I’m going to cheat ever-so-slightly by choosing not three individual books, but three groupings, because this was a year I was able to read more widely and more voraciously after the narrower, more instrumental reading of my PhD.
This was first and foremost a year of Ali Smith. I read How to be both and Artful in quick succession and saw her speak, wonderfully, at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. There are writers you feel an instant kinship with, and reading them, the world’s confusion dissipates and everything clicks into place. Smith is like this for me. Her endless curiosity about the world and the way this infuses all her characters in her books – particularly the children – literally warms my heart. Even when I wasn’t reading her, I felt the influence of having done so.
The most thoroughly enjoyable novel I read this year was Nell Zink‘s Mislaid. I’m always attracted to writers who have been other things as well as writers; they seem less susceptible to co-option and literary protocols. From the moment you realise Zink’s title is a majestic pun, you know you’re in good hands. The most remarkable thing about the book was its sustained voice – aphoristic but not annoying, quick-witted and sharp but somehow not cynical, joyously trampling over decorum, I loved it. I can’t wait to read her first novel, The Wallcreeper, and will be chomping at the bit for her next book.
Right at the end of the year I returned to Rebecca Solnit‘s work, with The Faraway Nearby. I’d read three of her books in a binge a few years ago, and reading this book over Christmas was like meeting up with an old friend. Her writing – like Smith’s, but in very different ways – so accurately describes life as it feels to me that it’s almost uncanny. I feel more alive and more at ease when I’m reading her books. Reading Solnit also reminded me of another collection of lyrical essays I devoured this year, Kathleen Jamie‘s Sightlines. It made me want to write like her, and made me want to explore more the country I call home. The passage where she describes seeing killer whales in Shetland brought tears to my eyes on a long train journey south:
I remember how that huge fin manifested itself in front of my eyes, a private miracle. For days after I felt different, looser of limb, thrilled because the world had thrown me a gift and said ‘Catch!’