A Year of Books: Five of the Best from 2016


As Angela McMillan, co-editor of The Reader magazine, turns her attention to her reading list for the year ahead, we ask what she loved in 2016.

Continue reading “A Year of Books: Five of the Best from 2016”

The Reader Organisation’s Best Reads of 2012 – Part 5

Rounding off our first week of festive reading on The Reader Online, The Reader Organisation presents the last set of Best Reads from 2012. There’s just too many wonderful books out there to whittle down, but hopefully we’ve given you some ideas for some literary treats to stuff into your Christmas stockings – and don’t forget, you can also choose from our Reader publications – including this year’s magical mix of stories and poems in A Little, Aloud for Children and some true classics to last a lifetime in Brian Nellist’s poetry selection Minted.

Stay tuned here on the blog all next week to find out about the books we’re hoping to unwrap under the tree come Christmas morning….

the-true-tale-of-the-monster-billy-deanThe True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean – David Almond
(Penguin; 2012)

“I first read this in proof in 2011 and was knocked out by the hugeness of the idea and David Almond’s brilliant writing.

Provenance:  A Child Called It crossed with The Divine Comedy or The Bible and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker.

I have reread it recently as part of my quest for the best in children’s books. But this isn’t a children’s book – it was simply that once I’d reopened it, I had to keep reading. That doesn’t happen often enough to me, so Billy Dean has become one of my 3 reads of the year. Massive, dark and compelling, the novel takes the form of a sort of meditative autobiography from its eponymous hero, a boy brought up in secret, in one room. His life is something like the development of human consciousness or biblical history, or perhaps a life told without the usual trappings of external cultural life: he knows nothing and has to make everything up from within himself. Thus, being picked up as a baby:

O the feel of his breathin agenst my body & his breth agenst my skin.
My son, he siys. O my dere son.
And his body vibrayts & eckos with the words & so dos mine.
My son. My dere son.
And he sways with me in his arms almost lyk hes dansin with the stars.

No point in me telling you anything about the story. It’s epic. if you like epic, universal, the stars and human danger, this is one for your Christmas list.”

(Jane Davis, Director)

litte dorritLittle Dorrit – Charles Dickens
(HarperCollins; 2012)

“I chose this when I was asked to chair the Dickens: A Writers’ Contemporary and wanted to immerse myself in his writing.  To open its pages is to step through a door into Dickens’ world.   The streets of  London have never been darker, the riverside at Twickenham never leafier.  The rushing bustle of so many lives spills out, made real by tiny observations, familiar mannerisms, recognisable voices.  I relished the time I spent with these people – particularly Arthur!”

(Amanda Brown, Criminal Justice Projects Manager)

disappearing homeDisappearing Home – Deborah Morgan
(Tindal Street Press; 2012)

“This debut novel is stark and not at all merry, as this festive season should be. However, in its unapologetic portrayal of Robyn – a child from a tenement block forced to go “on the rob” by her parents – it is impossible to not recommend. It offers a glimpse into a life and situation that is, arguably, ignored.

Where its major strength lies is its vivid depiction of era, with nods to Merseyside locations unchanged and long-gone alike. And this little girl’s home is so claustrophobic and unrelenting that I could almost smell it on the page.

The most honest and real piece of fiction I read in 2012.”

(Ian Walker, Get Into Reading Wirral Project Worker)

The Reader Organisation’s Best Reads of 2012 – Part 4

Feeling a bit chilly? Warm up with some more of our suggestions of the Best Reads of the amazing year that was 2012.

butterfly_cabinet_coverThe Butterfly Cabinet – Bernie McGill
(Headline; 2011)

“I read this book at the beginning of last year, when it was very cold outside and the butterflies had all but gone. The story charts the life of a mother who spent (what felt like) a lifetime in prison after being charged with murdering her own child in a ‘punishment room’. I try to avoid books deal with children coming to harm because I find myself getting upset for those fictional souls long after the book is finished and the immediacy of reading – no, of taking part in their lives – is over. But McGill deals with the topic with sensitivity and realism in equal measure. No mean feat, I can tell you.

I followed the lives of Maddie, Harriet and the children for a long time. Much longer than it took to read their stories. I had cause to think of them again, just last week. I went for my usual walk, past the main street in Dundrum, Co. Down, where a derelict bar sits facing the road, the tables and chairs covered in a film of four-year-old dust. In the window, sits a four-year-old butterfly between the pane and the chair where it must have got trapped, resplendent in all its glory but for the beginnings of decay on the outer tips of its wings.  I see it every day. It never ceases to amaze me that even in death, something can appear like a kind of living memory – so very beautiful and untouched… And so perfectly formed.”

(Patricia Canning, Get Into Reading Northern Ireland Project Worker)

Read more of Patricia’s thoughts on The Butterfly Cabinet by checking out her Recommended Read piece on the book from earlier this year.

tuesdays-with-morrie-coverTuesdays With Morrie – Mitch Albom
(Sphere; 2003)

“I had been meaning to read this book for so long, and finally this year I got around to it! After all of the recommendations by friends and colleagues I was pretty excited about reading it, and also a bit worried about being disappointed… but it certainly did not let me down. A witty, beautifully-written and deeply moving book about one young man who is reunited with his old university tutor, who is near the end of his life. The wisdom of Morrie’s words, and his unique way of imparting life’s lessons will certainly make you think differently about a few things… I challenge you to keep a dry eye throughout the reading!”

(Charlotte Weber, Reader-in-Residence, Liverpool Hope University)

The Reader Organisation’s Best Reads of 2012 – Part 3

The countdown to Christmas is getting ever closer, and we’re still counting our Reader Recommended book picks of the year, with two more brilliant suggestions from The Reader Organisation staff which will be sure to keep you reading over the festive season.

middlemarchMiddlemarch – George Eliot
(Penguin Classics; 2003)

“Middlemarch took on a reality for me, I didn’t want to leave the town when it was over! A really rich, useful book. I feel like I’ve discovered a new friend in George Eliot.”

(Lynn Elsdon, Get Into Reading Wirral Project Worker)

yellowbirdsThe Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers
(Sceptre; 2012) 

“When Kevin Powers came back from serving in the United States Army in Iraq, the question he was most asked was, ‘what was it like?’ Powers is a poet and this fine, lyric novel is his best attempt at an answer to that essentially unanswerable question. It is about the terrible impact of combat upon a boy from Virginia and powerfully reinforces what we must already know by now, that war kills those who fight it. If not by bullets and bombs, by breaking the mind, spoiling the past and damaging the future. It is an old story, newly told for the twenty-first century and deserves to be widely read.”

(Angela Macmillan, Co-editor of The Reader and Editor of the A Little, Aloud series)

Find more of Angela’s 2012 reading recommendations in Issue 48 of The Reader – a subscription to which would also make a rather wonderful Christmas present…

The Reader Organisation’s Best Reads of 2012 – Part 2

Continuing our week looking at the Best Reads of 2012 on The Reader Online, here are two more TRO staff offering their picks of the year:

2666-roberto-bolano2666 – Roberto Bolaño
(Picador; 2009)

“No hesitation in recommending this novel (even though I haven’t finished it yet) because it’s the darkest, most mood-altering, kaleidoscopic, poetic work of fiction I’ve read… Well, ever, possibly.  Starting with four academics and their search for a reclusive (or maybe non-existent) German novelist, and visiting a godforsaken, murder-strewn Mexican metropolis— 2666 has taken me to parts of myself I haven’t visited for a long time.  It’s the work of a genius and a real masterpiece.  You should read it.  And, if anyone wants to buy me a Christmas present—I’m hoping for Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.  Merry Chrimbo!”

(Danny Start, Volunteer Assistant)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
(Doubleday; 2012)

86.Rachel Joyce-The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry“I picked up The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce this year and completely loved it.  There are a few reasons for this; not the least that I want to do a pilgrimage myself.  I’d probably like to be a little more prepared than Harold was and at least have my toothbrush with me when I start out and I’d like to walk less on the roads and more on footpaths than he did.  It reminded me of the walking I used to do in the wop wops (kiwi slang for wilderness), sometimes for as much as 12 days with everything I needed, carried on my back.  The freedom!

Harold felt compelled to walk the length of the country, something many would think was a batty thing to do and yet for those of us who love walking a totally sensible and attractive prospect.  He is going to see a person who once did something selfless for him at a very painful and difficult time in his life, someone who quietly understood his need and situation.  As he walks he has time to reflect on his life, where he’s been and where he’s going.  I admit, there were tears, but it is what I like in a book, to be moved.”

(Megg Hewlett, Get Into Reading London Project Worker)

The Reader Organisation’s Best Reads of 2012 – Part 1

After the Penny Readings last night, we’re fully into the Christmas mood here at The Reader Organisation, and as there are just over two weeks to go until the big day itself, thoughts are turning to treats, presents and Christmas shopping. There’s no need to panic if you haven’t already got it underway, as The Reader Online is here to offer literary goodies galore which would be perfect to show the book lover in your life just how much you care.

Next week, we’ll be sharing the books we’d like to unwrap for ourselves under the tree, but all this week, The Reader Organisation staff present the books they’ve been loving in 2012. All great selections for literary Christmas presents! Find the first two below:

sunriseThis Sunrise of Wonder – Michael Mayne
(Fount; 1995) 

“I picked this up in a second hand shop and though I’d never heard of the author, I found some illuminating bits of poetry dotted throughout and had to buy. Mayne is apparently the Dean of Westminster. The book is a kind of autobiography in which Mayne inventories all the works of art, literature and music that has inspired him to continue to look in wonder at the world.”

(Victoria Clarke, Get Into Reading Wirral Project Worker)

The-Art-of-Fielding--A-NovelThe Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
(Fourth Estate; 2012) 

“One of the best first novels I’ve read for years. Less a story about baseball, more an intricate tale of obsession, friendship and what it means to succeed. It’s not at all what you expect but you do still learn a few things about that all-American college sport along the way.”

(Jennifer Tomkins, Communications Director)

Books of the Year

The Guardian has published a list of Books of the Year, with Seamus Heaney’s collection Human Chain and Edmund de Waal‘s The Hare with Amber Eyes getting a mention on more than one occasion.

Elsewhere, Jeanette Winterson opts for Jo Shapcott‘s collection Of Mutability while  Blake Morrison‘s choice is, amongst others, Howard Jacobson‘s Booker Prize-winning The Finkler Question.

You can read the full list here.

The Independent also has an online list (which notes a book I’m right in the middle of: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver), as does The Times.

What’s your Book of the Year? Leave a comment and let me know!