I have been almost entirely unsuccessful at meeting my bookish goals for this year. In fact the only one I have actually met is one that I didn’t even list at the beginning of the year, though I did add it in my first monthly wrap up for 2015. Because I read hardly any ‘old’ crime fiction I set myself a goal of participating in at least 6 of the monthly reading challenges hosted at Past Offences in which someone chooses a year and participants read a crime novel (or watch a crime film) published or released in that year. I managed to read and review books for 9 of this year’s 12 months (and I set out with good intentions to do December’s but was unaware MILDRED PIERCE is not a crime novel (a fact that makes more sense now that I’ve watched the Joan Crawford movie adaptation)). When reflecting on my year’s reading I was struck by the fact that this challenge has provided me with both my least and most favourite books of the year.
Absolutely the worst book I read all year was my selection for 1976: Kyril Bonfiglioli’s SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED. It is an appalling piece of trash exhibiting bigotry, misogyny and other unpleasantness with failed pretensions to satire. As always though the responses to my rant proved illuminating, especially those in which women a little older than me shared their experiences of the 1970’s. Interestingly, no one spoke in the book’s defence (that’s quite a rarity).
John Buchan’s THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS (1915) was also a bit of a dud from my perspective, feeling dated and blokey and frankly dull but I enjoyed the comments my post evoked from ardent fans of Buchan in general and this book in particular.. I’m determined to give another of his books a go based on those erudite devotees. The final book that set me off on a rant was Ruth Rendell’s A NEW LEASE ON DEATH (1967) which tackled the (to me) absurd notion that someone – a Christian Minister no less – would want to prevent their son from marrying an otherwise delightful girl because her father is a murderer. Only one character in the entire novel thought this fact irrelevant (and it wasn’t the girl herself) and I found myself basically angry for the entire reading experience. Though perhaps that marks it as a success?
On the reverse side of the coin I found two books I am counting among favourite reads of any age for the year and the fact that both of them are Australian makes me ridiculously happy. Jon Cleary’s DRAGONS AT THE PARTY (1987) is a funny, smart dig at the Australian political scene of the day as well as offering a ripper yarn and I am still recommending it to people several months later. Patricia Carlon’s THE WHISPERING WALL (1969) is a genuinely scary tale of domestic suspense that all the Gone Girl imitators today could learn a lot from.
I enjoy modern crime fiction too much to ever make reading the older stuff more than an occasional undertaking. but one older novel just about every month seems both achievable and enjoyable. It stretches me a little outside my comfort zone but not so much that it becomes a chore so assuming Rich keeps hosting this challenge in 2016 I’ll definitely be making my participation a component of next year’s book-related goals.