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Happy New Year and Brave New Reading – getting out of the comfort zone…

A look back at my best reads of 2010 –

‘If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’ STEPHEN KING

‘The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over a half a library to make one book.’ SAMUEL JOHNSON

Who am I to argue with two such esteemed writers as the pair quoted above? Anyway I love reading for its own sake and not just because it’s an important ingredient in developing my own writing.

I’m never without something to read. Sometimes I read more than one book at once – no not simultaneously – but as reading in progress within a shared time frame. 2010 was no exception in this regard. But this year has been very different in terms of what I’ve read.

Indeed publishing itself is changing – traditional publishing is being challenged as gatekeeper of what we get to read. Independents, collectives, self-published e-books are all set to increase their impact on the book market in 2011.

I got a Kindle for Christmas – so along with many other people – the way I read is also going to change in the new year.

But back to 2010 – 

This last year I moved out of my comfort zone of ‘grown-up’ women’s fiction – you know the sort of thing – stories where the main character is female and more hen than chick, where there’s a bit of intrigue, a bit of romance, a bit of depth. I branched out into crime fiction, biography and autobiography and some of those are in my top ten below.

 But I didn’t stop there. In the autumn I was alerted to the eightcuts writing website/blog run by the unique Dan Holloway, when I took up the request to review ( for  Words with Jam)  one of the first books that the site would be publishing. One thing led to another – a lot of those things I’ve blogged about on here – and I discovered many new authors and artists who opened, stretched and boggled my mind. And I’m very grateful that they did. Trying new things, embracing the unfamiliar, taking a chance on the unpredictable – that’s how we grow and change. Cross fertilisation keeps things vigorous and healthy.

So I have a second chart – consisting of my ‘brave new world’ reads. Perhaps in 2011 you could challenge yourself to step out of your reading comfort zone and try something new.

(Books marked with * have been reviewed by me in earlier posts).

(Books are in the order I read them not in any preferential hierarchy)

2010 Traditional Top Ten

Stieg Larsson – ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy – started the year with these three crime thrillers – graphic, gruesome, gripping.

*Maggie Gee – ‘My Animal Life’ – autobiographical account of the author’s writing life – moving, absorbing, insightful

Louise Douglas – ‘Missing You’ – intelligent writing – a novel of loss and hope.

Susan Hill – ‘The Shadows in the Street’ – latest in Serailler detective series –more than just genre fiction – great characterisation, lots of suspense.

*David Grossman – ‘To the End of the Land – insightful, compassionate and, at times, surreal, exploration of the cost of war and of daily life in modern Israel.

Henning Mankell – ‘Italian Shoes’ – another Swedish writer, creator of the  Wallender detective novels. This book takes his writing to another dimension and level. There’s an intense emotional atmosphere and a dramatic Arctic setting in this complex mystery.

*Angus Peter Campbell – ‘Archie and the North Wind’ – beautiful, lyrical, magical, surreal tale – with elements of fable and saga – a bewitching read.

Tim Parks – ‘Teach us to Sit Still’ – autobiographical account of a sceptics search into mysticism and meditation as a way of alleviating his physical and emotional pain. Fascinating, down-to-earth and open-minded.

Claire Keegan – ‘Foster’ – a beautiful, poignant novella – not a single word wasted. Masterclass in economical writing.

Urszula Muskus – ‘The Long Bridge’ – awesome autobiographical account of the author’s sixteen years as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulags. An amazing woman and a humbling read. (Sandstone Press)

(all of the above are available on Amazon)

2010 Brave New Challengers

*Oli Johns – ‘Charcoal’ – surreal, intense account of an unravelling personality. (eightcuts gallery press available from the website above)

*Cody James – ‘The Dead Beat’ – brave, brilliant, beautiful, brutal – fizzes, crackles and burns like the comet overhead in the backdrop to this story of drugs, desperation and friendship. (eightcuts gallery press available from the website above)

*Joan Barbara Simon – ‘Mut@Tus’ – Exuberant, raunchy, erotic, funny and wonderfully honest. An epic of self-exploration conducted by email. ( available on Amazon)

Véronique Olme – ‘Beside the Sea’ – a wee jewel of a book. It’s sad and tragic. The writing is beautiful –icy and precise. It will not take long to read but it will stay with you for some time. (Pereine Press available on Amazon)

Dan Holloway –‘ Songs from the Other Side of the Wall’ – magical realism and surrealism, beguiling enchanting, puzzling story of love. (Cracked Egg available from

And there you have it. So now – on with 2011 – Happy New Year and Happy New Reading!

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