2018 – A Year’s Reading

I always knew that the bulk of my reading in 2018 would be done in the first eight months of the year, in Spain, largely by audiobook during long Mediterranean walks. In September we moved to Africa for six months, the first three months of which were spent on safari. Early starts and long days of driving weren’t conducive for reading, and plugging myself into an audiobook detracted from wildlife viewing, which requires all the senses. In December we arrived in Uganda, and with much more spare time available my reading rate has picked up again.

As it did last year, Backlisted podcast has had an influence over my reading choices. Most notably, Andy Miller’s recommendation of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. I decided to tackle the twelve volumes in monthly batches of three.  Life seemed a little emptier when I finished the sequence in April.

00 blog 1

Also like last year, I continued to tackle the backlists of Vladimir Nabokov and Graham Greene. I especially wanted to read the three Russian novels that Martin Amis calls ‘core Nabokov’: King, Queen, Knave; Laughter in the Dark; and Despair. All three lived up to expectations. I’ve written about Graham Green in another post.

In March I rushed to read Something Happened by Joseph Heller ahead of the Backlisted podcast devoted to it. It’s a big book, and a bit of a slog for 500 pages (though never less than compelling)….and then ‘something happened’, and I was left shattered for the last 50 pages. Few books have had that kind of impact on me. By contrast, I found The Solid Mandala by Patrick White to be cruel to the point of sadism. He’s a writer I first read two years ago, and couldn’t get enough of. Now I may have had enough.  It’s thirty years since I last read a book by DM Thomas (Ararat), and this year I finally got round to The White Hotel, a literary novel that sold millions. I admired it more than I liked it. (The following month I read Nabokov’s Transparent Things, which has striking parallels with The White Hotel. I much preferred the Nabokov.)

My biggest discovery this year was the Australian writer Gerald Murnane, thanks to a tweet from Kirkdale Bookshop. As I plunged into Murnane’s oeuvre, I happened to be reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Elements of it coincided with two of Murnane’s great obsessions: flat landscapes and horse racing. For the first time in my adult life I put pen to paper and wrote a fan letter, asking Murnane, among other things, if Anna Karenina had influenced him. He wrote back, and was typically forthright.

Murnane quote

Time and again with Murnane’s books, I was left awestruck – particularly by the endings.  The contenders for my book of the year are all by him. His memoir Something for the Pain was the most accessible, and the title piece from A History of Books culminates with two jaw-droppingly brilliant paragraphs. But the novel I’m sure I will keep returning to is Border Districts.


AB – Audiobook

R – Reread



  1. Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn
  2. At Last by Edward St Aubyn
  3. The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
  4. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 1 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  5. Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor
  6. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 2 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  7. Ben, in the World by Doris Lessing
  8. Against Nature (A rebours) by JK Huysmans
  9. Submission by Michel Houellebecq
  10. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 3 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  11. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
  12. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (AB)
  13. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay
  14. The Stone Raft by Jose Saramago (AB)
  15. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (AB)
  16. The White Hotel by DM Thomas
  17. A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel (AB)
  18. The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor
  19. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (AB)


  1. You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) by Andrew Hankinson
  2. Lanzarote by Michel Houellebecq
  3. Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
  4. The Solid Mandala by Patrick White
  5. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 4 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  6. The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis
  7. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (AB)
  8. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 5 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  9. The Public Image by Muriel Spark
  10. The Rub of Time by Martin Amis
  11. Herzog by Saul Bellow (AB)
  12. The Porcupine by Julian Barnes
  13. Berg by Ann Quin
  14. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 6 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  15. Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson
  16. Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  17. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (AB)
  18. Glory by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  19. A Girl in Exile by Ismail Kadare
  20. An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel (AB)


  1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (AB)
  2. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller… by Italo Calvino (R)
  3. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 7 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  4. The Melody by Jim Crace
  5. Burmese Days by George Orwell (AB)
  6. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (AB)
  7. King, Queen, Knave by Vladimir Nabokov
  8. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 8 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  9. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  10. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 9 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  11. The Actual by Saul Bellow
  12. A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan
  13. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
  14. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (AB)
  15. The Dumb House by John Burnside
  16. My Struggle Book Five: Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard (AB)
  17. Something Happened by Joseph Heller
  18. The Day of Creation by JG Ballard (AB)


  1. Despair by Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (AB)
  3. The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch
  4. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 10 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  5. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (AB)
  6. First Novel by Nicholas Royle
  7. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 11 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  8. The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt
  9. The Fun Stuff by James Wood (AB)
  10. A Dance to the Music of Time Book 12 by Anthony Powell (AB)
  11. Borderlines by Michela Wrong
  12. March Violets by Philip Kerr (AB)
  13. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (AB)
  14. Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
  15. The Plains by Gerald Murnane
  16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (AB)
  17. Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
  18. Inland by Gerald Murnane


  1. Something for the Pain by Gerald Murnane
  2. Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth (AB)
  3. A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane
  4. A History of Books by Gerald Murnane
  5. The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
  6. Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  7. The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks
  8. Dear Life by Alice Munro (AB)
  9. The Enchanter by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  10. A Fork in the Road by Andre Brink
  11. The Overstory by Richard Powers (AB)
  12. The Only Story by Julian Barnes
  13. Outline by Rachel Cusk (AB)
  14. The Plague by Albert Camus (AB)
  15. The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton
  16. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (AB)
  17. Tamarisk Row by Gerald Murnane


  1. My Father’s Tears & Other Stories by John Updike (AB)
  2. My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey (AB)
  3. A Few Days in the Country & Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower
  4. he: A Novel by John Connolly
  5. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (AB) R
  6. Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene (AB)
  7. OK, Mr Field by Katherine Kilalea
  8. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
  9. The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (AB)
  10. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (AB)
  11. The Sacred Combe by Simon Barnes
  12. Draft No 4 by John McPhee
  13. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (AB)
  14. A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes (AB)
  15. Monster of God by David Quammen (AB)
  16. We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed
  17. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen (AB)


  1. Ventoux by Jeremy Whittle
  2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (AB)
  3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (AB)
  4. Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway (AB) R
  5. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
  6. The Quiet American by Graham Greene (AB)
  7. The Snows of Kilimanjaro & Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway (AB) R
  8. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (AB) R
  9. The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene (AB)
  10. A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (AB)
  11. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (AB)
  12. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (AB)


  1. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (AB)
  2. The Tiger by John Valiant
  3. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (AB)
  4. The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (AB)
  5. A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess (AB)
  6. Stamboul Train by Graham Greene (AB)
  7. The Human Factor by Graham Greene (AB)
  8. The Third Man & The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene (AB) R
  9. The Tangled Tree by David Quammen (AB)
  10. A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
  11. In Search of a Character: African Journal by Graham Greene
  12. Cuckoo by Nick Davies (AB)
  13. Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene


  1. The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman (AB)
  2. Giraffe by JM Ledgard
  3. A Primate’s Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky (AB)
  4. The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop
  5. Hyena by Mikita Brottman


  1. One Life at a Time by Daniel Baxter
  2. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami


  1. Recce by Koos Stadler
  2. Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) by Jeff Tweedy (AB)
  3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (AB) R
  4. Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (AB) R


  1. The Luzhin Defence by Vladimir Nabokov (AB)
  2. Nabokov in America by Robert Roper
  3. Broadsword Calling Danny Boy by Geoff Dyer
  4. Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz
  5. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (AB)
  6. The Whole Story & other stories by Ali Smith
  7. Milkman by Anna Burns (AB)
  8. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
  9. The River in the Sky by Clive James
  10. West by Carys Davies
  11. Experience by Martin Amis