The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)

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I make a resolution every New Year’s Eve to read more. This year I’ve had a vague ambition in my head to reach the (unlikely) total of 50 books. I’m on book number 26 and we’re definitely over halfway through the year (how did that even happen) so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I bloody love a good book rec post so I thought I’d take a little look back on my faves so far BUT before I get into it, a few shout-outs to things that have helped me read more this year:

Joining my local library. Mine is within walking distance and has a small but brilliantly eclectic sci-fi section (my fave). Plus if a book isn’t in your local, you can get it sent there  via the online catalogue, so I’ve got my hands on pretty much everything on my TBR list so far.

The library’s perfect for those books that I’m interested in but don’t want to buy outright, partly because I’m stingy/broke, but mostly because I’m a dedicated re-reader and I try to only buy books if I’m convinced I’ll come back to them again and again.

Anyway, you should especially join your library if you’re worried you’re too old for YA but really want to try the Divergent series without needing to part with cash or fear judgement from a bookseller (librarians are the best at not-judging, seriously).

Listening to the Banging Book Club back catalogue. I’ve become selectively obsessive about podcasts this year and the Banging Book Club was my first. It’s run by three wonder women – Hannah Witton, Leena Norms, and Lucy Moon – who do chilled but super smart discussions on books about sex and gender. Most of their reads weren’t on my radar before and everything I’ve tried so far that they recommended was spot on.

Giving up on books I’m not enjoying. As someone who was known for being a good reader at school, I’ve always put this weird pressure on myself to finish reading a book, even if I’m not enjoying it. I have a fear of looking stupid, and admitting I can’t get to the end of a book feels like stupidity, especially if the book is a classic or something I should be reading.

But if that’s you too, then I promise you, letting go of that anxiety will do wonders for your reading and for your stress levels. There is no point struggling through something that isn’t your cup of tea when there are thousands and thousands of books out there that you’d absolutely love.

Again, library books are great for getting in this habit. You haven’t paid for it, so if it’s not capturing you, take it back and try something else. Don’t leave it on your bedside table, dread picking it up, and get completely stalled for months.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here are my favourite books of the year so far!

1. This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
How did it take me this long to discover Maggie O’Farrell?? Her writing has this easy, fluid, nostalgic feel to it. This Must Be The Place is about a reclusive former film star, but it’s also about how bloody difficult marriage is and how easy it is to misunderstand the people you love, which are Big Moods for newly-wed me.

2. Trumpet by Jackie Kay
I’ve basically recommended Trumpet to anyone who’s asked this year (and many people who haven’t). It’s set following the death of a famous jazz trumpet player, and follows his widow and his son through the aftermath. It’s a beautiful, delicate novel about grief, privacy, and being completely and utterly in love. I cried a lot.

3. The Machine by James Smythe
Bless you, sci-fi section of my tiny village library, for giving me The Machine. It’s dark, Frankenstein-y, and very tech-y, but with genuine emotional stakes. It’s also got lots to say about PTSD and trauma which hit deeply for me, and it’s set in a near-future where the UK is very hot all the time which feels, y’know, relevant.

4. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
So my big nerd confession is that I liked The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet, but I didn’t love it the way I loved this follow up. It’s so confidently different to the first book – less Firefly, more classic science-fction, still with lots of social justice themes to chew over but also leaning hard into transhumanism, personhood, and AI. Which is very exciting to a playwright who often writes about robots.

5. Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li
(TW: rape)
I saw Winnie M Li speak on a panel at last year’s WOW Exeter and she is brilliant, eloquent, and has amazing presence. Dark Chapter is a very clear reflection of those qualities. It’s a fictionalisation of Li’s own experiences but, with an extraordinary grace and power, also imagines her attacker’s side of the story. Not an easy read but worth it if you can.

6. Mighty Atoms by Amanda Whittington
It’s a play! And it’s the only play I’ve read this year that was so vivid on the page that I almost feel like I saw it in the theatre. Amanda Whittington is just this giant when it comes to characters and the voices are all so clear. Plus it’s an all-female cast and it’s about boxing and physical/emotional strength, so between that and GLOW I’m convinced that everything will be okay if I just put on lycra and get in a ring.

I guess six is a weird number and I should probably aim for five or ten but WHO CARES because those are genuinely my favourites so far. Hope you find something new to try!

What are your current faves? Gimme all the recs. Especially sci-fi, especially woman-led, ESPECIALLY both.

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