Updated: Aug 18, 2020
It started this time last year, in the grey in-between time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Just like this year, my wife and I had binge-watched Black Mirror, I’d passed out at least once – probably out of self-defence – and after eating the contents of the cupboards pre-emptively before January 1st, I took stock of the past year.
Once I’d run out of things to list that I’d actually done, I found myself wondering how many new books I’d read in 2017. Just the new ones, not counting re-reads – I’m a compulsive re-reader, and so a lot of my life is taken up revisiting books I’ve already enjoyed. As I hadn’t moved off the sofa for three days and was eye-level with the bookshelf, it was easy to piece together most of what I’d read in 2017, and my iBooks and Kindle email receipts were handy for filling any gaps, but at 97, I stopped short. I honestly thought I’d read more than that.
I’m a sucker for round numbers, so before we went out for New Year’s Eve at our friends’ house in South London, I read three of the shortest books I could find – two poetry collections, and Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book, which I’d recommend to anyone trying to make their way in the workplace. On our way to the party, I found myself wondering how I might read more new books in 2018. After a decade in publishing, I had enough unread proofs to get me through a siege.
Completing this challenge is one of the things I feel proudest about in 2018. As of today, I’ve read over 200 books, and discovering new writers and worlds has really enriched my life this year. So I succeeded overall, but first, before I get into the books themselves, a confession…
The Japanese apparently have a concept of the ‘unlibrary,’ – the books you own but haven’t read for one reason or another. My main aim in the 200-book challenge was to make a dent in in the unread books on my shelves. And have I done that? Have I bog-roll. For the most part, 2018’s books were new discoveries, and they came to me by all sorts of routes – from publicity bookshelves, as gifts, from Bookbub and the book-drops at Bounds Green and Arnos Grove. 2019’s challenge is to finally read everything I own – a motley list which comes up, thankfully, to 100.
Before we get to that, completing this year’s challenge has been an enriching experience, and it’s stopped me reaching for the comfort blanket of the re-read (though I’ve squeezed a few in this year – I always do). It hasn’t made me any more discerning, or really changed my habits. I abandoned a few books half-way through and resisted the temptation to list anything I skimmed or didn’t finish, and over the past few days, have cut a few less memorable ones from the list. Still, even after that bit of polish, this year’s selection is an eclectic one. I hope you’ll find it useful – for gift inspiration, or for giving something new a try while I’m having another go at my book collection…