Other notable in the exhibition include architect Eero Saarinen’s list of attributes he found attractive in his wife (!) and Alfred Konrad’s illustrated list of what to pack for a trip to Rome and Egypt in 1962 (see above).

I’m finding further list-making inspiration at the Listography website where users can create a personal database of lists from to-do lists and wish lists through to High Fidelity-esque top tens ; and also on hula seventy‘s blog – a fellow list-maker, she is posting a new list every week, ranging from guilty pleasures to favourite words.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artist’s Enumerations from the Archives of American Art runs until September 2010 (the chances of me getting to see it are non-existent, but luckily there will also be an exhibition catalogue).

[Image: Adolf Konrad’s packing list via the Archives of American Art ]

27 things to do before I turn 28

Following my fairly unsuccessful list of 26 things to do before I turn 27, I thought it would be only right and proper to make a new list of things to do in my 27th year. However, having learned my lessons from last year, I decided to be slightly less ambitious with my plans this time. Who knows, I might even manage to actually achieve a few more of the following, rather more achievable goals for 2010…

Here are some of the things I’d like to do this year:

1. Knit a jumper
2. Keep a list of all the new books I read
3. Plant red geraniums in a window box
4. Go to the ballet
5. Swim at a London lido
6. Have an elegant afternoon tea
7. Start writing a new novel
8. See some live comedy
9. Go to London Zoo
10. Take a dance class
11. Learn to crotchet
12. Collaborate
13. Get a bicycle
14. Eat a lobster
15. Go to Rye in East Sussex
16. Make handmade Christmas presents
18. Read more non-fiction
19. Buy some art
20. Read the only book I still haven’t read from the Lone Pine series by Malcolm Saville (Strangers at Witchend)
21. Go on holiday
22. Bake a pie
23. Get published in print
24. Eat sushi
25. Swim in the sea
26. Create a handmade book
27. Go on the Eurostar

[Image via Tumblr here]

the birthday list

About this time last year, I wrote a list of 26 things I wanted to do before I turned 27. You can read the full list (which included everything from knitting a jumper to going to New York) here.

Unfortunately item #19 on my list (write a dissertation) proved to take up rather more of my time that I had naively anticipated, and so in the end, I never quite got round to doing many of the more ambitious things on my list. However, I did manage to tick off a grand total of 7 (!) things from my list, as follows…

#3 Sit around a midsummer bonfire

#25 Drink champagne
I’ll admit it’s largely been sparkling wine rather than actual champagne this year. But surely it’s the principle that’s important.

#26 Take a break
OK, it wasn’t quite as restful as I envisaged, what with a dissertation to write and job applications and interviews to deal with, but my two months by the sea in Dunbar did give me chance for many lie-ins and aimless meanderings through woods and along beaches.

#10 Go wild swimming
I was determined to swim in the sea at least once in Scotland this summer. I’ve never swum in the North Sea before, and can honestly say that it was possibly my coldest and most painful (yet strangely exhilirating) swimming experience ever.

#7 Practice the piano

#17 Find a lovely place to live
I always wanted to live in a flat in an old Georgian house on a quiet, leafy London street… and now I actually do! OK, so I didn’t imagine it would have a mildewed bathroom ceiling but you can’t have everything. This spring I’m planning to buy red geraniums for a window box – the perfect finishing touch to an unexpectedly lovely place to live.

… and finally…

#19 Write a dissertation
At last it’s finished. That’s all I’m saying on the subject

[Image by kristina♥kiessig via tumblr]

26 things to do before I turn 27

I am ill again. I think I have the flu, or something flu-ish anyway. I can’t believe I am ill, yet again. Once again I’m missing all kinds of things I wanted to do, like going to this, or the opening of this new exhibition, not to mention lots of important university and work related stuff. Instead I am lying low with a gallon of lemsip, more tissues than you could possibly imagine and all my blankets. To cheer myself up I have been experimenting with tumblr (most addictive – check me out here) writing postcards to friends, and knitting. I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping the evil disease won’t hang around for too much longer.

Anyway, to get onto more positive things… one of my favourite bloggers, andrea of hulaseventy has a little tradition of writing a list of exciting things she hopes to do in the coming year each birthday. You can see her list of the 38 things she plans to do before she turns 39 here.

I really like the idea of a list like this. It’s not about sensible, worthy things you feel you ‘ought’ to do, or even a traditional ‘to do’ list as such, but a list of things you genuinely want to do – the places you want to go, the projects you want to start, the adventures you want to have.

I was inspired to make my own list of the things I’d like to do this year, which I thought I would share here. Some of the things on this list are totally new, but others are things I have done before but would like to do again, or things I do already but would like to do more of. It was surprising how quick it was to write – I had a lot of ideas, but thought maybe I’d better save at least some of them for next year!

  1. knit a jumper
  2. go on an adventure by train
  3. sit around a midsummer bonfire
  4. go to a really good sushi restaurant
  5. find the perfect vintage dress
  6. pass my driving test
  7. practice the piano
  8. start a new novel
  9. get a bicycle with a basket (in an ideal world, it would be this one)
  10. go wild swimming
  11. finally finish reading ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’
  12. plant something
  13. go to new york
  14. make a charm necklace
  15. order moo cards
  16. go dancing
  17. find a lovely place to live (no green taps please!)
  18. learn to crotchet
  19. write a dissertation!
  20. have a handmade christmas
  21. eat a lobster
  22. investigate d-i-y publishing
  23. go to rye in east sussex
  24. take more photographs
  25. drink champagne (this one is in much the same vein as ‘eat more cake’ I feel)
  26. take a break

(The picture is a sample of just one of many images on my new tumblr thingy – this one comes via яuғina♫)