A Twitter poll BUT for books? Why not?

It’s that time of the year again where I’m so busy I don’t get a chance to read. It’s a come a bit earlier this year – so in a desperate bid for some content, I thought about what I might be able to cobble together in less than an hour…

 

So, here it is!

 

Taking inspiration from Richard Osman’s ‘World Cup of…’ series of Twitter polls (and now a book!) – here’s a tournament especially for book lovers – to find Twitter’s Best Book of 2017.

 

The Rules? There are always rules!

 

  • Unlike Fight Club… everyone talks about Book Club – share your votes and tell us all why!
  • The 32 titles in contention have all been published in either paperback or hardback since 26th December 2017 and have had some sort of impact on the literary landscape this year.
  • They’ve all been picked by me (with a couple of suggestions from others) – they’re either my favourite books of the last year – or particularly notable titles. If you think I’ve missed something… hey, run your own poll.

 

The list in full (in alphabetical order)

 

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  3. Origin by Dan Brown
  4. What Happened by Hilary Clinton
  5. The Party by Elizabeth Day
  6. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
  7. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
  8. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
  9. Creakers by Tom Fletcher
  10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  11. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  12. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  13. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  14. The Dry by Jane Harper
  15. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  16. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
  17. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  18. Need You Dead by Peter James
  19. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
  20. Sirens by Joseph Knox
  21. A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
  22. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
  23. The One by John Marrs
  24. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  25. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
  26. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
  27. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
  28. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  29. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  30. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  31. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  32. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

Voting in the first round starts today (now!) over on my Twitter (@alexjcall) – get voting! The top two from each round will go through to the quarter finals!

 

 

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Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

Back in November, I got the chance to present an award at the ‘Books are My Bag Reader’s Awards’. Like a nominee at the Oscars, it was an honour, just to be asked, but I also got to present the first award at the very awards.

 

I can already feel the blue plaque heading my way.

 

The award was for best fiction book of 2016 and the shortlist, selected by booksellers, was a strong one. Among the heavyweights of Maggie O’Farrell, Jessie Burton and Anne Enright were debut authors Joanna Cannon, Andrew Michael Hurley and Max Porter.

 

I’d read three of them and Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep was already in my reading pile. When I spotted Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers in my local WHSmith, I grabbed it so that I could add a fourth tick to my list (and it’s not often I actually buy books, so this marks it out as special right away).

 

It is not a long book, I could read it under an hour, but it’s not meant to be read in one sitting. It’s to be savoured, dipped into.

 

When I revealed it as winner up on that stage I said “and the winner is… on my bedside table, so no spoilers please.”

 

In reality, that’s a stupid thing to say about this book – it’s not the type of book that has spoilers, in fact, the spoiler is right there on the front cover. Grief is the thing with feathers. The metaphor of crow is spelled out for you right there.

 

(As an aside, the reason I ended up speaking such nonsense was because I was concentrating on not saying what was actually in my head which was namely “What are you doing, Alex? Get off the fucking stage.”)

 

So, what is it about? Dad. Boys. Crow.

 

A woman has died leaving behind three men. Dad and her boys. Dad, a Ted Hughes fan, introduces Crow into their lives. Crow is the thing with feathers. Crow is grief.

 

At first crow seems quite ominous, an imposing force on the small family’s life, however as we progress through the snapshots of their lives we learn that the the crow, their grief, is there to protect them from something worse: despair.

 

This book is more poetry than prose, each snapshot of their lives presented in short form, a small anecdote, or even just a sentence or two, capturing a moment or feeling as the boys deal with their grief.

 

The type of book you will be able to dip in and out of and find different meanings each time in the same sentences.

 

I’m not sure it would have been the title I would have picked to win the award for best Fiction 2016 – it feels different to fiction somehow, a category of it’s own, an outpouring of emotion, and not the sort of book I would normally read.

 

But I’m glad I did – and I’m pleased I got to present Porter with his award, because it certainly deserves recognition.

My Top 10 Books of 2016

 

About this time last year I revealed my Top 10 books of the year (check what they were here). I enjoyed doing it so much, that I’m going to do it again this year. One little rule – I’m excluding all the Harry Potters because otherwise my Top four would be dominated by him,.

 

Like many TV clip shows at the end of the year, you’ll have seen most of this before, but there is also some brand new content to keep you interested – as well as the drama of a countdown.

 

We’ll start – as is often traditional in Top Ten countdowns – at Number Ten…

 

  1. This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

 

A story about the construction then the subsequent demolition of the relationship between Daniel and Claudette. We witness all the moments around the big arguments and the big decisions, and the characters are richer for it. The ending seems inevitable, but it makes it even more satisfying when we get there.

 

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

 

A deeply mysterious book, one that describes the cold, wet countryside of England so well, that I feel cold even thinking about it now. What’s it about? It’s hard to describe. A pilgrimage of sorts to the eponymous Loney, an attempt to cure the protagonist’s brother. But it has an ending that stays with you.

 

  1. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

 

A retelling – or in my case, just the telling – of the story of Lizzie Borden. A brilliant piece of writing that presents the facts of the case, plus some suppositions to help the reader come to their own conclusion to what happened on that August day. Fascinating and creepy in equal measure. Definitely one to keep on the bookcase for a re-read.

 

  1. Seven Ways We Lie – Riley Redgate

 

A bit of a guilty pleasure, and am a bit surprised to see it so high up my list for 2016. It’s a fluffy and throwaway story about an American high school and a rumour that rockets around its corridors. I found it very funny, and a great bit of escapism from some of the heavier fare I usually read.

 

  1. Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon

 

One of two non-fiction books on the list…  It’s a book about mental illness, specifically Bryony Gordon’s, but also about YOURS because it’s hard to read about Bryony’s experiences without comparing and contrasting with your own. Some bits make you feel better, some bits make you feel worse, but you’ll come out of this book knowing yourself a bit more (gosh, that sounds American). If you read this and don’t recognise yourself in any of it, then you’re lucky – but hopefully, you’ll understand the rest of us a little bit more.

 

  1. And I Darken – Kiersten White

The tale of Lady Dracul, a take on Vlad the Impaler. A Game of Thrones style epic that pulls you into the politics of a country a million miles and a million years away from where you are. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

 

  1. The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

 

A tough one – because this is real life. My biggest problem when it comes to Non-Fiction, I either don’t care because there’s no sensible narrative (spoiler, there is no sensible narrative in real life) or I care too much because ‘this really happened, damn it!’. This definitely falls into the latter – with the tragic story of a girl growing up coping with the result of a tragic accident involving her brother.

 

  1. The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

 

The only title on my list this year that I haven’t done a full review for, so here’s a mini one, right here.

 

I read this back in August, and the main reason for not writing a review is that I didn’t know what to say that I’ve not said about Adele before. This is her first contemporary novel since The State We’re In, which is one of my all-time favourites (And FYI, I’m still waiting for a movie adaptation?), and it tells of a couple who learn that their only daughter may in fact not be theirs.

 

Is everything as it seems? Tense in places, it builds to a wholly surprising but satisfying ending. This is my favourite thing about Adele’s writing. You’re sure you know where it’s going, yet you know there must be something else to it, and there is always something else to it, but until it happens you have absolutely no clue what it is. The clever bit, though, is that it makes perfect sense.

 

This is Adele’s take on the domestic noir genre that The Girl on the Train spawned, but there is more weight to this, more investment in the characters and much less reliant on a cheap twist. Currently only available in e-book, it’ll be released as a real book in January

 

  1. Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

A book that starts off as normal as any other, but soon descends into gothic horror. It blends the contemporary world with the ritualistic world of the past and slowly builds it from a calm acceptance to a complete breakdown of civilisation that leaves both hero and anti-hero in a state of shock.

 

  1. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

 

I called this way back at the beginning of the year. The sheer poetry of the writing alone was enough to make me fall in love with it, but the characters and plot drag you along with it. There’s no more that can be said that I haven’t already said. Just go and read it.

 

 

 

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I always keep meaning to get around to reading. Instructions for a Heatwave was one of the biggest sellers in 2013 and I always intended to read it, but it didn’t ever find it’s way onto my reading pile.

 

Still, I knew a lot of people had read it, and the book had received critical acclaim, so when I heard of a new novel – This Must Be The Place­ – I was bizarrely excited to read it, despite having never read O’Farrell before.

 

This Must Be The Place tells the story of Daniel and Claudette who, at the beginning of the novel are a married couple living in a remote house in Donegal. Daniel is due to head back to America to see his family, but hears something on the radio on the way which sends him digging back into his past. The ramifications of the secret he’s hiding have a massive impact on his marriage and his family.

 

The story is told in the non-linear structure that most books seem to favour these days – on a side note, there must be a better way of putting that, terms like ‘time slip’ and ‘time jump’ always imply time travel to me. Google seems to suggest anachronistic, so I’m going with that.

 

The story is told anachronistically, a form that most books seems to favour these days and we learn of both Daniel and Claudette’s lives, before and after they met.

 

O’Farrell uses this structure to good effect to help us colour in their lives, and the supporting characters, particularly their children, seem vivid and real, however there are events with them that get avoided or brushed over in order to focus on the deconstruction of their marriage, despite some of these events being the driving force in Daniel’s behaviour.

 

The actual breakdown of the marriage happens off screen, we don’t really get to witness it, which feels bizarre, and in fact, there are many elements which we don’t see. Much of this book feels like we’re seeing the bits that are happening in between the big events.

 

It’s a bit like reading lots of reviews of a book, but never actually reading the book itself (ironic really, considering my opening paragraph about Instructions For A Heatwave) and because of that, it feels a little difficult to connect with the characters, Claudette especially.

 

For the vast majority of the book, the characters are not physically together, and we only have Claudette’s point of view in the past, we never really get her take on what’s happened, which is a shame.

 

The anachronistic chapters and characters all seem to be heading one way, towards one inevitable conclusion, and once again we don’t get to see it, it just gets hinted at.

 

All that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it – I only ever deconstruct books in this much detail when I do enjoy them – because in fact, I did really like it. O’Farrell’s choice to talk around all the important events gives us the opportunity to understand the character’s a little more than we would if the same number of pages were used to describe their arguments, or the big events in the heat of the moment.

 

Sometimes, though, it’s just a little jarring re-entering Daniel’s life and not knowing in what condition we’re going to find him.

 

I’ve given This Must Be The Place 3.8 out of 5. I think if just a little bit more had been done to engage us with Claudette, then it would have bumped it up over 4.

 

Maybe now I should finally get round to reading Instructions For A Heatwave?