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A Year of Books: Five of the Best from 2016

Written by The Reader, 5th January 2017

As Angela McMillan, co-editor of The Reader magazine, turns her attention to her reading list for the year ahead, we ask what she loved in 2016.

Before I turn my full attention on another jam-packed new year's To Read list, I felt I should close the book on 2016 properly with a reflection on another reading year and a run down of the five most rewarding books I discovered over the past 12 months.

img_3061.jpgI have no problem in choosing my best read. It has to be The Duke’s Children, the sixth and final novel in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series. Trollope has lived with his characters for a long time by now and they are wonderfully alive to him and consequently to his readers. There are moments of extraordinary tenderness and moments of powerful insight into the tension between the social classes and between generations. Never less than fully absorbing, this is Trollope at his very best.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham is not your usual celebrity autobiography. It is a memoir of a lonely, obsessive, rather strange boy, not good with people but fascinated with the birds, insects and small animals he finds around him. A remarkable and brilliantly original book, like nothing else I have read.

Oh and the wonderful The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence. Why isn’t this Canadian author better known over here? She is terrific. The novel is set in 1960’s Vancouver and mostly narrated by Stacey, thirty-nine, mother of four (“they nourish me and devour me”), slightly frustrated, drinking too much, always questioning. An intimate exploration of a woman’s life.

I also very much enjoyed Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Like Wendell Berry, who was once his pupil, Stegner is an author woefully undervalued in this country. In this 1971 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, a retired historian, confined to a wheelchair, researches the lives of his pioneering grandparents. It’s about marriage, better and worse. If you read it and want more, Crossing to Safety, a slightly later novel, is as good, if not better.

img_2089-1400x1050Finally I choose A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I’ve been giving this volume of short stories to everyone I can think of because I just loved it. Drawing on her eventful life in which she experienced wealth and poverty, illness, addiction, motherhood and a variety of jobs in hospitals, launderettes and bars, the stories are full of insight, humour and surprises; life at its best or darkest moments; always real and usually moving.

Honourable mentions to The Country Doctor by Sarah Orne JewettI Refuse by Per Pettison and a delightful children’s book, The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, A Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.

*Featuring Five is a regular item in The Reader magazine.

Angela McMillan is co-editor of The Reader magazine and editor of The Reader's A Little, Aloud anthologies.

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