There’s nothing like reading the newspapers’ ‘books of the year’ supplements to make you feel like an ill-read simpleton. What have I been doing? Reading Heat magazine? Why have I not read Thomas Picketty, Donna Tartt, Andrew Roberts, Helen McDonald or anything at all about the First World War?
Like most people, the books I read are chosen for a multitude of reasons. There are books that fit in with research for my own fiction. Recommendations from friends, or friendly booksellers. Covers, titles or blurbs that pique my interest while I’m browsing. Presents of books that I might not have bought myself. And yes, sometimes I’ll buy an award-winner or something well-reviewed in the newspapers. Here are seven books I loved in 2014.
Mark Cocker: Crow Country. One man’s obsession with rooks. In lucid prose, this memoir makes plain the everyday beauty that surrounds us, once we stop to look.
Carsten Jenson: We, The Drowned. A multi-generational story of men and the sea. The shifting focus tells the history of one small town on the Danish coast, through the people who love or hate the sea on which it depends.
Ros Barber: The Marlowe Papers. A breathtaking novel in verse form which resurrects the fascinating Elizabethan poet and playwright, Christopher Marlowe. This is an extraordinary feat of skill and imagination, as daring as any plot Marlowe constructed.
Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Lee’s timeless account of his mid-1930s wanderings through southern England and down to Spain. Makes you long to wrap up your violin in a blanket, put a piece of cheese in your pocket and head out the door.
Evie Wyld: All The Birds, Singing. A story told backwards and forwards, of an utterly original protagonist navigating her unpredictable way through a hostile world.
George Monbiot: Feral. A polemic, but one rooted in passionate longing for a wilder wilderness. This book is at its best when reminding us of what we’ve lost in our tame, constrained existences, and what could be regained – if we had the collective courage.
Nikolas Butler: Shotgun Lovesongs. You could call this book corny. It is, a little. But it was probably the book I enjoyed most in 2014, full of homely characters and small-town stories.