I am happy to see 2015 go. I had a productive year but it was a tiring and sombre one. With friends and family falling ill and passing away with alarming frequency, this was not a year for intensive reading. Or, some months, any reading at all (I only managed to finish two books in September). That said, hidden among the comfort reads and mindless fluff that typified my reading this year were some truly excellent books. Most of which I unfortunately never got around to writing about. It took fierce concentration to get the list down to ten but here they are:
10. The Song Collector (2015) – Natasha Solomons
A lovely, gently-paced novel about love, aging, and music.
9. Knight Crusader (1954) – Ronald Welch
I read this historical children’s novel (the first in Welch’s Carey series, currently being reissued by Slightly Foxed) back in January and was so impressed I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Welch’s thoughtful character development and rich historical details compliment a rip roaring plot to delight readers of any age.
8. My History (2015) – Antonia Fraser
A breezy, charming memoir about Fraser’s early years.
7. Iris Origo (2000) – Caroline Moorehead
I adored this biography of Origo, famous for her wartime diary (War in Val d’Orcia – which I’ve yet to read) and her garden at La Foce (which I’ve yet to see). Moorehead does an incredible job of describing the richly complicated Florentine expat community Origio grew up in and her extraordinarily varied circle of acquaintances, as well as her personal achievements. There was nothing simple or straightforward about Origio and Moorehead does full justice to her subject’s complex life. When I visited the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany in September, I was delighted to see for myself the landscapes Moorehead had described and which Origio knew so well.
6. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (2015) – Ayisha Malik
An entirely unique comedy about the romantic and spiritual plights (often entwined) of a young British Muslim feminist. It remains the only book that kept me up reading long past my bedtime this year and had me giggling even more often than Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling.
5. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992) – Marcella Hazan
An unusual choice for this list but this is easily the book I’ve spent the most time with this year. And what a book it is. Hazan’s precise recipes are a joy to read and a delight to recreate. Since buying this in Portland last February, I don’t think more than a week or two has gone by without me trying a new recipe from it. I am devoted to the soup chapter, in thrall to the pasta sauces, and had a revelation over brisket when I made the beef roast with braised onions. It has quickly become my most cherished cookbook.
4. A Desperate Fortune (2015) – Susanna Kearsley
A thrilling historical novel with two equally thoughtful, appealing heroines.
3. Anthony Trollope (1992) – Victoria Glendinning
Glendinning’s thorough, affectionate, and very readable biography of Trollope gave me a new appreciation for the books of his I’ve already read and more impetus to read the others. I was especially fascinated by her interest in his relationships with the women in his lives and how they influenced his female characters.
2. The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) by Anthony Trollope
A funny, poignant, generous novel to end Trollope’s extraordinary Barsetshire series.
1. Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Letters (1982) edited by William Maxwell
An enchanting collection of letters spanning almost fifty years. STW was a wonderful correspondent, filling her letters with richly-detailed annecdotes, self-deprecating humour, and the most delightful flights of whimsy. I’ve yet to read a single one of her novels but, after reading this and the wonderful collection of her letters to William Maxwell (my favourite book of 2012), I can’t help but think of her as a close, dear friend.