I’ve always been an avid reader, and since 1985, when I was twenty-one, I’ve kept an annual ‘Books Read’ record. When I started out it was a private record only, kept in an old diary. Thirty-three years later it’s a public one, in the form of an Album on Facebook.
I’m not alone in this questionable pursuit. Other people keep reading records too, and being someone who not only loves reading but who also loves knowing what other people are reading, I must admit I spend more time than is probably healthy browsing my friends’ ‘Books Read’ albums on social media. I appreciate it’s a pretty geeky occupation, and not for everybody, but for my fellow bibliophiles – and, of course, for my own satisfaction and amusement – here’s a breakdown of my own reading year.
In 2017 I read 85 books, of which 49 were by male writers, 28 by female writers and 8 were anthologies, containing contributions by writers of both sexes.
62 of those 85 books were novels, 4 were novellas, 8 were single author collections and 4 were non-fiction books (one of which, WE ARE THE MARTIANS edited by Neil Snowdon, was also an anthology).
7 of those 85 books were tie-ins, by which I mean books tied in to an existing TV or movie franchise. 3 of those were DOCTOR WHO books (2 original novels and an anthology), 3 were original GRANGE HILL novels, and one was an original novel using characters from the short-lived DOCTOR WHO spin-off series CLASS.
A quick aside: I love tie-in books, and have written a fair few of my own – for DOCTOR WHO, TORCHWOOD, HELLBOY, SPARTACUS etc. As a kid I read tons of tie-ins, most prominently the DOCTOR WHO Target novelisations, which gave me many cherished hours of happy reading, but also novelisations of other TV shows such as THE NEW AVENGERS, STAR TREK and even sitcoms like PORRIDGE.
Back then, when the idea of actually owning your favourite TV shows on tape was still a wild fantasy, books were the only way of re-capturing classic episodes. Next year I intend to read not only more DOCTOR WHO and GRANGE HILL books, but also novelisations of favourite cop shows from yesteryear like THE SWEENEY and THE PROFESSIONALS. Such books were often cheap knock-offs, written at speed and for little money, and often put out under a pseudonym, but I love them for their simplicity, their conciseness, and for their associations with simpler times free of adult cares. Indeed, I regard them – like Anthony Buckeridge’s JENNINGS books and Richmal Crompton’s WILLIAM books, several of which I’ve also read this year – as comforting little snacks between weightier, more sophisticated courses.
Okay, back to the matter at hand, and of the 62 novels I’ve read this year, most I guess can be said to fall within the genres of horror/SF/fantasy and crime – though I’ve always found categorization a slippery customer, and primarily tend to be drawn to books not because they’re of a particular genre, but because they have a particular flavour – primarily because they have something dark, eerie or quirky that appeals to me – or because they deal with human beings in extreme or extraordinary situations.
To break down the novels a bit further, some were written by old favourites, writers I’ve been reading regularly for years, such as Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Ruth Rendell, Adam Nevill, Stephen Gallagher, Tim Lebbon and Sarah Pinborough, some were by writers I’ve discovered fairly recently, such as Victoria Leslie, Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Josh Malerman, David Mitchell and Nina Allan, and some – a surprising 19, in fact – were by writers who were new to me, among which are long-established names such as Ngaio Marsh and Isaac Asimov (both of whom I’d been meaning to read for years) and relative newcomers like Ruth Ware, Thomas Olde Heuvelt and John Darnielle.
As well as stand-alone novels, I also have various series constantly on the go, some of which – like the ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books, John Connolly’s CHARLIE PARKER novels and Paul Finch’s MARK (HECK) HECKENBERG novels – I read in order, others – like Agatha Christie’s POIROT and MISS MARPLE novels, and Anthony Buckeridge’s charming and hilarious JENNINGS books – I’m happy to read out of sequence, as the mood takes me. I haven’t been able to make room for books in all of the series I’m currently reading – James Lee Burke’s DAVE ROBICHEAUX and John D. MacDonald’s TRAVIS MCGEE have been kicking their heels this year – but despite this I’ve committed myself to a couple more series in 2017. On the recommendation of friends such as Christopher Golden and Jenny Campbell, I’ve finally got round to reading the first of Dennis Lehane’s KENZIE AND GENNARO books, A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR, and after years of reading Ruth Rendell’s stand-alone psychological thrillers, I finally decided to read the first two of her INSPECTOR WEXFORD novels. Needless to say, I’ll be adding both series to my ongoing roster.
I’m surprised to find I’ve only read 4 novellas this year, though some of the novels I read, such as V.H. Leslie’s BODIES OF WATER and Brian Hodge’s WORLD OF HURT, not to mention children’s books, such as Joan Aiken’s THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE, John Gordon’s THE GIANT UNDER THE SNOW, and the aforementioned GRANGE HILL, JENNINGS and WILLIAM books, are short enough to occupy that strange hinterland between novel and novella.
At the other extreme, I’ve also read some stonkingly big books, with Stephen and Owen King’s SLEEPING BEAUTIES, Joe Hill’s THE FIREMAN, Robert R. McCammon’s BOY’S LIFE, David Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS, John Connolly’s THE BLACK ANGEL and Arthur Conan Doyle’s single volume double-header HIS LAST BOW & THE CASE-BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, all weighing in at over 500 pages each.
Moving on from novels and novellas, the 4 non-fiction books I’ve read this year have all been book, movie and TV-based, and 7 of the 8 single-author collections I’ve read have been by men (the only exception is Daphne Du Maurier’s THE DOLL). I’m surprised and a bit disappointed to realise I haven’t read a single collection by a contemporary female writer this year, and this is something I definitely intend to remedy in 2018. In fact, I already have several collections by female authors lined up, such as Sunny Moraine’s SINGING WITH ALL MY SKIN AND BONE, Emma Donoghue’s TOUCHY SUBJECTS and Thana Niveau’s UNQUIET WATERS, among others.
I also want to read more anthologies next year. Of the 8 I’ve read this year, one – Neil Snowdon’s WE ARE THE MARTIANS – was non-fiction, one – THE TWELVE DOCTORS OF CHRISTMAS – was a tie-in, and four – BEST NEW HORROR 26, THE VALANCOURT BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, THE 5TH FONTANA BOOK OF GREAT HORROR STORIES and THE 5TH FONTANA BOOK OF GREAT GHOST STORIES – contained mostly reprint fiction. Only two then – Paul Finch’s TERROR TALES OF CORNWALL and Jonathan Oliver’s FIVE STORIES HIGH – contained mostly original (non-franchise) fiction. As editor of NEW FEARS I did, admittedly, read a huge number of short stories beyond mention of my 2017 ‘Books Read’ list, but even so I’d like to read more modern anthologies containing original fiction next year.
Okay, I think that’s about it. If you’ve read this far, then you’re clearly as geeky about books and reading as I am. Overall, I’m happy with the scope and quality of books I’ve managed to get through this year, and next year, aside from the tweaks I’ve mentioned, I hope to maintain the balance between genres, formats, genders, old and new writers etc that I feel I’ve managed in 2017.
Already my reading list for 2018 is filling up, and is looking mighty exciting – my only problem is that I want to read all the books all at once.
Have a great 2018 – and happy reading!