I read a lot of books this year, but at the end of the day, the quantity doesn’t matter – the important thing is which books have I enjoyed most this year, and these were my top five:
1. The Mapp and Lucia series by E. F. Benson
I read all six books on the two eponymous English women by E. F. Benson this year in two anthologies, and all were brilliantly observed commentaries on the middle England of the 1930s and I thoroughly enjoyed chuckling along at the two ladies escapades.
2. Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster
Not your run of the mill “let’s start a new life abroad in a derelict farmhouse” book, but a mixture of natural history, geography, geology, local religion and folklore, this was an engrossing account of a year in the life of my favourite non-fiction author as he moves to a run down mas in the mountains of eastern Spain and tries to fulfil a long held dream of planting an arboretum.
3. Love Begins In Winter by Simon Van Booy
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to read more books of short stories, and this year I read a few I enjoyed a lot, but top of my list was this collection based on the themes of love and childhood which was written in a fairly sparse style but was lyrical and beautifully expressed.
4. Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan
A chance encounter with this book in a shop while on holiday led to one of the most satisfying reads I’ve had this year. This is from the review I wrote at the time, as I can’t think of anything better to say about it: “From the very first paragraph I was in awe of the writing; it was the best opening of any book I have ever written. I’m not exaggerating, I honestly feel the writing is just sublime.”
5. A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard
By no means an easy subject, this book rounds off my list not simply because it was an absorbing and thought provoking read, but also because of how it is entwined the book club forum (http://bookclubforum.co.uk) I’ve joined this year. I would never have come across this book without the discussion and recommendations on there, and having read it, was lucky enough to be able to discuss the book in depth with not only other members but also the author herself.