What I Read In 2010

I read 57 books in 2011, five more than the 52 I managed in 2009. Just like last year, I hit a point in the final months of the year at which I could no longer summon up the concentration to read anything more complex than a web page or a newspaper article. Once I had met my final deadline for the year, my concentration returned, and I have happily got back into reading over the holidays.

Below is the list of what I read. Links are to reviews that appeared on my blog or in Belletrista, or to author interviews. Beneath that, I’ve selected my favourite reads of the year.

The List

1. The Temple Down The Road by Brian Matthews – nonfiction/history
2. Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson – novel/science fiction + historical
3. Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer – collection of linked stories/science fiction
4. Smiley’s People by John Le Carre – novel/thriller
5. Speak Softly, She Can Hear by Pam Lewis – novel/thriller
6. Sappho: A Garland, translated by Jim Powell – poetry collection with translator’s notes
7. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov – novella
8. Etymology by Bryan Walpert – poetry collection
9. Spinners by Anthony McCarten – novel
10. This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin – nonfiction – science/music
11. Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis – poetry collection
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 6: Retreat by Jane Espenson and others (graphic novel)
13. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – novel
14. Selected Prose and Prose-Poems by Gabriela Mistral
15. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
16. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
17. Cornelius & Co by John O’Connor – poetry collection (review below)
18. Alternate Means of Transport by Cynthia Macdonald – poetry collection
19. The Ice Museum : In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna – nonfiction/travel
20. The Chanur Saga by C J Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera (This comprises books 1-3 of a 5-book series. the other 2 books are listed separately below.)
21. Leaving the Tableland by Kerry Popplewell – poetry collection
22. The Norse Atlantic Saga by Gwyn Jones – nonfiction/history+ geography
23. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
24. Chanur’s Homecoming by C J Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera
25. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – novel/science fiction-space opera
26 Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin – novel/historical with fantasy elements
27. Magnetic South by Sue Wootton – poetry collection
28. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford – novel/Austenia
29. Ephraim’s Eyes by Bryan Walpert – short story collection
30. Spark by Emma Neale – poetry collection
31. Chanur’s Legacy by C. J. Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera
32. Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge – novel/historical fiction-political fiction
33. The Loneliness of The Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe – fiction/short stories
34. The Word Book by Kanai Mieko – fiction/short stories
35. Digging for Spain by Penelope Todd – nonfiction/memoir
36. Whoops! by John Lanchester – nonfiction/economics
37. Bartering Lines by Michael Steven – poetry collection
38. Daybook Fragments by Michael Steven – poetry collection
39. Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson – nonfiction/economics
40. ‘A Tingling Catch’: A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems, edited by Mark Pirie – poetry/sport/anthology
41. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – fiction/novel
42. Lonely Planet: Greenland & The Arctic – nonfiction/travel
43. Heading North by Helen Rickerby – poetry/chapbook
44. There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – fiction/short stories
45. You And Me And Cancer Makes Three by John Irvine – poetry/chapbook
46. Out Of It by Michael O’Leary – fiction/novella
47. Capitol Offense by Mike Doogan – fiction/thriller
48. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 7: Twilight – graphic novel/horror
49. McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray – novella/satire
50. This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich – nonfiction/travel
51. Barefoot by Jennifer Compton – poetry/collection
52. After Dark by Haruki Murakami – fiction/novel
53. Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller by Kathleen Jones – nonfiction/biography
54. Elementals by A. S. Byatt – fiction/short stories
55. A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson – nonfiction/memoir/travel
56. The Game by Lee Pletzers – fiction/thriller
57. Time Traveller by Robin Fry – poetry/collection

My Favourite Reads of 2010

The list above comes from my account on the social cataloguing site LibraryThing, where I keep track of what I read each year.


I gave just two of the 57 books above 5 stars out of 5: historical novel Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, and short story collection There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, which I reviewed for Belletrista.

Just behind those was Kalpa Imperial by Argentine author Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula Le Guin. It’s a collection of closely-linked stories which hovers between sf and fantasy, and it’s excellent. Other notable fiction reads of the year included Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (a.k.a. the Lisbeth Salander books), which gripped me even as I wondered how books with so many structural issues could be so gripping, and C. J. Cherryh’s 5-volume Chanur Saga, which I re-read with as much pleasure as I’d had reading it for the first time twenty or so years ago. It’s space opera done right.


I read a lot of good nonfiction this year. Two of the books I enjoyed most were about Greenland, a place which fascinates me but which I am never likely to visit. I read The Lonely Planet Guide To Greenland with rapt attention alongside This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, by Gretel Ehrlich. I also very much enjoyed This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitan, Kathleen Jones’ excellent new biography Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller, and Penelope Todd’s writer’s memoir Digging for Spain.


The two books of poetry by individual authors I most enjoyed in 2010 were Jennifer Compton’s collection Barefoot and Sappho: A Garland, translated and introduced by Jim Powell. Other favourite poetry collections for the year included Magnetic South by Sue Wootton, Spark by Emma Neale, and Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis.

As for anthologies, cricket poetry anthology A Tingling Catch, edited by Mark Pirie, was a highlight of the year.

And now, onwards to 2011’s reading!

A Book A Week: What I Read In 2009

I kept track of my 2009 reading using LibraryThing. It turns out I read a book a week in 2009 – excluding the many books I consulted as part of research for my novel, and a few I read for work. With rough divisions by genre, they were:

1. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (cartoons)
2. The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman (short stories)
3. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (novella)
4. The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley (nonfiction-biography)
5. From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K. Le Guin (criticism)
6. A Good Walk Spoiled by J. M. Gregson (novel-detective)
7. Swings and Roundabouts : poems on parenthood, edited by Emma Neale (poetry anthology)
8. Believers to the Bright Coast by Vincent O’Sullivan (novel-literary)
9. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages by Bill Watterson (cartoons)
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (novel)
11. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins (nonfiction)
12. Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica by Bill Green (essays) and Craig Potton (photographs) (nonfiction)
13. The Six Pack Three: Winning Writing from New Zealand Book Month (fiction/poetry anthology)
14. Speaking in Tongues by L. E. Scott (poetry)
15. Thornspell by Helen Lowe (novel-fantasy)
16. Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard (novel-romance/historical)
17. Father India: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West by Jeffery Paine (nonfiction-history)
18. George Gordon, Lord Byron: selected poems (poetry)
19. The Discovery of India (Abridged Edition) by Jawaharlal Nehru (nonfiction-history)
20. In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey (novel-literary)
21. Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa M. Graziano and Michael S.A. Graziano (novel-SF)
22. The Lakes of Mars by Chris Orsman (poetry)
23. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (novel-thriller)
24. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (novel-literary)
25. Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 4) by Joss Whedon (graphic novel)
26. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha (nonfiction-history)
27. A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu (novel-literary)
28. The Sword in the Stone by T H White (novel-fantasy)
29. Tom by Mark Pirie (verse novel)
30. Banana by Renee Liang (poetry)
31. Nearest & Dearest by Mary Cresswell (poetry)
32. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (novel-SF)
33. The Summer King by Joanna Preston (poetry)
34. made for weather by Kay McKenzie Cooke (poetry)
35. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel (novel-magic realism)
36. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (novel-literary)
37. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (novella-ghost/horror)
38. Letters from the asylum by John Knight (poetry)
39. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (novel-fantasy)
40. A House on Fire by Tim Upperton (poetry)
41. The People’s Act of Love by James Meek (novel-historical)
42. Dressing for the Cannibals by Frankie McMillan (poetry)
43. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey, Season 8, Volume 5, by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson et al (graphic novel)
44. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (novel-bildungsroman)
45. Watching for Smoke by Helen Heath (poetry chapbook)
46. The Coldest March by Susan Solomon (nonfiction-history/exploration)
47. Curved Horizon by Ruth Dallas (literary autobiography)
48. The Abominable Snow-Women by Dorothy Braxton (nonfiction-exploration)
49. The Last Church by Lee Pletzers (novel-horror)
50. The Year of Henry James by David Lodge (memoir/criticism)
51. Feeding the Dogs by Kay McKenzie Cooke (poetry)
52. Sorry, I’m A Stranger Here Myself by Peter Bland (literary autobiography)

I haven’t kept track of my reading before, so I don’t know how this compares to a typical year’s reading. My sense is that I have read somewhat less fiction and rather more poetry than usual, with the proportion of nonfiction about the same.

I think, overall, it’s the poetry – almost all, this year, New Zealand poetry – that I’ve enjoyed most. I have read some excellent collections; some I have admired for their technical excellence, while others (without lacking in poetic technique) have moved me: often, these are collections that have featured poems about places or situations I have been to our lived through.

I was highly impressed by the technical accomplishment of Joanna Preston’s The Summer King, Chris Orsman’s The Lakes of Mars, and Tim Upperton’s A House On Fire, yet despite this, it was Kay McKenzie Cooke’s made for weather and Feeding the Dogs, Helen Heath’s chapbook Watching For Smoke, and Renee Liang’s chapbook Banana that made the most impact on me – together with Emma Neale’s excellent anthology of poems about parenting, Swings and Roundabouts. I also had a lot of fun with Mark Pirie’s verse novel Tom.

In fiction, five novels stood out for me. Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise was the best novel I read this year, by a short head from Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which was wonderful right up to a somewhat underwhelming ending, and Helen Lowe’s Thornspell, an excellent fantasy for older children and younger young adults (I think this may be what is called “MG” rather than “YA” fiction). I also very much enjoyed A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu, and (a re-read after many years) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Tania Hershman’s collection The White Road and Other Stories includes many fine short – and short-short – stories.

My resolution to read more New Zealand fiction didn’t get very far this year. I was underwhelmed by Catherine Chidgey’s In a Fishbone Church and Vincent O’Sullivan’s Believers to the Bright Coast, both of which, in my view, have the fault common in New Zealand fiction of sacrificing story for style. I think my favourite New Zealand fiction this year was David Geary’s entertaining story “Gary Manawatu (1964–2008): Death of a Fence-Post-Modernist”, included in The Six Pack Three.

Other disappointments included Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and T H White’s The Sword in the Stone, neither of which, for me, lived up to their reputations.

I read some fine nonfiction this year, but the stand-out was Ramachandra Guha’s superb history India After Gandhi, with an honourable mention going to Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica, a superbly illustrated book of essays (or superbly essayed book of illustrations).

Finally, neither volume of Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a continuation of the TV series in graphic novel form) that I read this year were up to the standard of their predecessors in this series, but Buffy seasons often have a sag in the middle, so I’m going to stick with the series to see how it ends up. Therefore, last as it was first, my final highlight of the year was Alison Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, which I was given for Christmas 2008. It contains about 70% of all her Dykes to Watch Out For cartoons, and it’s both great fun and great social commentary.