The Books I Read in 2016

(This post will be updated throughout the year, so check back often.)

Last year, I set myself the goal of reading 52 books in the 52 weeks of the year. That didn't quite happen - I only made it to 22. But no matter. I'm going to try again this year, and hopefully get closer to the goal of 52.

But this year, I'm adding a twist. Not by design, but all the books I read in 2015 were written by men. Every last one. And it seems, I'm not getting a particularly balanced view of the world. So in 2016, I've decided to only read books written by women. Even so far, it's proved challenging - browsing in Foyles, I was shocked at just how big a portion of their stock was written by men. It took significant time to find 5 books, written by women, that I wanted to read.

1. Hard Work - Polly Toynbee. I've not been too much of a fan of Polly Toynbee, finding her middle-class support of UK Labour as some sort of progressive force rather awful. But this book was something else, it was rolled-gold journalism. I thought I had some insight into the lives of the working poor in the UK, but I understood nothing. Those massive council estates you see, mostly filled with people who work at the most appalling jobs for wages that are unfit for a first-world country, and dealing with a Kafkaesque social benefits system. I doubt things have improved since 2003, when Toynbee wrote this.

2. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimanda Ngozi Adiechie. If there was a time and place so far removed from my current existence as to be completely unknowable to me, then the Republic of Biafra, the short lived secessionist state of the Igbo people of Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War of the late 1960s, would have to be it. Half of a Yellow Sun recalled Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, another book where the relentless cruelty of circumstance takes almost everything away, as it does from the four characters we follow through the breakdown of society and the terror of war.

3. Smile or Die - Barbara Ehrenreich. I admit to having a perverse interest in the architecture of kookery that surrounds the idiots who preach the Law of Attraction - the foolish idea that one can "manifest" material desires by simply thinking about them. Where Ehrenreich takes on this industry of nonsense was pleasing to me, but on the whole, the book felt a bit empty, as though I'd read all the things in it before. It's well-travelled ground, so maybe I had.

4. Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami. A love story, though an unusual and poignant one, between Tsukiko, a 30-something woman, and one of her high school teachers, Sensei, who she meets in a Tokyo bar long after she had graduated. Slowly, they bond, and finally fall in love. This was a delicate book, written with light words, and subtle themes, but rich in images and ultimately very rewarding.

5. Indonesia, Etc - Elizabeth Pisani - I have to admit, I picked this book because I liked the cover art, and because I had some vague interest in learning about Indonesia, that massive country so near to Australia, and one which I've briefly travelled in. And what I saw of Bali, and the few big cities of Java was very different to the diverse and far-flung parts of Indonesia tourists like me never visit. It was a pleasure to learn more about these places, and the social and historical context of them, and it made me see Indonesia in a different way.

6. Françoise Sagan - Bonjour Tristesse

7. Nawal El-Sadawi - Woman at Point Zero - This is a short book, but one that burns with anger at injustice, at violence and at abuse. It is, in a perverse way, also empowering: Firdaus, the titular woman, is finally only able to smash the men who control her and torture her through violence, but only at the cost of her own life. 

8. Lisa Hilton - Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince