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December 2022: Our Favourite Reads of the Year

By - 22 December 2022 - 14:34pm

Here are our favourite books of the year

December is often a reflective time of year as we look back while simultaneously looking ahead. We’ve been seeing a lot of lists about the best books of the year and thought we would each share our top three books of the year.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. We’ll be back in January, so keep an eye on our socials and sign up to our newsletter to be the first to hear our news.

Without further ado, here are our favourite books of the year (in no particular order):

Sian, Festival Director:

  • Still Life by Sarah Winman
  • Oh! William by Elizabeth Strout
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Gini, Festival Manager:

  • The Marmalade Diaries - Ben Aitken
  • Great Circle - Maggie Shipstead
  • Still Life - Sarah Winman

These books will forever remain on my bookshelf - they have transported me from an unlikely friendship in Croydon, to an epic adventure in the skies, to a four-decade epic set in London and Tuscany. If you have not yet read them, I urge you to treat yourself over Christmas and buy them!

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer:

  • Number 1, no apology for this one, even if it is an uncomfortable read (or more accurately a riveting account of an appalling injustice carried out in the UK, with the victims still waiting for compensation). It is Nick Wallis’s The Great Post Office Scandal. It is actually very readable, but the content and the way the sub-postmasters were treated is truly a scandal. And never believe it couldn’t happen here; it can and it did. Thankfully, there are committed conscientious investigative journalists like Nick, who combine tenacity with great writing skills, have manage to expose the miscarriage of justice.
  • Number 2 - completely different. It is Amy Jeffs Storyland, a new mythology of Britain, beautifully illustrated with woodcuts by the author. A fun read, which you can dip in and out of, and be reminded of tales of your childhood; meet up again with Merlin and Arthur, read about the rather less well-known River Ness Monster, or learn about the tragedy King Lear experienced as a child, with the death of his father Bladud. (If you haven’t noticed, yes, both authors have appeared at Derby Book Festival during 2022).
  • Finally, Book Number 3 (sadly the author has not been to Derby) is Elizabeth George’s latest, Something to Hide. For those who know this crime writer, this is a nostalgic read in that we meet the favourite characters Lynley and Havers, and many others familiar names but the story reveals a tough reality of the lives of some young women in London which is very much present today. It is a long book, but it is a compelling page-turner, ideal for long grey afternoons as we wait for the end of winter. I was intrigued to find out that the author has also set up a foundation, to help young writers as well as young people who move out of the foster care system as they reach adulthood. It’s always rewarding to know more about writers.

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer:

  • ‘Standing atop my book podium for 2022 is Sarah Moss’, The Fell. Luminous prose frames this unsettling pandemic-based novel which repays reading time after time: you always take something different away from it and never tire of pondering the characters' choices.
  • A very close second is Chris Patten’s The Hong Kong Diaries. I featured this work in my reading for August entry and I wrote then that the book was a joy because Patten’s writing can be so beautifully irreverent and unexpectedly waspish, particularly when he takes aim at real and perceived political enemies in China, the Foreign Office & Commonwealth Office, the Conservative Party, international business and Sinologists generally.
  • And, finally, a book I have just finished races unexpectedly into the top three: Harry Cole’s & James Heale’s, Out of the Blue: The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss. I had thought that this was going to be a journalistic pot-boiler and in a sense it was that, but it was also so much more. A page turner which rattled through an account of the rise and fall of Britain’s 56th Prime Minister but also a thoughtful analytical read on the reasons why grounded in history, personality and the Tory party.’

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee:

  • A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. A beautiful, haunting book about love, family, brothers, loyalty, honour… and fly-fishing. Its closing chapter will forever be in my soul. “Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them. Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fisherman in western Montana, where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Read it!
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck. A real, old-fashioned story again about brothers and family but also destiny, shattered dreams and guilt. It will haunt you.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. Isn’t it on most people’s lists? A powerful story of the lost innocence of childhood set against themes of injustice, race and the limitations of the legal system. And Boo Radley: “I never saw him again. Boo was our neighbour. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbours give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” Heart breaking.

Sam, Shared Reading Project Co-ordinator:

  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
  • Piranesi by Susannah Clarke
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Very contrasting books - a tough Glasgow childhood, a fantasy/allegory in a mysterious realm and a re-read of a murder in an elite university where you know whodunnit but why and how unfold. These were all compelling and immersive.

Felicity, Festival Administrator:

  • Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (the trilogy) by Holly Jackson
  • Careless by Kirsty Capes

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee:

Here are my reviews of books read in the last few weeks:

Granta 161:

As regular readers will know, I receive this publication each quarter. It is a collection of literary works, (mainly essays, poetry and short stories). Each publication focuses loosely on a theme; this quarter’s theme is siblings.

The quality of the writing is always mixed; another way of writing that is that some of the works appeal to me, and in relation to other items I wonder why they have been accepted by the commissioning editor.

This quarter’s publication is no exception. Some of the writing is excellent, (and I did not want to come to the end of that section), but other sections left me cold. I think that it is the same with a collection of short stories or an anthology of poetry.

However, the quality of the good writing outweighs by far any disappointment which I might feel in relation to those works which do not appeal to me. Please do subscribe to the publication, since you will receive a collection of new works every four months at a very reasonable cost, and you will be supporting new writers. That’s well worth the investment of money and time.

Katie Kitamura – “Intimacies”

This is an outstanding novel. It came with a lot of very positive comments from reviewers, and I read it on holiday in a couple of days. The main character is a translator in The Hague at the international criminal court. The novel follows her assimilation into the international society based in The Netherlands, with a backdrop of a trial in the court for crimes against humanity.

The main character was real to me; we learnt of her insecurities, of her relationships and of her challenges with a career in that environment. Without wishing to give the ending away, the book ends with the reader feeling positive and hopeful.

I shall have Kitamura’s first novel on my list of books for Christmas.

This book is recommended; it’s a really, really good read. Please do put it on your list, (or better still, buy it from your local independent bookshop).

Annie Ernaux – “The Years”

What a truly wonderful book. I have black circles under my eyes. I could not put it down, and that includes the times when I should be asleep.

Ernaux was born in Normandy. She wanted to be a writer from an early age; she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022. This book is an autobiography, but unlike most works in that genre it does not relate to “I”, but to “her”, “she”, “the girl” or “the woman”. That creates objectivity. It is as if the writer is writing about a person whom she knows well, but as the reader knows, the writer and the woman are one and the same.

I loved this book. I felt the emotions of the writer. I saw Ernaux’s life through her eyes, but with a large dose of objectivity. Ernaux is a female French academic and writer, but she’s much more than that: mother, spouse, former spouse and lover, with the anxieties which many of us feel in one way or another. We see her life through her eyes, but also through the eyes of the woman who is the main character in the book. I could not help but feel compassion for her and her role, particularly as she comes to terms with her ageing and the independence of her children.

Please read this book. It is a reflection of the development of bourgeois, white French society. This book allowed me to see a world through another’s perceptive gaze, and to be more empathetic; as one of her reviewers has written, it is an iconic French memoir.

Luke Harding – “Invasion”

I have read every word which Luke Harding has written in book form, and I have read most of his articles in The Guardian. Deported from Moscow, and with a profound knowledge of Russian and eastern European politics, I was looking forward to an insightful book on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I was very disappointed. The book was published a few weeks ago, and it is an expansion of a diary. It provides a narrative of the conflict and gives details, sometimes graphic, of the violence and the probable crimes against humanity which have overwhelmed Ukraine. However, I learnt nothing new about the war. The conflict has been covered in great detail in the media. This book did not give me any greater understanding of the politics in either Ukraine or Russia, and the writing ends in the early autumn of 2022.

I would have liked to read Harding’s thoughts on the next year, three years or five years. Instead, I read an expanded diary which dealt with events which have been covered in real time by the international media.

One day I would expect Harding to look back at this event, (such as his book about the poisoning of Litvinenko in London, written several years after the event). I hope that we would then provide a detailed analysis of the events leading up to the invasion, the strategy in relation to the invasion and the aftermath. That will be an interesting analysis. Only read this book if you have just landed from Mars, or lived for the last three years with an isolated tribe in the Amazon.

We’ll be back in the New Year and look forward to seeing you there!

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