This is the fifth and last post in my series about what I read during 2018.
Of these, Lamentation was the best. It could almost have fitted into the category of crime, as it’s all about the search for a thief—but a thief who has stolen a manuscript from Henry VIII’s last wife Catherine Parr. It’s part of a series featuring the hunchback lawyer Matthew Sheldrake, which I’m now going to have to go back and start reading (this was book number 6).
I’m also a big fan of Kate Atkinson, but I’m not yet sure what to make of Transcription, which is mostly set during World War II. Still, pretty good if not quite up to the standard of her other works.
Smith and The Night of the Comet are young adult books, but set in late 1700s England. Well worth the read.
Two Jane Austen novels I produced for Standard Ebooks, which I guess fall into the category of ‘romance’! Persuasion may be my favourite here.
Chasing New Horizons was a terrific book about the long process to get a robotic mission to Pluto approved and then successfully delivered. Into the Black on the other hand, while an interesting enough story about the development of the Space Shuttle, was rather long-winded and dry, and a bit formulaic.
The Order of Time was an interesting and unusual look at the nature of time and how we perceive it, from the point of view of a physicist involved in the theory of quantum gravity. I need to read this again.
Biography and History
I found the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant a really interesting project to work on for Standard Ebooks. Covering Grant’s early life and his involvement in the Civil War, it is written in an engaging style which makes it read almost as well as a novel, despite the wealth of detail included. There are also a heap of maps which I had to include after converting them to a scalable vector format, well worth the effort, though.
P. T Barnum’s autobiography Struggles and Triumphs was one of the most entertaining reads of the year, which I guess is appropriate. Full of amusing anecdote and fascinating detail.
Fear, on the other hand, was a rather more depressing read! Bob Woodward’s fascinating study of the reign of Donald Trump to date. Lordy, he has tapes! Very interesting to read. To my surprise I must say that Stephen Bannon comes across as one of the few ‘adults in the room’ in the campaign and in the White House. Though of course I despise his racist, isolationist world-view, he at least seems reasonably intelligent and competent. Mind you, almost anyone would do so in comparison with the rest of Trump’s crew. The book however seems unfinished, and that’s naturally because Trump’s time as President isn’t yet finished, more’s the pity. We’ll have to wait for that before Woodward can sum up the whole of this miserable period of American politics.
General Fiction and Non-Fiction
This is a catch-all category! Most, as you can see, were productions for Standard Ebooks.
The Girl on the Page by John Purcell, was almost an accidental read. I got a free proof copy by entering a competition on Twitter. Not the kind of book I would normally pick up off the shelf, but I started reading it and got hooked.
I’m sure that by now we’re all tired of book titles which fit the formula:
The girl [random preposition] the [optional adjective][random noun].
…such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Girl on the Train or The Girl in the Ice or…
However, this book is highly self-referential, being about writers, literature, and the British publishing industry, so it’s not surprising that there’s a passage in there which mocks the above formula of its own title.
There’s a lot of sex, in some frankly pornographic passages featuring the protagonist Amy, a young, beautiful female book editor. I may be a prude, but I honestly thought the book would have been much better if these had been at least toned down or reduced. Yes, we understand that she’s supposed to be living a wild, irresponsible lifestyle. We don’t need to be beaten over the head with it. And given that the author is male, I suspect all of this is just projected male sexual fantasy.
Somehow, though, despite the above, the book is actually gripping and at times deeply moving, and in the end I was pleased that I had read it.
The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart. I won’t go into detail here why I, as someone who is not a practising Christian, read this. Colour me as fascinated by religion even if I’m not religious myself. This new translation of the New Testament is truly interesting, because Hart has attempted what he calls a ‘pitilessly literal’ translation from the original Greek (you know that all of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, don’t you?). In doing this, he says that he has attempted to provide as thin a layer of translation as possible between the modern reader and the original authors of these documents. He carefully documents his treatment of certain words and phrases and explains why he has chosen to translate them in a particular way. Hart’s foreword, his footnotes about his translation decisions, and his long ‘Concluding Scientific Postscript’ are worth the price of the book alone.
Conclusion: A Year of Reading
Impossible to pick one book as ‘the best’ out of the 75 books I read during 2018. But it was, on the whole, a great and enjoyable year’s reading. Whether I’ll be able to hit the same total during 2019 is yet to be seen.