I always love looking back through my ‘Book Notebook’ to see what books read in the previous year really stand out as memorable and wonderful. Interestingly, my 2018 favourites have been mainly non-fiction, so I’ve not done a Top Ten List, but instead am giving you ‘Best of Category’ recommendations.
Best Memoirs: A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin was moving, beautifully written (what else would you expect from her?) and I didn’t want to put it down. Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan was one of those gorgeous books that makes you feel completely normal for being a book addict; and The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District took me straight to one of my favourite parts of England. It was a superb evocation of the English countryside and the life of a farmer who helps keep it rural and traditional. I totally agreed with the reviewer who described the book as “bloody marvellous” and I’m not surprised it has been a ‘surprise bestseller’ of 2018. Lastly, I loved re-reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s lyrically beautiful A Time of Gifts about a walk through a wintery Europe just before WWII.
Best Books about Art: Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King was the book I wrote about in my last newsletter, and I wrote about Stealing the Scream: The Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Monica Youn earlier this year – it concerned the theft of Munch’s famous painting. Both were excellent.
Best History: I was riveted by East West Street by Philippe Sands, about WWII and how the word ‘genocide’ came to be accepted. After reading Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway I just couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the book – grim reading but so thought-provoking and powerful. I also loved Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which was my best (but I must admit my only) science book of the year.
Best Literary: Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian by Marie Nedregotten Sǿrbǿ about the challenges of translating Jane Austen was utterly fascinating – it made me even more aware of Jane Austen’s genius as a writer. I adored Footsteps, the New York Times book about making literary pilgrimages around the world, and I recently finished Jenny Uglow’s superb biography of Edward Lear, Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense.
Best Crime: Tombland by C.J. Sansom (see below for further ravings) was best crime book and best novel of my year (please note that Jane Austen’s novels must always be taken for granted as my best books of every year). I have also really loved the crime novels by Jǿrn Lier Horst, set in Larvik, Norway and featuring a really nice detective called William Wisting. Other favourite crime writers whose series I have continued to enjoy this year include: Torquil Macleod (his novels are set in Malmo, Sweden), Jacqueline Winspear (her Maisie Dobbs novels are set in London between the wars), C.S. Harris (her gorgeous Sebastian St Cyr series is set in Regency London), Susan Elia Macneal (whose Maggie Hope solves mysteries in London during WWII), Cora Harrison (who writes about Mara, Brehon of the Burren of 15thC Ireland), Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) whose Cormoran Strike series keeps me gripped, Peter Robinson (who writes about Alan Banks and the Yorkshire Dales), Hjorth and Rosenfeldt’s highly unusual Sebastian Bergman series (Rosenfeldt wrote the fabulous TV series The Bridge), Camilla Lackberg’s excellent Swedish series featuring a married couple, Hedstrom and Falck, Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum Norwegian novels (I had the joy of meeting Gunnar on tour this year), and finally Stella Rimington’s MI5 series set in London. If you follow up all those recommendations, you should be in for an extremely bloody and murderous 2019.
What have been your favourite books this year? Tell me by leaving a comment.
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King
Stealing the Scream: The Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick
East West Street by Philippe Sands
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Åsne Seierstad
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian by Marie Nedregotten Sǿrbǿ
Footsteps by The New York Times
Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow
Tombland by C.J. Sansom
The Katharina Code by Jǿrn Lier Horst
books by Torquil Macleod
books by Jacqueline Winspear
books by C.S. Harris
books by Susan Elia Macneal
books by Cora Harrison
books by Robert Galbraith
books by Peter Robinson
books by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt
books by Camilla Lackberg
books by Gunnar Staalesen
books by Stella Rimington