My Year in Books: 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m looking back on a much less bookish year than usual for me, but I thought I’d summarise it anyway.


12 of the 30 books I read were fiction. Three of those were whoppers comprising the Ken Follett trilogy of the 20th century –  not a series I would ever have picked up without a strong personal recommendation.  William Boyd also took me on another life lived through the 20th century, as did the two linked Kate Atkinson stories.  As is usual with me, several of my fictional reads had other country settings: the former GDR, the Third Reich, Baltimore, the American Deep South, and Indian immigrants in England. The war years theme was rounded off with Helen Dunmore’s wonderful spy novel set in London and Cambridge.

Here’s the list of fiction titles: The Year of the Runaways (Sanjeev Sahota), The Fall of Giants/Winter of the World/Edge of Eternity (Ken Follett), Stasi Child (David Young), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Judith Kerr), The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd), Life after Life/A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson), A Spool of Blue Thread (Anne Tyler), Sweet Caress (William Boyd), Exposure (Helen Dunmore)


So that means 18 of my books read in 2016 were non-fiction. A third of these I could classify as ‘vicars’ books’ – books I read either to help me grow in my Christian faith and personal discipleship or to help me become a better vicar. Another third were about the life/culture/history of other countries, 4 were about the craft of storytelling and/or nonfiction writing and 2 were about TED storytelling and talks.  So a mix of learning more about other countries and cultures and learning stuff for life and ministry.

So this is the non-fiction list: Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Thom Rainer), God Dreams (Will Mancini), All the Places to Go (John Ortberg), The Nail (Stephen Cottrell), Dust and Glory (David Runcorn), Quantum Leap (Grove Books); The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson), The House by the Lake (Thomas Harding), Stasiland (Anna Funder), Vietnam: Rising Dragon (Bill Hayton), River of Time (Jon Swain), Ghosts of Spain (Giles Tremlett); The Art of Memoir (Mark Karr), Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Storycraft (Jack Hart), Experiential Storytelling (Mark Miller); TED talk: Storytelling, How to Deliver a Great TED talk

Thoughts on this list . . .

As tends to be the case with my reading there’s more non-fiction listed than fiction
Other countries, cultures and languages figure prominently
I did less faith-related reading than in other years
I can’t point to any one best read among this year’s list. I really enjoyed most of them, but a few (of the novels) were a bit of a struggle and took me ages to read, ,earning I didn’t get very much read overall.  All the books I read were good to OK but nothing really stood out massively.  My favourite read was The House by the Lake – the story of a house on the western side of Berlin which spent several decades behind the iron curtain. I also enjoyed Jack Hart’s Storytelling and would love to put his teaching and wisdom into practice and write that kind of inspiring narrative nonfiction (I feel a new year’s resolution coming on!)
I only read 30 books, but it felt a lot less than in previous years and I have literally piles of books of all categories, fiction and nonfiction, paper and electronic copies and I long to get so much more read – I feel another new year’s resolution coming on for all those train journeys ahead now that I weekly commute to work . . .

The view from the gate of the year

“I lived a hundred different lives in 2015”

“Yessss!” I all but yelled at the screen as I read Lily’s opening words on her new year post over at Such Small Hands. And my mind went racing back through the year, seeing it all again in an instant in my mind’s eye.

There I was – the voiceless vicar, the exhausted colleague, the happy holidaymaker, the burglary victim, the courtroom witness, the proud mother, the grateful wife, the desperate daughter, the house-move manager and so much more.  And, as I relived those days and weeks and months of 2015, I felt the emotions all over again – joy and elation, despair and desolation, fear and sorrow, love and loss.

And as I saw and felt it all over again, I found myself, above all else, thankful – thankful that that year is now past, thankful that a new year lies open before us. But grateful also for so much that was good in 2015, and perhaps most of all grateful that, as can so often be the case in human experience, good things have come out of the rubble of pain and loss.

And so I stand here, looking out from the gate of the year. 2016 is a week old already.  Where will it lead? What lies ahead? Who or what will I be this coming year? Will there be another 100 lives to live? Only time will tell . . .

My Year in Books: 2015

Just thought I’d take a moment to summarise last year’s reading. I set myself an informal goal to add real diversity to my reading – mixing both fiction and non-fiction from a range of authors and settings. See if you think I achieved that goal . . .


Of the 33 books I read, 13 were fiction with geographical settings as diverse as Afghanistan, Africa and America with plenty of locations in-between! In fact, only three of these novels were set in my home country – and one of those dealt with growing up in a family with immigrant parents and grandparents! The historical settings included the Biafran war, WW2, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Taliban years in Afghanistan, 19th century Canada, the civil rights era in the US southern states and early 20th century Ireland. Most were stories of family life – some based on real-life and others more fictional – and, to single just one of them out, Elizabeth is Missing was a fascinating exploration of living with dementia and its progression.

Here’s the list of fiction titles: Half of a Yellow Sun, Perfect, Stone Diaries, Almost English, A History of Loneliness, Kabul Beauty School, All the Light we Cannot See, Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, The Sunrise, Elizabeth is Missing, Gone Girl, The Secret Life of Bees, Ghana must Go


So, 20 of my books of 2015 were non-fiction. Of these, 11 were real ‘vicar’s books’ – books I read either to help me grow in my Christian faith and personal discipleship or to help me become a better vicar. The other 9 included 3 personal memoirs/autobiographies, 1 language, 4 were about life/culture/history of other countries, and 1 taught me how to doodle creatively and productively.

So this is the non-fiction list: Outcry, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Ishmael’s Oranges; Lingo; Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, The Year of Living Danishly, 1989 The Berlin Wall, The Warmth of Other Suns; The Doodle Revolution; Leaping the Vicarage Wall, The Contemplative Pastor, Storytelling, Ignatian Lent, The Journey, Supervising a Curate, Forming a Missional Church, We Make the Road by Walking, Re-ignite, Soul-Keeping, The Meaning is in the Waiting

Thoughts on this list . . . 

As I’ve typed up this summary, I’m struck by several things:

  • Unsurprisingly, non-fiction wins out over fiction
  • Other countries, cultures and languages figure prominently
  • A third of my reading was faith-related
  • Just four of these books belong to my favourite narrative non-fiction genre about lives in other times and places
  • Almost all of my favourite reads of 2015 are on the non-fiction list
  • I only read 33 books and my to-be-read shelves continue to groan under the weight of all that remains unread – and the new gifts and purchases!

Book of the Year

imageI usually struggle to whittle the list down to just one – but I so loved Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer-prizewinning The Warmth of Other Suns, that I’m making an exception for this year.

So, time to get on with reading through 2016 then . . .

Nonfiction November: My year in nonfiction


Hooray – the Nonfiction November challenge is back! This was my favourite blogging event of last year – so good that it’s got me back here to my blog after many months away.

The focus for this first week is to review my nonfiction reading this year. I’ll stick with the questions Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness has posted.

What was your favourite nonfiction read of 2015?

Do I really have to choose from so many great reads this year? Lingo was brilliant if you’re as fascinated by languages as I am, as was Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking – a brilliant ‘memoir of food, family and longing’. And I’m loving my current read so much too: The Warmth of Other Suns, a book that came onto my radar through last year’s Nonfiction November.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I don’t often recommend the books I read because I’ve long recognised that I have quite an eclectic reading style and other people aren’t necessarily into reading the books I choose for myself. But with my vicar’s hat on, I did recommend two seasonal reads this year, and will be recommending them again this time around too: Walking Backwards to Christmas and The Journey.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction that you haven’t read enough of yet?

I always feel I don’t have nearly enough time to read everything I want to read, so I’m pretty selective about what I do make time for. I realise I read nonfiction to read the world, so I particularly love reading memoirs about life written by people who live or lived in places and/or times very different from my own (I read a lot of fiction that fits this description too!). I never quite get around to reading as many straightforward histories or biographies of politicians and other leaders as I would like. Also, I often come across titles that speak to my other interests – especially languages and popular psychology – that never quite make it to the top of any TBR pile I might construct!

What do you hope to get out of nonfiction November?

Just simply to read as much nonfiction as I can fit in. I’ve got several ‘country’ books lined up: Germany: Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor, The Discovery of France by Graham Robb and Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia by Peter Pomerantsev. I’ve also wanted to read The Underground Girls of Kabul for over a year now and The Secret Classroom has been similarly near the top of my must read soon list.

And I will love reading other people’s posts and adding some of their recommendations to my own impossibly long TBR list. And I’ll be encouraged, just as I was last year, that there are so many people out there who share my love of reading nonfiction.

Writing 101: Day 1 – Why do I write?

I write because I love to write. And I love to write because it helps me make sense of all my thoughts and feelings; it helps me make sense of all the different experiences of life. And, if I’m feeling brave, writing helps me share thoughts, ideas and insights with other people. Writing is also hugely important to me because it helps me work out what I need to say. I’m a really lousy speaker, especially hopeless if I have to think and speak on the spot with no time to prepare beforehand. I’m better if I’ve had time to think about what needs to be said, and I can even speak quite well (so others tell me) if I’ve had time to think it all through in writing before I get up to speak. I also write – journal – to create memories. I take great joy in re-reading things I wrote years ago to relive the experience in detail that would otherwise have been lost inside a head too busy and preoccupied with the many thoughts of today.