The Shelfie: 2013

December 23, 2013 | No Comments

Every year I note the books I’ve read in a journal. I’ve no idea why (beyond the fact that I have an unhealthy relationship with lists…) – but I find if I remember the book, then I remember my life at the time that I read it. Useful, as I don’t keep a diary.  For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I ‘ticked off’ during 2013 – in no particular order and loosely grouped. A few were nostalgic re-visits such as Stoner, The Wasp Factory, The White Album, and some of the poetry. Naturally there are a lot of Irish works but, yikes, what a paltry amount of non-fiction, and I seem to have lost sight of my resolution to fill in some embarrassing gaps pre-twenthieth century. I used to tear through a lot more pages, but since our children were born I set myself the more modest and, until now, barely manageable target of one book per week. I always felt this was achievable if I thought thin and read a lot of poetry – the current fad for ‘big’ books almost caused me to come a cropper – but for the first time in almost five years… kapow!  Yes, folks, while the rest of my writing life sprawls in disarray I can kid myself that I least I achieved something this year….Once these books are integrated into my ‘library’ I will be left with an empty shelf and a feeling of delicious anticipation, into which will pour next year’s delights.

It’s hard to believe so much enjoyment is legal and I feel very grateful to all these writers for providing ballast for my mind and heart and soul during 2013, regardless of the trials and tribulations in the wider world. I’ve marked those I particularly recommend with an asterisk – and you can see it was a bumper year. If I had to choose just one new release, it would be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers; not because it was perfect, but because it was a ‘big’ book in the best sense: fresh, surprising, ambitious, innovative of form and respectful of craft right down to the sentence level.


  • The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
  • In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
  • Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnson
  • Austerlitz by WG Sebold *
  • May We Be Forgiven by AM Holmes
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey *
  • The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson
  • Pure by Andrew Miller
  • Point Omega by Don DeLillo
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders
  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor *
  • HHhH by Laurent Binet
  • Hawthorne and Child by Keith Ridgeway
  • The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud *
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore *
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (R)
  • City of Bohane by Kevin Barry *
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth*
  • Last Friends by Jane Gardem
  • Stoner by John Williams *
  • The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
  • Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
  • Foster by Claire Keegan*
  • The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy*
  • Homer and Langley by EL Doctorow
  • All That Is by James Salter
  • Almost English by Charlotte Mandelson
  • The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner *
  • Someone by Alice McDermott *
  • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh *
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg*
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford*


  • Sun Under Wood by John Ashberry
  • The Darkness and the Light by Anthony Hecht
  • Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes *
  • North Sea by Mark Jarman
  • Snow White Horses by Ted Ochester
  • Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds *
  • Open Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney *
  • Hill of Doors by Robin Robertson *
  • The Wreaking Light by Robin Robertson *
  • White Egrets by Derek Walcott
  • The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 by Adrienne Rich
  • Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being by Paul Durcan


  • A Radiant Life: Selected Journalism by Nuala O’Faolain
  • The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick
  • Levels of Life by Julian Barnes *
  • The Crocodile by the Door by Selina Guinness
  • On Writing by AL Kennedy
  • Vanished Years by Rupert Everett *
  • To Show and To Tell by Phillip Lopate *
  • The White Album by Joan Didion *
  • A Card from Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp
  • What Happens Next? Matters of Life and Death by Douglas Bauer *




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