A Box of Books for 2016

Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close. I have always loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child; but I find it more interesting to  approach things a little differently.

I assemble a virtual box of books to remember my reading year. And I stick a virtual post-it note to each book, with my thoughts when I read it, to remind me why that book was in my box.

Some of them will be books that I can say quite objectively were the best books I read, but others are books that spoke to me for particular reasons, and books that did a particular thing rather well.

I try to finish with a box that holds a cross-section of what I’ve read, so that when I look at a box I know where I was in my life as a reader that year.

Books that I re-read aren’t there, because of course I know I will find them in the boxes of the years when I read them for the first time. And I only allow an author one book a year, because I have to draw a line somewhere.

Before I show you what is in my box, there are people I really must thank – authors past and present, publishers, sellers of books both new and used, fellow readers – who have all done their bit to make the contents of my box so very lovely.

And now – here are the books!

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Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

“She’s a girl who never does anything that’s exactly wrong; but she’s also a girl who never really does anything that is usual or expected. She simply follows her heart; oblivious to the strictures that hold most people back.One day she took herself out to tea at the Ritz; another day she stayed in bed, eating oranges, because she read in a magazine that it would give her vitality.”

Landfalls by Naomi J Williams

“I knew nothing at all about the history, I resisted looking it up, and I’m very glad that I did; I’m sure that I would have loved the book even if I had foreknowledge, but coming to this narrative as I did made it an enthralling voyage of discovery.”

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

“The plot is beautifully constructed and controlled. I was particularly taken with the way that the author gradually opened out different stories, with the way she set her story very firmly in its period, and that her story was always a very real human story set in a very real world. It would have been so easy to add a drop of melodrama or a dash of the gothic, but she didn’t and her story is so much better, and so much more distinctive for it.”

The Owl’s House by Crosbie Garstin

“I was swept away by their story; it was so very richly told and so very engaging. And Crosbie Garstin captured my part of Cornwall – the people, the places, the speech patterns, the way of life, everything – absolutely brilliantly. I couldn’t doubt for a moment that he loved his world, his story and the telling of it.”

Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley

“Oh, what a book this is! It has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, it is full of drama and intrigue, it has plenty to say, and every single thing in it is so cleverly and vividly drawn that I found myself living and breathing the story.”

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Honeycomb by Dorothy Richardson

“I have loved walking through life with Miriam Henderson, sharing in her perceptions and emotions, and appreciating that maturity and experience were helping her to form ideas and steadily grow as a woman in her world. And I have loved seeing Dorothy Richardson grow as a writer, honing her craft, and making each of the first three novels of this saga distinctive and yet still part of the same whole.”

The Midas Touch by Margaret Kennedy

“The story begins as a young man named Evan Jones arrives in England for the first time. He had been born in China, the son of Welsh missionaries, and since they died he had travelled the world, living off his wits and his charm. Now he was coming home, to see the place that his parents had always called home, and he was very taken with what he saw. He had no money, he had nowhere to go, but fortune favoured him again and he prospered.”

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

“Arthur Bryant and John May met in London in November 1940. Both young men were assigned to the PCU – the Peculiar Crimes Unit – to deal with the strangest of crimes and, though they were young and had little experience, they found themselves pretty much running the place while so many resources and so many men were caught up in the war. Years later, when they were both quite elderly and much had changed they were still working together at the PCU.” 

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

“Most of all though I loved Septimus Harding. He loved his daughters, he loved the old men who were in his care, he loved the work he had been called to do, he appreciated all of the good things he had in his life; and when finally decided what was the right thing to do he proved to be as tenacious, in his own quiet way as his formidable son-in-law. The sequence of events, as he travelled to London and found his way to the people he needed to see – very much an innocent abroad – was beautifully judged and a joy to read.,”

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons

“Fox was a wonderful narrator and I loved coming to know him as a young and an old man. He drew me into his story, he made me care about him and about what would happen, and I came to understand his hopes and his dreams, his loves and his fears. I saw his world and the people whose lives touched his so very clearly.”

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The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney

“A short conversation inspires him to leave his job and to travel deep into the English countryside to Combe Hall; a lovely house that had been built in the 1600s, that was still a family home, and that housed a private library holding more than eighteen thousand books and three centuries of correspondence.”

Pendower by Marianne Filleul

“I’ve read many novels that consider the reformation at court, and in the light of the marriages of Henry VIII, but I don’t think I’ve read one before that considered its impact on the country.  Marianne Filleul caught the fear and the confusion perfectly, and presented the question in its simplest form. Should mass be said in Latin, that sounded beautiful was not understood, or should it be said in plain language for all to understand?”

Summer: A Wildlife Trust Anthology for the Changing Seasons

“There are so may highlights that it is almost impossible to pick favourites. I loved bat watching with Jacqueline Bain. I was taken by surprise by some lovely writing that I would never have guessed was by Charles Dickens. I was pleased to climb a hill in the Cotswolds with Vivienne Hambly; I was delighted that Jo Cartmell wrote of replacing her lawn with meadow flowers, reminding me that I have a plan a little like that for part of our garden …”

A Woman of Letters by March Cost

“The arc of the story was perfect. It moved from a manse in the Lowlands to a cottage in the Highlands, to London, to London society, across to continental Europe, and then back to London for the war years and thee years that followed. All of the times and places were beautifully evoked. The mixture of romance and intrigue worked beautifully; and is woven into the story so well that it is difficult to say very much without giving much too much away.”

Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes

“The writing was wonderful. I knew that this was crime novel, but it could have turned this story into anything it might have wanted to become. And it quickly became clear than the story would be both distinctive and meaningful.”

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To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

“Sophie was a young teacher, in love with the natural world, when she met Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester. He was intrigued by the young woman who was completely unflustered when she was caught up a tree; and she was captivated when he took the time and trouble to find and lead her to the nest of a hummingbird. I was very taken with them both as individuals, and I loved them as a couple. I have found many things to love in this novel, but it was this marriage that I loved most of all.”

Through Connemara in a Duchess Cart by Somerville & Ross

“When work, life, and other things conspire to keep me at home, surrounded by visitors, at the height of the season there is only one thing to do. I turn to my bookshelves and I look for a Virago Traveller, knowing that those books can take me on wonderful journeys in the best of company.”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

“This book caught me by surprise. I’ve read some of Ann Patchett’s work but it’s been a long time since our last encounter; because I’ve liked what I’ve well enough to want to read more, but not quite well enough for months and years to slip by before a book landed that I thought I really must read. I expected it to be good, of course I did; but I didn’t expect it to have such depth and yet be so easy to read, and I didn’t expect it to preoccupy my thoughts during the days I spent travelling through its pages.”

Tell it to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge

“The writing was perfectly controlled, and the skill of the author drew me right in and made me think so much of the situation of each woman. That control, that skill, and an extraordinary clarity made every story fascinating. It was the clarity that really struck me; I can only compare it to the feeling you have when you have new glasses and you see the world just that little more clearly than you did through the old pair.”

Saraband by Eliot Bliss

“Saraband is a beautifully wrought and sensitively told coming of age story, set in early 20th century London.Louie is a quiet and imaginative child, growing up in her grandmother’s house, surrounded by aunts and uncles. She loves being out in the world, and her story is scattered with her feelings about the world as the seasons change.”

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Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2016?

And what do you plan to read in 2017?

39 thoughts on “A Box of Books for 2016

    1. I’m much too indecisive to settle on a list, and I like that this way I can include books that I want to remember for a particular reason and feel I’m not slighting great books that don’t fit in the box. Good luck with Finnegan’s Wake. I’m not brave enough to try a book like that at the moment, and after a year with Dorothy Richardson I’m ready for some more straightforward reading.

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  1. Great box of books! Wishing you a coming new year that is filled with just as many good, if not better, reads.
    My standout discovery for 2016 would have to be Willa Cather, I think. Will definitely be exploring more of her works in the year(s) to come! Margaret Drabble’s Seven Sisters was another surprise, didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. 🙂

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  2. What riches! I love how varied your choices are and am delighted to spot a few of my favourites among them (The Song Collector, which was on my “best of” list in 2015 and To the Bright Edge of the World, which will certainly be on this year’s list). Happy reading in 2017!

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  3. A lovely selection, Jane. I read my first Trollope this year (Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories), so The Warden is of great interest to me. Maybe I’ll make it my next by him.

    Wishing you all the best for 2017 – lots of great reading ahead, I hope.

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  4. A fascinating collection. I have Red Pottage on my kindle (admittedly I would rather have a green Virago). I also have Saraband. Some of the other books in your box I really like the sound of too. Tell it to a Stranger is a wonderful collection and The Warden contains my favourite fictional father ever.

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  5. This is an intriguing idea – I can really see the value of it and how it would bring you joy to delve into boxes from the past. Thank you for sharing it and Happy New Year! 🙂

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  6. What an intriguing box of books, many unknown to me, a few I recognised and loved too this year, Eowyn Ivey’s The Bright Edge of the World – I particularly enjoyed the wife’s story and her development and that of her passion for photography.
    My box is a voyage around the world, with books from different countries and a few that carried me through some challenging moments in 2016. Already looking forward to where they’ll take me in 2017 and following your journey too. Happy New Year!

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  7. I have already ‘borrowed’ a few of the books from your box to read soon…and you’ve reminded me of a few others. 😉 Looking forward to reading with you more in 2017. Happy New Year, Jane!

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  8. What a glorious box, Jane. I do so love the varied ways we all approach our relationship with the immersions into the souls of others, as revealed by their creativity in imaginative writing.

    Several of your books were clamouring for places at my more restricted reading table presentation – Cluny, Anna Hope’s The Ballroom, whilst one bounded insistently into place – To The Bright Edge Of The World, and you have also reminded me that the Combe got downloaded at some point due to your review, and needs to be rescued from where he has vanished in the virtual TBR and come into plain view and engaged in!

    Very warm wishes to you and yours, Jane

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      1. Happy New Year Jane, and I must tell you you have achieved, at this point, a ‘Resolution’ I had such a ridiculously hard time trying for top 10 reads, asked some great reads didn’t make the cut – Marjorie Sharp was one! – and it now seems such a silly restriction, that self-imposed numerical. I’m going with your ‘box’ I think, onwards.

        And……following your box reminding me of The Sacred Combe….it is started!

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  9. That’s a lovely box of books. I enjoyed Cluny Brown this year too and I loved The Water Room and The Warden in previous years. I haven’t read any of your others yet – maybe in 2017. 🙂

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  10. It is lovely how you make a box of books for each year. As you know Jane, I did a Top 10 list instead which had a really varied assortment of books and authors this year. Looking towards 2017, I have plenty of books I am looking forward to reading – particularly classics as The Classics Club is ending for me in March – but I have no fixed plans. Lets see where mood takes me 🙂

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  11. Such a lovely collection Jane! I must have added like 15 + books to me TBR! Thank You for introducing me to authors I never knew were out there and some brilliant works! Best wishes for 2017! Happy Reading!

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  12. This is such a great idea! And a wonderful collection. I love the idea of looking back at a collection of books and being able to remember the year.

    I think Sarah Moss books would be in my 2016 box, along with Magda Szabo and The Interestings.

    As for 2017, all I know at the moment is that I will finish Dune. 200 pages in 353 to go.

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  13. A great idea! There are so many unread ones for me in your box. I will be reading The Snow child in Jan. Maybe after that I can move onto To the bright edge . If you liked Warden, I am sure you will enjoy Barchester Towers. I liked it more than Warden

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    1. It works for me because I can’t be objective about a list and I can make a box more representative. I’m so pleased you will be reading The Snow Child, because it really is a gem.

      I have to say that I didn’t like Barchester Towers quite as much as The Warden, maybe because I like Trollope’s serious writing more than his comedy.

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  14. I loved Cluny Brown – which almost made it into my Top 10, and I did give Sharp an Honourary Mention – and The Warden, read I think in 2015. I’m glad to see a Dorothy Richardson in there; it was such a rich experience reading her alongside you and others.

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  15. I enjoyed reading the clips from your reviews – they really give a good idea of the books!
    I have The Ballroom on my end-of-year list, as well. And Landfalls is one of the books I got for Christmas. I can’t wait to get to it!

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