2 January 2016
In 2014, I followed the #readwomen movement very strictly, and prioritised reading 50 books by women. In 2015, I loosened slightly my resolve of reading only women to reading mostly women, and I set myself the target of reading 25 books. I did that for a number of reasons; it meant I took my time over books more, and I wasn’t so bothered about reaching the target, though it turned out I did quite comfortably, as I read 37 books in the end.
I carried on trying to focus my reading habits around areas I was travelling to, and I also read a lot more non-fiction than in previous years, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I discovered a new sub-genre of books, too: microhistories, the “intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research”, as Goodreads puts it. This year, issues around accessibility annoyed me more than in other years - I was trying to do a lot of reading as research for my podcast, but came up against paywalls a lot, unfortunately.
I was pretty excited to come across Feminist Surveillance Studies, but then a little disappointed to see how US-focused it was. I enjoyed the essays a lot, but I wrote about before, I’d love to see another series of essays from different cultural perspectives, as I think they would really add to the debate. Eden Medina’s Beyond Imported Magic essays were wonderful, though slightly difficult to get hold of - very expensive compared to other books, and very few of the fantastic essays are available online (despite, I imagine, being paid for through public funds…I could grumble about open access all day!). I enjoyed MacKinnon’s Consent of the Network for a broad overview of internet freedom issues around the world, too, and Obfuscation also deserves a special mention for being a good introduction to a topic I think we’ll hear more about in the future.
I looked forward to the third installment of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy all year, and it didn’t disappoint - though they are all, admittedly, pretty difficult to get into. The only advice I can give is to persevere, and try and read them in a place without too many distractions, as they do require concentration! From the others, The Girl in the Road was a stunning book, with a brilliant mix of real- and other-world culture, mixing African and Asian influences into the science fiction.
I would’ve loved to have read more microhistories last year, but sadly I discovered that many are really, really expensive (in the range of 60-80 euros or more) as, presumably, they’re aimed at an academic crowd, rather than the lone reader without access to university libraries. Lots also weren’t available for delivery in Germany without exorbitant delivery prices coming from the US, or simply unavailable on Kindle, which made me a bit sad. It’s also a genre where men authors seem to outnumber women by even more than usual in the publishing industry, so though I came across many that I would love to read it looks like barriers to access are standing in my way, sadly! Of the ones I did manage to read, ‘London’s Labyrinth’ was a very interesting historical perspective of the very busy life below-ground in London.
Looking at this list now, I’m realising that my light resolve to read fewer books from authors from the US and Europe worked pretty well this year. I travelled to South Africa this year, hence the heavy focus on South African authors - out of those, An Imperfect Blessing was probably my favourite. From the others, The Calligrapher’s Daughter and The Icarus Girl were also excellent.
I moderated an event at the International Literature Festival in Berlin with Jandy Nelson, which was why I read her book I’ll give you the Sun - but wow, it was easily one of the best books I read. If you’re looking for a present for a teenager, keep this one in mind, or if you just want to read something stunningly colourful and beautiful, check it out yourself.
The two books at the end of this list kept me thinking about them for a long, long time afterwards. Quiet made me understand introverts close to me a lot better- and myself, in a way, as I felt somehow legitimised in sometimes not feeling that social, and wanting some quiet time instead. In a totally different way, Country of My Skull was probably the best book I read all year, I can’t recommend it enough.