A Box of Books for 2017

Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close. I have loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child; but now 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.

This years box is a little smaller than usual, because life knocked me sideways and it took time for me to find my feet as a reader again, and because I’ve done a good bit of rereading this year. Books that I re-read aren’t in this year’s box, because I pulled them out of the boxes of the years when I read them for the first time.

The books I re-read and that I loved most of all were:

‘The Eye of Love’ by Margery Sharp
‘Love’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim
‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

I must add that 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!

* * * * * * *

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

‘The atmosphere is wonderful, and this really is the perfect book for dark winter evenings. Imagine that Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens sat down together with all of the time in the world to create a masterpiece, drawing on their own greatest works and the great works of their contemporaries, each writing to their strengths and reining in the other’s weaknesses, and trying things they has never tried before, to wonderful effect. This feels a little like that.’

Winter: A Wildlife Trust Anthology for the Changing Seasons

‘The pattern that this anthology follows is wonderfully familiar to me now. It holds a wealth of short pieces. There is fact and fiction. There is old and new. There are nature writers and writers who just happen to write about nature. They all sit happily together, because they all saw the same natural world around them and captured different aspects of it when they say down to write.’

The Trespasser by Tana French

‘Every character who passed through this story was well drawn. The dialogue, the settings, the atmosphere – every element in this book worked, and that allowed the story to live and breathe. I loved the way that themes were repeated through the stories of the detective and the victim. Each of those stories held some improbabilities, but they were credible and they said much about the issue and the choices that young women can face in the world today.’

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell

‘The title of this book was very well chosen. It is underpinned by the question of who or what we owe fidelity. Our spouses?  The standards of society? Our families? To our dearest love? Or our selves? There are no easy answers, but the asking of the question allowed Susan Glaspell to make a wonderful exploration of the possibilities and the problems that it presents.’

* * * * * * * 

Together & Apart by Margaret Kennedy

‘Margaret Kennedy weaves a wonderful plot from these and other threads; drawing in enough to give a clear picture of the world around the different members of the Canning family as they spilled out of the family home. She spoke clearly about how quickly events can run out of control, about how decisions can have so many repercussions, and about how vulnerable children are, even – and maybe particularly -when they are very nearly grown up.’

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

‘That plot is labyrinthine; and as I found my way through that labyrinth I saw so many different scenes, and I realised that there were so many different aspects to this story; there were twists and turns, shocks and revelations, tragedy and comedy, high drama and quiet reflection. Some things became clear, other things remained opaque, and often it was revealed that things were not as they seemed at all.’

Poum & Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phaille

‘This is a strange and bewitching book: a memoir of Catherine’s Parisian childhood with her unconventional parents, Marie-Antoinette (Poum) and Alexandre. I could never doubt that I was reading the impressions and memories of a real eight-year old girl, and yet there were times when I might have been reading a fairy tale. A tale that was both flooded with light and overcast by dark clouds.’

The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer

‘It is clear that Alice – I call her Alice because I feel that I know her very well after reading her book – did a great deal of reworking of her material. The book had a beginning and an ending, there is some progression, but most of the chapters are written around a particular theme rather than a particular period of time; and it is clear that she has thought back over her years in America, adding more memories and more consideration of what she has to say.’

* * * * * * *

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

‘Tolstoy created a whole world, mixing fictional characters with real historical figures, and setting their lives against major events in their nation’s history. He did that so very well, showing the effects of great events that influence countless of lives; on the masses and on the particular families and characters whose stories he chose to tell. I came to know those families and those characters so well that I can’t draw a line between the historical and the fictional, and now that I look back at people and places and events, both big and small, I don’t doubt the reality of any of it.’

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

‘I was drawn into this story from the very beginning – I loved the way that the fictional Tremaynes were insinuated into the family history of the real Tremayne family that used to live at Heligan – but even if I hadn’t known that very real place, where the lost gardens are open to visitors, I still would have been captivated. I loved the way that Natasha Pulley told her story, and the way she held me at Merrick’s side as he made his extraordinary journey.’

Janet’s Repentance by George Eliot

‘When the plot does emerge it is is profoundly moving; revealing a story of abuse and unhappiness, of salvation and hope. I felt so much for Janet as she was in despair, as she was rescued by the compassion and friendship of her neighbour and the love of her mother, as she acknowledged that she had been wrong and publically gave her support to Mr. Tryan, as she struggled with the demon drink …. There are complex emotions here, there is a wonderful depth of feeling, and the story plays out wonderfully well.’

Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge

This was my last completed book of the year, I haven’t pulled my thoughts together year, but I can share a quotation:

‘She opened her eyes. Nurse was standing over her, the baby held upright against her shoulder, like the bambino on a Della Robbia Plaque. Catherine stared. So that was her baby. Baby? Babies were sleepy amorphous, unconvincing and ugly. This creature was not amorphous, it was not even ugly. It stared at life with bright unwinking eyes. Its underlip was thrust out tremulous indignant. ‘My word’ Catherine thought ‘that’s not a baby. It’s a person.’ ‘

* * * * * * *

Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2017?

And what do you plan to read in 2018?

38 thoughts on “A Box of Books for 2017

  1. That’s a jolly nice box Jane and I do like your idea of a virtual place to put the books you’ve loved and a little note! I can’t do formal lists of top tens, but I shall be posting about some rambling highlights tomorrow. Needless to say, there are a lot of Russians…

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  2. The Quincunx has been sitting on my shelf for years. I heard Susan Hill praise it and so got hold of a copy but have never got to the point of actually picking it up and reading it. I must do something about that next year. I hope 2018 is a better year for you Jane. Know that The Bears and I are thinking of you.

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  3. I’m pleased to see The Quincunx, The Game of Kings and War and Peace in your box this year. I haven’t read many of the others, but they all sound interesting in their different ways. I hope you discover lots of lovely books in 2018 to fill next year’s box.

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  4. That’s a lovely box, Jane, and you will be pleased to hear that I picked up a copy of The Games of Kings from the library this week, thanks to your enticing review!
    Happy reading in the new year!

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  5. I always love your end-of-year boxes, Jane! I’d be delighted to take this one with me into 2018, especially as it contains one of my very favourite Persephone titles (Hostages to Fortune). The Farm in the Green Mountains is high on my TBR list but not as high as The Game of Kings – I’m already in line for it at the library so should be starting on it soon.

    Like you, 2017 knocked me sideways and left me feeling a bit battered. Here’s hoping for a happier, less stressful 2018 with lots of new bookish discoveries for us both!

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  6. I do like the idea of an end-of-year book box – some of your choices are among my favourites, and a fair few others are on the Wish List – but I’ve promised myself to restrict book buying in 2018 and to make some inroads into the TBRs, especially the old green-spined Viragos, and the Persephones are beginning to mount up as well.

    I hope 2018 will be happier for you than the past year.

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  7. I did a list last week of my top 10 books I read in 2017, which included: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Sandlands by Rosy Thornton and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. I wish you even more happy reading in 2018! 🙂

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  8. Lovely Collection and you have two of my all time favorites – War and Peace and Emma! I must read some more Elizabeth Von Arnim this year and I really really hope to get hold of Dorothy Dunnett! Happy New Year Jane! Wishing you a fabulous and peaceful 2018!

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  9. Thank you for this wonderful list.

    The Farm in the Green Mountains is by my bed waiting.

    Some of my favorites of 2017 were: Wolf Winter by Cecelia Ekback, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, City of Spies by Sorayya Khan, The Last Painting of Sara DeVos by Dominick Smith, Winter People by John Ehle. Prompted by Robert Macfarlane’s challenge to his Twitter followers I started reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising on Dec. 21st.
    Somehow I am going into the New Year as a member of three book groups.
    For January there is Hanya Yanagihara’s This is Life for one, Emma for another, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am.
    Rest assured, I do not read them simultaneously, but rather monogamously.
    Thank you again for sharing!
    Happy, Happy New Year!

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  10. p.s. I myself am not very good at keeping lists, so I failed to remember reading Howard Spring’s These Lovers Fled Away this past year. The author settled in Falmouth in Cornwall I believe. I had never heard of him here in the U.S., but the title was suggested to me because one of the characters is an auricula grower–I have spent the last two years writing a book on primroses (defined by me as all members of the genus Primula and thus including auriculas). The character in question, Uncle Geldersome, is delightful, and in fact I really loved the whole book. Perhaps you have written about him in one of your blogs. If not, I think you would like it.
    My New Year’s resolution, inspired by your blog, is to keep better lists!!!
    best,
    Elizabeth

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    1. It’s a while since I’ve read Howard Spring, but I did read his wife’s memoir more recently. She came to Cornwall on holiday as a child, she brought her husband on honeymoon, and they agreed that they would settle here when their finances made it possible,

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  11. Thoroughly enjoyed your list. I’m still entertaining the possibility of diving into the Dunnetts this year, but I am wondering if it wouldn’t be better saved for a reading year with fewer projects already underway. For instance, I meant to give The Quincunx another try last autumn, but it fell along the wayside with an unplanned diversion into the CanLit prizes of the season, so I am planning to pick that up this month again. And I am still reading along in both Mavis Gallant’s short stories and with Louise Erdrich’s oeuvre as well as the Mazo de la Roche Jalna books. All are very good in their own way and just those books alone would make for a busy reading year, but of course there will be others. Good reading to you in 2018 – may you find many more lovely additions to your box for 2018!

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    1. Thank you. I have a few projects running, but different so I can read to fit my reading mood. So Trollope and Dunnett sit side by side, but Mrs Oliphant’s Carlingford books will have to wait until I’m done with Barsetshire. I picked up the first of the Jalna books to try a while ago, and I know my library has many of the others, and so maybe this will be the year I start reading.

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  12. A fabulously packed box as always, what a lovely thing to read. I did do a top 10, although this was a funny year for me and although I read more than last year, a lot of it was very light reading when I was laid up. Nothing AMAZING but a nice selection through the year. Happy reading for 2018!

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  13. I remember you talking about your box of books at the end of last year, thinking then what a nice idea it was. However, I must confess that I got the impression it was an actual box, and I wondered how on earth you managed to find the storage for all those boxes year on year lol! All is now totally clear, and I love the idea even more. I had vaguely considered writing a post about my ‘top reading picks’ of 2017, but found it too difficult to choose. Your way allows for a much wider interpretation of one’s ‘favourites’ – love it! 🙂

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  14. I almost forgot how I loved reading your year end ‘Box of Books’ posts in the past years, and am so glad to not have missed this (by too many days, at least). I managed to get a copy of Margaret Kennedy’s ‘Together & Apart’ sometime last year, and will be looking forward to it much more now. The Quincunx certainly appeals to me (which reminds me that I really should get back to some Wilkie Collins) and I hope to get around to it someday.
    My standout reads last year were Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, and Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
    Wishing you a much brighter 2018, one that is better in every possible way, for you and yours!

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