Looking for stocking fillers this Christmas? Then look no further as our resident bookworm, Dan Lewis, rounds up his favourite reads from 2015.
1) A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
The third novel from Jamaican writer, Marlon James, is an immense and immersive undertaking.
James explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, narrating the event and its ugly aftermath using a motley crew of characters, from local townsfolk to CIA officers.
In the hands of another writer this could have been a messy contrivance, but James brings order out of chaos and offers a scintillating narrative from the disparate strands.
A master class in novel writing and a worthy winner of the Man Booker Prize.
2) The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
I would give anything to relive this super-tense thriller for the first time.
Events unfold from the perspectives of three women: Rachel, the alcoholic divorcée; Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife; and Megan, who starts off as the object of Rachel’s jealousy and ends up… well, that would be telling.
Somewhat à la Gone Girl, there’s not much to like about the characters your meet, which could make this tough for those who need to feel close to their protagonists, but their horrible flaws make for a highly compulsive journey.
3) Down to the Sea in Ships, by Horatio Clare
Winner of the Stanford Travel Book of the Year Award 2015, this account of Horatio Clare’s time aboard two container ships is an unexpected joy.
Clare’s poetic prose captures the beautiful dangers of this alien world, complete with its own rules, economy and hierarchy.
As he details days at sea and the constant loading and unloading of cargo, there’s a tragicomic sense of absurdity to proceedings – all this effort just to keep our insatiable demands sated.
But Clare manages to make it a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, a voyage very much into the unknown.
4) Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane
Author of the modern classic, The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane is one of the most intelligent and articulate natural history writers this country has produced.
In Landmarks he turns his attention to how language itself is a product of its landscape, drawing out the interplay between words and the natural world with an infectious joy – revelling in their definitions and etymology, from “roarie-bummler” to “whiffle”.
Whether you read it cover to cover or dip in and out of it, this is a book that every lover of language and nature should treat themselves to.
5) A Kim Jong-Il Production, by Paul Fischer
Fischer’s remarkable book is a true story that’s stranger than anything fiction could conjure.
It starts in 1978, when Kim Jong-Il decided that there was only one way to make Pyongyang’s film industry the envy of the world: kidnap South Korea’s premier film director, Shin Sang-ok, and his ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee, South Korea’s answer to Elizabeth Taylor.
The pair spent nigh on ten years in captivity, making films for the Dear Leader, all the while looking for the perfect moment to make their escape.
Did they succeed? Grab a copy and find out – you won’t be disappointed.
6) Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell
Lafayette: a city in Louisiana. And Indiana. And California. And Colorado. And Minnesota. And Tennessee. And Oregon.
The man behind this ubiquitous name is one Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a key figure in the American Revolutionary War.
But while the US wears his name thin, the man himself is not widely celebrated.
Cue Sarah Vowell as she puts forward the case for the Marquis in her acerbic yet self-effacing style, packed with detailed insights, which she picked up touring key sites from the conflict.
7) A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
Atkinson has stressed that A God in Ruins is not a sequel, but a companion piece to her previous novel, Life After Life.
But reading the predecessor will enhance the experience of this gripping novel.
It follows the story of Ursula Todd, and her younger brother, Teddy, a bomber pilot and poet dealing with life in the 20th century.
Whilst not as narratively complex as Life After Life, A God in Ruins is every bit as moving, every bit as compelling and meticulously researched.
Here’s hoping a third ‘companion’ is on the way.
8) The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood presents another near-future nightmare that is strangely gratifying – a testament to her skills as a writer.
It follows the fortunes of Stan and Charmaine, who decide to opt out of an America burnt out by capitalism, in favour of life in Positron, a prison where they’ll get to be both prisoners and guards (one month on, one month off).
This strange new world exudes a tangible terror, though the narrative, with its satirical exploration of natures of self and society in modern life, is light enough to be enjoyable.
9) Walking the Nile, by Levison Wood
Levison who? Well, a year ago, when we were raving about this upcoming book and TV series, we got quite used to having to explain who this bonkers explorer was.
We loaned him one of our maps and waved him off on his journey on foot along the Nile, confident that he was bound for adventure stardom. Now he draws a crowd wherever he goes – and for good reason.
For rip-roaring, toe-curling, heartbreaking, logic-defying travel writing, look no further than this account of one man walking along the banks of the world’s longest river. Who would be so brave, you might ask. Levison Wood.
10) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-45, by Laurence Ward
Almost every day since it arrived at our bookshop I have passed some awestruck soul leafing through this book.
A weighty tome, it features a collection of 110 Ordnance Survey maps, which are gloriously delicate pieces of cartography and a contrast to the destruction they represented on the ground.
Ward sets the maps in context through photographs and statistics, which elaborate on cartography’s true human meaning after the war.
This is an important historical work and a beautiful book that’s been painstakingly researched, wonderfully curated and lovingly presented.