Like most bookworms, I spend a lot of my time fighting a terrifying and ever increasing pile of books known as my TBR (or ‘owned but not read’) pile. In an ideal world, I’d have a nice selection of perhaps ten books to pick from – currently I have 43, and that’s not even including the novels I got for Christmas.
I’ve developed a semi-irrational fear that I will either:
a) be crushed to death under the terrible weight when my TBR pile grows too huge and falls on top of me
b) discover that half the books have gone mouldy from so many years languishing on my shelves – leading me to contract a terrible disease and die a miserable and untimely death at the age of 22
As neither of these scenarios are ideal, here is a list of the seventeen books I am most keen to read this year. All these titles are ones that I’m both excited to dip into and ones which have been on my shelves for ridiculous amounts of time.
Like most people, my life is a chaotic and ever-changing series of priorities, but once I commit to writing something on my ‘To Do’ list, it usually gets done. (Let me emphasize usually – I’ve been meant to organise the files I have saved on my Dropbox folder since the summer, and it’s still completely disarrayed.)
However, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of checking an item off one of my many lists. Reading goals are particularly lovely, because I can tell myself I’m expanding my mind and justify a whole afternoon spent sitting on the coach with a book (complete bliss!)
1. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
Set in the tumultous world of London’s art dealers, the novel follows lovesick Annie McDee who finds a valuable painting by chance in a junk shop and gets sucked into a glamourous but deadly world of unscrupulous dealers, Russian oligarchs and scheming auctioneers, all desperate to get their hands on her painting.
The behind-the-scenes world of art dealership is something I know almost nothing about, despite being a big fan of art generally. I love it when books can introduce me to the customs and relationships of a new world, and if that world contains backstabbing and intrigue then all the better.
2. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell
One of the greatest novelists of all time, Charlotte Brontë barely strayed outside of her isolated village of Haworth. However, she and her siblings created a rich, imaginative world for themselves, which would then bleed into their writing. Charlotte’s life was an unusual, if sad, one. Sent by her father to boarding school (one of those horrendous institutions which Dickens loves writing about), she watched two older sisters die. Later, she was the one to motivate and organise her sisters to publish their work.
Charlotte’s life has always interested me, not just because it gives me more insight into my favourite book, Jane Eyre, but also because she herself was such an interesting character. She was a shy and solitary woman, but seemed to crave being loved and understood. She was deeply religious and principled, and yet rebelled inwardly against the conventions and restraints placed against women at the time. Elizabeth Gaskell was a lifelong friend and fellow author, so I can’t imagine anyone better placed to give an intimate picture of Charlotte’s life.
3. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
This classic tragi-comedy follows the intelligent but grotesquely ugly swordsman Cyrano who keeps his love for beautiful bluestocking Roxanne a secret, fearing her rejection. When he discovers that she’s fallen in love with the beautiful Christian, whose head is as thick as two very short (but pretty) planks, Cyrano spots an opportunity to act as mediator between them.
I’ve seen the 1990 Gérard Depardieu film, read the YA retelling penned by Geraldine McCaughrean and even seen the ballet – but never actually experienced the original play. I decided to go back to the source and read Rostand’s classic story of love triangles, duels, war and oversized hats.
4. Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It’s a testament to many times I’ve been planning to read this book that I’m even sick of explaining what it’s about. The novel follows three characters in 1960s Nigeria, as war tears the country apart. As families are divided and lovers put to the test, the entire system of colonialism is collapsing before the characters’ eyes.
Adichie is a highly celebrated author, and I enjoyed her down-to-earth and funny TEDx talk about ‘Why we should all be feminists’. Reading a book about a foreign country you’ve never been to can be a lovely way for the author to show you what it’s really like to live there. You don’t just see what the landscape is like, you experience the etiquette and customs of the people living there.
5. Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Two Kings by Alison Weir
She shared the attentions of the King of England with her sister, and then watched as he tore England apart to put Anne on the throne. Mary undeniably lived through interesting times (and must have had some awkward family gatherings, what with her and her sisters’ sleeping arrangements pretty much being public knowledge). What little we know of Mary comes from speculation, Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl or footnotes in biographies about Anne. Renowned historian Alison Weir goes digging among the historical evidence to put the rumours to rest and find out the truth about the other Boleyn girl at last.
6. The Wideacre Trilogy: Meridon by Philippa Gregory
Meridon plans to escape her rough life as a bareback rider in a circus show. She has a half-remembered dream of another life, and when it leads her to the beautiful Wideacre estate she is certain she is the lost heir. She will commit any treachery or betrayal to install herself as mistress.
I love the Wideacre trilogy, but I can only read one book a year. There’s so much scheming and incest in each book, plus so many descriptions of what the cornfields are doing, that I need to take a little lie down after reading one. 2017 is the year I am destined to finish this series, and I can’t wait to see what schemes the Lacey family are plotting for the final instalment.
7. White Munghals: Love and betrayal in eighteenth-century India by William Dalrymple
This non-fiction book charts the extraordinary love affair between an ambitious British soldier and the (Indian) great-niece of the prime minister. Against all the odds, the two were determined to marry and build a life together.
There’s no setting more exciting than colonial India: the unimaginable wealth, power and beauty plus all the drama of conflict with the British. This couple’s story is the ultimate culture clash, defying race, politics and religion.
8. In the Light of What We See by Sarah Painter
Ostracized by her family, Grace Kemp takes a job as a nurse in a hospital. It seems like the perfect new start, but there are forces of danger threatening her even here. She is seeing strange things that other people can’t, which may even be visions of the future.
Every month, Amazon very kindly give me a free Kindle book to read, and every month I spend a couple of minutes picking out the most promising of the titles on offer. After that, I leave my new book buried at the bottom of my ‘Unread’ shelf on my E-reader. Well, times are going to change, starting with this intriguing magical realism novel.
9. Jazz by Toni Morisson
This novel is part of my quest to read more North American writers.It’s a dark story following a door-to-door salesman who shoots his teenage lover to death. At her funeral, his wife attacks her corpse.
This sounds like an unusual and provocative story. It’s not something I’d habitually read, which is why I like that I’m venturing out of my comfort zone, especially as Morisson is considered one of the most celebrated black authors of America.
10. The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
The four grand duchesses have grown up in sheltered lives of unimaginable privilege. Just
as they reaching womanhood, the first world war is igniting through Europe. Their country is rife with political unrest, and even as they play games and flirt with officers, their entire way of life is on the verge of collapse.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Romanovs and imperial Russia (thanks to early exposure to the animated classic Anastasia), and I welcome any opportunity to step into their world. These were girls brought up in one of the world’s most important royal families who lost everything – what could be more interesting than that?
What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Which of these titles should I prioritise? Let me know in the comments below.