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willoyd's Reading List 2009


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My 2009 list of books:


1. Blood River by Tim Butcher (9 Jan) *****

2. Lady Worsley's Whim by Hallie Rubenhold (16 Jan) ****

3. The Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd (18 Jan) ****

4. Only in America by Matt Frei (5 Feb) **

5. Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge (10 Feb) ***

6. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin (17 Feb) *****

7. Hunting Mister Heartbreak by Jonathan Raban (15 Mar) *****

8. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King (18 Mar) *****

9. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (5 Apr) **

10. Homecoming by Bernard Schlink (18 Apr) *

11. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (27 Apr) ******

12. Have a Nice Day by Justin Webb (2 May) ***

13. The Dante Trap by Arnaud Delalande (8 May) **

14. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (6 Jun) ***

15. A View From the Foothills by Chris Mullin (28 Jun) ****

16. Acqua Alta by Donna Leon (29 Jun) ****

17. The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman (12 Jul) ***

18. Bad Blood by Jeremy Whittle (21 Jul) **

19. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (31 Jul) ******

20. London Belongs To Me by Norman Collins (4 Aug) ******

21. In Search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore ((10 Aug) *****

22. The Secret Life of the French by Lucy Wadham (17 Aug) ***

23. Call for the Dead by John Le Carre (18 Aug) ***

24. Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith (23 Aug) ***

25. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (25 Aug) *****

26. Restless by William Boyd (31 Aug) *****

27. Churchill's Wizards by Nicholas Rankin (19 Sep) ***

28. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (16 Oct) ******

29. The Water Road by Paul Gogarty (26 Oct) *****

30. The Crow Road by Iain Banks (28 Oct) ****

31. One Man and a Narrowboat by Steve Haywood (31 Oct) **

32. The Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor (8 Nov) ***

33. Will and Me by Dominic Dromgoole (10 Nov) ***

34. The Death of Faith by Donna Leon (14 Nov) ****

35. The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric (26 Nov) *****

36. More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton (19 Dec) ****

37. How Steeple Sinderby Won the FA Cup by JL Carr (20 Dec) *****

38. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (21 Dec) *

39. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Shaffer & Annie Barrows (23 Dec) *****

40. The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido (24 Dec) ***

41. The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (24 Dec) ****

42. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (25 Dec) ****

43. The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri (26 Dec) ****

44. The Reader by Bernard Schlink (26 Dec) **

45. Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala (27 Dec) **

46. A Murder of Quality by John Le Carre (27 Dec) ***

47. Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant (28 Dec) ****

48. The Paperchase by Marcel Theroux (29 Dec) ***

49. Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar (30 Dec) ***

50. The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon (31 Dec) ***


Abandoned books, not read enough to count in list above

1. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson (21 Feb) *

2. Justine by Lawrence Durrell (2 Oct) *

3. And Now on Radio Four by Simon Elmes (17 Oct) *



1 = dreadful - almost certainly not finished, and often abandoned early

2 = disappointing - not necessarily finished - tends on mood

3 = OK - but can't get overly enthusiastic; good enough to finish

4 = good, only put book down reluctantly

5 = outstanding, book has to be forcibly removed from my grasp

6 = all-time great, total rave.


I've also got a couple that I've got a long way through, but for one reason or another have suspended reading, but intend to finish as was enjoying them!

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2. Penguin History of the United States by Hugh Brogan

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wolf Hall was brilliant - comfortably going into my all-time great list (5+ stars!). Right from the word go, I loved the way that Hilary Mantel tried to get inside Cromwell's head. Things aren't spelled out, you have to gradually piece together her intepretation of how he might have thought, what he was like as a person and how he made it to the top in spite of all the disadvantages of birth. Certainly gave me a very different perspective on someone who is traditionally portrayed as one of the hard men of British history. It was also the way she integrated his domestic life with the public one, Austin Friars (home) with court, to give such a rounded view that worked so well for me. And her language just kept me entranced the whole way through. To be honest, I find it very difficult to put into words why i enjoyed this so much but what I do know is that it was one of those very rare books where I really didn't want it to end, and where I feel somewhat at a loss now it's finished. So good, it hurt!

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I won a copy of Wolf Hall but haven't got round to reading it yet - sounds great though! Am definitely now more inclined to read it sooner rather than later! :P

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This is turning into an outstanding year's reading: have just finished Paul Gogarty's The Water Road, and it's my sixth five star book of the year; I normally only get 2-3.


It's an account of a solo narrowboat journey round English waterways undertaken in the summer of 2001: a figure of eight, four month odyssey from London up to Birmingham and Wigan, across the Pennines to Leeds and back down to the Thames via Oxford. More than just a journey, the trip turns into a contemplation on the nature of Englishness. The boat people themselves were subject to considerable prejudice in previous times, and this, combined with contemporary events (foot and mouth, race riots in Bradford, rise of the BNP) segues smoothly into a broader discussion of current issues of race, attitudes to Europe, and contemporary life.


The main thrust, however, is life on 'the Cut', both modern and historical, as the canal system continues its leisure orientated renaissance: the descriptions are evocative, the reported meetings genuinely interesting. All in all, its an addictive piece of travel writing that shows that one's own backyard can be as fascinating as anywhere in the world. I loved it!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Two more books added to this year's list:


Crow Road by Ian Banks 4/5

Great read. Not just a mystery, as the central character, Prentice Machoan, does some fairly big growing up in what can only be described as a fairly idiosyncratic family. But then aren't most families? I really felt for Prentice, loved the other characters, and became completely wrapped up in the mystery. I'm off to watch the taped TV version now!


One Man and a Narrowboat by Steve Hayward 2/5

Fairly light hearted look at narrowboating from Oxford to Bristol via Birmingham in one of the wettest summers on record. Interwoven with the story of the founders of the Inland Waterways Association (much more interesting than that might sound!) and a somewhat irritating thread about his acquisition and use of a classic car - the book would have been significantly improved without the latter. Doesn't compare with the Gogarty book read further back up the list, but enjoyable enough that will look out for the sequel.

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The Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor

The story of a voyage of one of the coffin ships transporting mostly Irish emigrants from Liverpool to New York, leading up to a climactic murder (this is no plot giveaway - the murder is referred to in the first few pages). Much of the book is taken up with the backstory of how the characters got there, using the device of the central narrator, a journalist who made the trip, pulling together various documents and accounts to tell the story.


This should have been a 5 star read and felt like a 5 star read, but whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it, this book never totally grabbed me - I never completely engaged with any of the characters, which for me is almost a prerequisite for a great book. Maybe I would have done if we had seen more of it from the viewpoint of the two key women: Laura Merredith and Mary Duane, but all we see of them is what the men say; whilst I can understand why, for me it left the book feeling somewhat unbalanced. All in all, a good read (I read the second half in one sitting), but I'm left with a vague feeling of disappointment. I can understand why others have given it 5 stars, and said it's one of their best reads ever, but personally, it didn't quite make it. Maybe it was just that I expected too much?

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  • 6 months later...

First year I've read 50 books in years, largely thanks to a mad rush in December. Interesting though - the more I read, the less any book becomes individually memorable. That last month is a bit of a blur.


All in all, though, a good year's reading, with a higher than normal proportion of outstanding reads. Top of the pops was Wolf Hall, closely followed by Moby Dick. I initially had A Thousand Acres as a 5-star book, but realised after a few months that it had got completely under my skin, and needed upgrading. Surprise of the year was London Belongs To Me, which I'd never heard of before being recommended it a week or so before reading.


As for non-fiction - hard to choose a best, as there were loads of good reads. Might just give it to the Robert Millar biography, but Your Inner Fish, Hunting Mister Heartbreak and The Water Road were all in there, with Blood River very close behind.


Wooden spoon of the year without a doubt to Bernard Schlink - both books I tried were pretty dreadful - although I don't think I'll be trying any more Lawrence Durrell in a hurry either!

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