Tuesday, 7 January 2014



Looking back, I've had a pretty good hit rate with 2013's books, even if I didn't manage to read at a particularly fast rate. I always think comparing books is invidious but it is interesting to see which ones pop out from the year's reading. Goodreads allows you to print out your books read for the year which is a handy little gimmick and responsible for the image above. It is also helping me to write this review.
I dipped into a few favourite writers and neither Muriel Spark nor Beryl Bainbridge disappointed with both Loitering with Intent and Young Adolf being very enjoyable reads. I plan to read at least one more by both Spark and Bainbridge in 2014. I also intend to continue to work my way through Heinrich Böll's novels. This year I read The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.

I re-read a couple of novels, If on a Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino and Vertigo by W.G.Sebald. Both lived up to my previous experience with them and proved every bit as satisfying the second time around. I want to reread all the Sebald novels over the next couple of years and explore Calvino more.

I ended 2013 and started 2014 with a flourish of sci-fi novels, filling in some of the major gaps in my reading of the genre. It's interesting to read them in close proximity and to see the debts some clearly owe to others. I have yet to post on any of these and may try a collective review. The stand out was probably Roadside Picnic, the Russian book by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky upon which Tarkovsky based his mesmerising Stalker. The alien in it seems more authentically alien than in any of the others while at the same time having more realistic human figures. I was reminded a lot of the two major twentieth century wars in other books. I've read Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Childhood's End by Arthur C.Clark, Hyperion by Dan Simmons and am currently reading Dune by Dan Simmons.

Three first novels by Irish writers were among the real stand outs for me. City of Bohane by Kevin Barry was recommended by a few people and it turned out to be a rollicking good read. Solace by Belinda McKeown was quiet, affecting and beautifully crafted. However it was one of the last books I read, A Girl is A Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride that stood above the rest and will, I think, remain the reading experience of 2013 for me. It is a genuinely harrowing, stylistically brave and superbly executed book, and the fact that it was turned down by all the big publishing houses suggests that they have a problem.

Other stand outs included The Satanic Verses, which was fabulous, in many ways. I started last year with four short novels by Kenzaburo Ōe for January in Japan and I have The Silenced Cry lined up as my next book and my contribution this year. De Niro's Game, winner of the Impac Prize, was another highlight, with it's vivid picture of life in war torn Beiruit. Things Fall Apart is at this stage, a recognised classic and managed to exceed my high expectations. I had my second encounter with J.G.Farrell and his Troubles was another highlight of this or any year. He is another writer I want to explore further this year.

I rated twelve books as five star reads on Shelfari. They are:
The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride
De Niro's Game - Rawi Hage
Embers - Sándor Márai
Young Adolf - Beryl Bainbridge
Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (Four Short Novels) - Kenzaburo Ōe - One, Two, Three & Four
City of Bohane - Kevin Barry
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
If On A Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino
Loitering With Intent - Muriel Spark
Troubles - J.G.Farrell
Vertigo - W.G.Sebald

Looking down at the books that got four star ratings there are a few that might have got five on another day, like Brideshead Revisited and Bend Sinister and Hopscotch. I hope to read the 'second' Hopscotch this year. Not on this list but a big part of my year is Finnegans Wake. I only managed to get through 120 pages but I hope to return to it this year. I can't say I understand the greater part of what I am reading but it is a unique experience and as well as the humour and sheer delight in sound I could almost hear my brain stretching to try and grasp passages which I came tantalisingly close to understanding.

Another big element in the blog this year was my Top 102 Albums plus series, which garnered a lot of page views. Indeed Like Flies on Sherbert and Metal Box are now among the five most viewed pages on this blog. Whether that is driven by humans or bots I do not know. It is a series I really enjoyed writing and will continue to add to gradually.

I also inflicted my 'poetry' on readers of this blog and when I won the Goodreads poetry competition I managed to inflict one of my poems on many, many more. It was a poem for Séamus Heaney and his death will be what literary 2013 is remembered for.

In 2014 I hope to complete some more 'creative writing', particularly the short stories I aimed to finish in 2013. I also have some ambition to attempt a novel but whether the time management and drive are there remains a mystery.

All in all, this blog has become an intrinsic part of my reading life and although there are periods when it seems to become almost a chore I get a sense of satisfaction from writing it and from the interactions it sparks. Thanks for reading and thanks particularly to those who comment.

Happy New Year!
(although is it only me or does it feel like its getting old already. These damn years pass so quickly.)


  1. And all the best for the New Year Seamus.
    May 2014 be happy and creative for you.
    I think it's time for us both to stop typing and start writing.
    Marks, get set, go...

    1. I look forward to seeing the outcome of any writing you do Trevor! Hope it's a good year for us both, and for everyone in the 'audience'!

  2. Happy new year Seamus. Interesting list on the books. I' ve got a bit of blind spot te rushdie having started midnights children 3 times and failing to get past page 100. Still i am in the minority that liked the film!
    good luck with the writing

    1. I did enjoy Midnight's Children way back in the 80's but was not so enamoured of Shame, nor of Fury which I reviewed on this blog somewhere. I was surprised by how much I liked The Satanic Verses.

  3. Happy new year! The album list was a lot of fun, no question about that, whether you were writing about classics I knew well or Irish pun bands I had never heard of.

    But I am really here for the books!

  4. The difference a 'k' can make. I guess The Joshua Trio could be called an Irish pun band but I don't remember writing about them. I am flattered that you visit for the books, coming from such a fine emporia of literary treasures yourself.
    Remember though, 2014 or not, Puns not Dead!

  5. Sounds like a great year of sounds, texts, and poems. Blogging can really be a chore. But we keep on doing it so it must be rewarding.

    1. Perhaps it's the sense of achievement every so often and the sense of being part of a conversation, even if very peripherally. It's also interesting to look back on stuff, especially when your memory is as poor as mine.
      I certainly hope the rewards continue to outweigh the elements of chore for you Rise. Happy 2014.