Most years have some kind of bookish significance for me; whether it’s the year in which I landed my dream role at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the year which saw me start my blog, the year I began my BBC Top 100 Challenge; or simply a year during which I stumbled across a book that would unknowingly impact my future life. 2016 has been no exception. And as it draws to a close – this year of worldwide woes, I thought I’d take a look back at 2016 and its literary highs and lows.
Finishing the BBC Big Read: the night before I turned 30 was undoubtedly one of my proudest moments. Painstakingly laborious at times, it became a huge chore towards the end, when I would find myself getting up at unGodly hours of the morning in order to read for upwards of two hours before I started work. However, while with the challenge came many sleepless nights and caffeine-fulled mornings, and its fair share of books I’d gladly never see again, so too did it come with its rewards. There are many, many books from the BBC Top 100 that, despite being a seasoned book blogger I never would have come across had I not set my self the challenge to do so. I learnt the importance of expanding one’s boundaries and the age-old lesson of not judging a book by its cover. Turning the final page of Lord of the Rings just hours before I turned 30 will stay with me forever; as will each and every book that made the list.
Reading Ulysses: since beginning my book blog many years ago, I’ve always avoided writing a negative book review. For me, the reason I started this blog was to encourage and entice others to read books they might not normally have thought of, and as such, if I read a book that I didn’t enjoy, I simply didn’t review it. Having left Ulysses to the penultimate read from the BBC Top 100 list however, I felt that not featuring it on my blog would, in a sense, leave a huge hole in what was a momentous reading journey for me. Suffice to say, Ulysses was a literary low for me this year; I’m sure that the 4am alarms I was waking up to in order to finish my challenge in time didn’t set it in a favourable light, but try as I might, I simply couldn’t get my head around Joyce’s most lauded tale. The icing on the cake was the final chapter – 66 pages with absolutely no punctuation whatsoever – cemented its status as my least favourite book of all time.
Finding A Little Life: I was sent a proof copy of Hanya Yanagiraha’s A Little Life while I was living in London, by Francesca Main, an editor at Picador. When it came to downsizing my book collection to take a select few to Australia with me, A Little Life didn’t make the cut. Fate, however, was to intervene when my good friend Mitch sought advice from a bookseller on what to buy me for my birthday and I was soon reintroduced to this incredible book. I put off reading it for a while, until my friend Polly, with whom I worked on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction insisted I must. And so, it swiftly took the place of my favourite forever book. Undoubtedly the most heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve ever read, it truly is a modern masterpiece, and left me unsure of whether I would ever bother reading anything else again. You can read my full review here.
Seeing Hanya Yanagihara’s closing address at the Sydney Writer’s Festival: I made the foolish mistake of starting A Little Life just prior to the beginning of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; and so engrossed was I with the book that I missed almost every talk I had hoped to go to, with the exception of one by Dutch author, Herman Koch, and, of course, author of A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, who closed the festival. Yanagiraha’s closing address at the festival was as emotive, moving and though-provoking as one of 2016’s most talked about books, and she spoke eloquently about the subjects that lied therein – of so-called gratuitous violence, and how if a relationship exists between the reader and writer it is surely one of give and take. Said Yanagihara of the fiction writer’s right to march into ugly territories of human behaviour that it is the least she can do: “Not because her art permits her to – but because her own humanity compels her to. Can’t art – and shouldn’t art – encourage us to imagine the human condition, even at, especially at, its cruellest and smallest?”. Listen to the podcast in full here.
Going to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner’s announcement: I’ve been lucky enough to maintain a great relationship with founder of the Baileys Prize, Kate Mosse, since my move down under just over a year ago. And quite fortuitously, my trip back to London for a friend’s wedding earlier this year, coincided with the winner’s announcement ceremony, held on London’s Southbank. Attending – but not working at – the event, was a mixed blessing. While I was free to roam the room, enjoying endless glasses of champagne and cocktails and didn’t have the nervous anticipation of announcing the winner on social, there was a degree of sadness that I was no longer involved in the prize in the way I once was. If nothing else, it certainly renewed my unending love for books, the power of the prize and my long-standing adoration for the wonderful Kate Mosse.