I had a lot of life events going on this year, so wanted to have some easy entertaining reads.
That meant, though, that I wasn't as exploratory and diverse in my reading choices, which is something I'll look forward to in again in 2023.
Here's what I read:
Fiction — thrillers
- The Fourth Protocol, Frederick Forsyth. I'd remembered Forsyth as a great thriller writer, but by 'eck he had a hard-on for Thatcher and was a bit 'reds under the bed'. Both of those come through in this, and unfortunately are fed into the stories by entire chapters being exposition set out as politically unhinged memorandums. A lot of eye rolling.
- Where Eagles Dare, Alastair MacLean. A great example of just dropping straight into the action, and slowly dripping in the explanation later. Intriguing, gripping. It's often said that a great thriller is a continuously renewing series of questions that the reader wants to know the answers to — and this book is a perfect example of that. The questions start from the first page, and as each is answered, new ones come up.
- The Tailor of Panama, John le Carré. Masterful as always. A treat to read again. le Carré is just so damned good at creating characters and the wants and conflicts between them.
My Dad's bookshelves had plenty of Len Deighton when I was a kid, and I remember reading them with great excitement as a teenager. I reread three of them last year, and found them even better than I'd remembered:
- Berlin Game, Len Deighton
- Mexico Set, Len Deighton
- London Match, Len Deighton
There's a very big ask for your suspension of disbelief in this series (especially in the first book), and that was easier to get over as a teenager. But the writing is so crisp, the characters so natural, that I really enjoyed reading them. Also, it was really interesting to see the main character, a spy, having such a normal life (mostly) — looking after the kids, sorting out the nanny, households things and so on. It made it seem quite fresh.
I've seen the James Bond films of course, but had only read one or two of the books, and that was years ago. So I decided to revisit Fleming's work last year too. While much about them is great, I was a bit surprised by how flimsy some of the plots are. Maybe success meant that Fleming rather dashed off later books, it certainly feels like that. Now I understand why with some of the movies all they do is take a title and the character and then have screenwriters imagine a completely new story.
- Diamonds are Forever, Ian Fleming
- Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming
- Goldfinger, Ian Fleming
- From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming. In this one, James Bond doesn't appear at all until something like chapter 10! Huge amounts of exposition by baddies too.
- The Man with the Golden Gun, Ian Fleming
And then I managed some more recent thrillers too:
- Restless, William Boyd. Superb. Boyd is one of my favourite writers, and this is one of his best.
- Slow Horses, Mick Herron. I started this, and gave up. It seemed soooo sloooow to get going. Also, there was a bit too much suspension of disbelief required with the opening event for one of the main characters. But then I tried again, and was glad I did as it found it's footing about a third of the way in and I enjoyed it.
- The Papers of Tony Veitch, William McIlvanney
- The Whistleblower, Robert Peston
- Moscow Midnight, John Simpson
- The Ways of the World, Robert Goddard
Fiction — other
I managed a few novels that weren't thrillers too:
- Our Country Friends, Gary Shteyngart. The beginnings of an idea, but feels like it was rushed out a bit to be billed as 'the first lockdown boom'. Expected it to twist or get a bit deeper into a theme, but it just coasted. Also, I get a bit weary of writers writing books about writers.
- Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
- Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead. A wonderful read. It's going on my all time favourites.
- The Distance Between Us, Maggie O'Farrell
- The Romantic, William Boyd. I'll probably blog about this separately.
- Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
- On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder. Oh shit, there's a lot of warning signs in the world at the moment.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson. You need this after reading the previous book.
- The Christmas Chronicles, Nigel Slater. I enjoyed reading this day by day in the run up to Christmas, helping me get in the Christmas spirit after an intense year.
- Deep Work, Cal Newport
- Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman
- Authority, Nathan Barry
- The Dip, Seth Godin
- So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport
- Oversubscribed, Daniel Priestley
- Principles, Ray Dallio
- The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod
- Tools for Titans, Tim Ferris. Eyeroll. Gave up a third of the way through. Silicon valley techbro type stuff.
In 2023, I want to read a broader range of books, mixing up some recent releases with 20th century classics that I've not got round to reading before.