In terms of the number of books read, 2015 was a disappointing year for me. We are in the first week of December and I am yet to reach my yearly goal of reading 50 books. Things were progressing fairly well, I was reading a book a week and then summer came…
Here are my excuses: we went on a long summer vacation to meet family in India after five long years. There, I also met my brother and his girlfriend whom I saw for the very first time. They were visiting from Europe.
I caught up with school friends, met aged relatives, did a little bit of sightseeing in Kolkata, where I had lived for 18 years, dealt with my daughter’s severe bout of diarrhea (too much information, I know) and dutifully visited our local dentist several times. My summer was hence, bookless.
In 2015, I started this blog and it took me a few months to find my feet (I still am!). I was also involved in managing and writing content for a few online projects. It was a busy but interesting year.
I have a few other excuses but I’ll shush now. At the end of the day, I try to remind myself why I read. And I feel personally, it shouldn’t be about me chasing after a random number. Questions I should be focusing on are: did I learn something from the books I read? Did they inspire me? Did they cheer me up when I was having a bad day, week or month? Did they make me passionate about reading more? The answers to these questions are a resounding yes.
So at the end of this long monologue, I should mention that despite the paucity of books read, I was lucky enough to pick up several great books in 2015. Coincidentally, all the books described in this blogpost are written by authors who I have read for the very first time, excluding HE Bates. Here in no particular order are my Top 10 Books of 2015. All of them are exceptional reads.
1) They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
Three sisters marry three very different men. Lucy, the eldest is happily married to William. Charlotte, is besotted with Geoffrey who is a cruel, dominating husband and Vera, the beautiful youngest sister marries caring, wealthy Brian, whom she marries for security. The story deals with the fact that choosing a life partner can have far-reaching consequences, and that this decision can dictate to a large extent a person’s individual happiness and the happiness of their families.Whipple delivers a masterful plot and powerful cast of characters. She creates extraordinary drama and turbulence within the boundaries of everyday domestic occurrences. For a full review see here.
2) 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful of relationships.For a full review click here.
3) Illyrian spring by Ann Bridge
This book is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930’s Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmachael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia’s remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other’s company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart.
4) The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp
This is an unusual, quirky, humorous fairytale romance story. An unlikely hero (portly, middle-aged Henry Gibson) and an unlikely heroine (angular, past her prime Dolores Diver) meet at a Chelsea Arts Ball dressed as a brown paper parcel and Spanish dancer respectively. Thus springs an unusual decade long love affair that is threatened by economic situations. Enter an unemotional orphaned niece with a large appetite for food and drawing random objects, a few unusual characters and situations, lots of candor, romance and intelligence and you have the makings of a fine novel. ‘The Eye of Love’ by Margery Sharp is a fantastic read. For a full review click here
5) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.
6) Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons
This is a feel good Cinderella-esque love story set in 1930s rural Essex. What sets it apart from any other frothy romance novels is Gibbon’s exceptionally witty writing style, her simultaneous interweaving of several plots and her sometimes very profound observations about life.
7) Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Four English women seek respite from their personal troubles during a month-long holiday in a rented medieval castle in Italy. The change of scenery strikes an indelible change in each of these women. They find themselves embracing circumstances and causes they had long given up on. The book positively resonates with the beauty and warmth of the location. Elizabeth von Arnim supposedly visited an Italianate castle perched high up on a cliff, in the location of beautiful Portofino and the place inspired her to write Enchanted April.
8) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
This is Peter Mayle’s year long diary-style narrative of moving to and spending a year in a small village in Provence. Each month chronicles not only the events taking place in the author’s personal life, but also the events typically occurring in a small Provencal village. The weather, seasonal produce and farming, summer markets and festivities are all deliciously captured through discerning descriptions. The writing style is simple yet descriptive. This is a beautiful travelogue. I tried to read a chapter a month this year, corresponding to the month described in the book. For a look at my art journal entry based on the cover illustration look here.
9) Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
This is the most unusual book I have read this year yet so very wonderful. This is a Persephone Classic. It describes at length the wedding day of a young girl who is reluctant to get married. The bride takes to glugging a bottle of Jamaica Rum in her bedroom to quell her fears whilst downstairs a strange collective of characters have assembled to participate in the wedding celebrations. There are eccentric relatives, friends, a former beau who wishes to propose and yet is not certain of himself and a bevy of peculiar servants who help in the wedding preparations. The book is interspersed with memorable dialogues. I highly recommend this book!
10)The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates
This book is just ‘perfick’ to read in the summer if you should choose to use Pop Larkin’s (the protagonist of the book’s) favorite adjective. A young tax collector comes to Pop Larkin’s Essex farm for an audit only to find himself totally carried away by the love, laughter and excesses of the Larkin family. He falls in love with Mariette, the eldest Larkin daughter, Ma Larkin’s cooking and also Pop Larkin’s philosophy of living life to the lees. The descriptions of nature, summer and especially food make this an exceptional book.
What were your favorite books of 2015? Do you have a yearly goal of reading a certain number of books?