Every December looking at various posts and YouTube/booktube videos of people listing their top 5 or top 10 books of the year and also their ‘worst’ reads, I wonder about putting together a list of my own. But I don’t find it a very easy thing to do. I mean I know when I really liked a book, or liked it very well or found it so-so, but to pick a handful is hard–just listing my top rated ones doesn’t seem to work either. This time around, instead of simply thinking about and eventually dropping the idea, I decided to just do a few posts–just wrapping up–talking about the different books I read, ones I liked very much, and ones that didn’t work so well for me.
To start off, this first post is all about the books I revisited this year. From around the time the ‘lockdown’ began here towards the end of March, I found I wasn’t in the mind to pick up any of the books waiting on my TBR–so with the exception of one book that I eventually got tempted to request via NetGalley, I mostly found myself only revisiting previous reads. Over the course of the year, I reread 19 books, the most I’ve done in recent years. My revisits included a range of genres, a classic, children’s books and humorous fiction–and as is my reading in general, there were also a bunch of mysteries.
The mysteries I reread this year were all Agatha Christie books, 9 in total, of which eight I read during lockdown and such, and one later, and included Marple, Poirot and some standalones. Among them were favourites like 4:50 from Paddington (in which Mrs McGillycuddy witnesses a murder through the window of a moving train; but with no evidence or body, the only person who can help her resolve the matter is her friend Jane Marple) and Evil Under the Sun (where the beautiful and attractive actress Arlena Marshal is killed on an island resort, where Hercule Poirot happens to be vacationing). There were also At Bertram’s Hotel (where Miss Marple stays at a hotel she visited as a child which she finds retains its Edwardian charm, but something seems amiss) and Peril at End House (where Poirot must help a beautiful young woman who has had a narrow escape from various accidents, and also from being shot); these were nice enough but not my favourite Marple or Poirot; the Poirot story in fact has a parallel version in Marple which I much prefer. I also read Dead Man’s Folly (where author Ariadne Oliver invited to organise a murder game senses something will go wrong and brings in Poirot); The Mystery of the Blue Train (where a murder takes place aboard the Blue Train, which used to run between Calais and the French Riviera, and jewels go missing); The Man in the Brown Suit (more adventure than mystery, which takes us to Africa) and Sad Cypress (where an heiress is accused of a murder she had every reason to commit, but one person believes in her strongly enough to get Poirot involved). The last three were ones I didn’t actually remember so well having read them probably only once before, so it was great fun reading them–they were almost like new. The last Christie I revisited was much after the others, in October, in fact, and also unlike the others which I randomly picked off my shelf, this was a deliberate pick since it turned 100 this year. This, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first appearance of Hercule Poirot is a classic country house mystery, and on this revisit (this one I have read a few times) too, I realised how good it was for a first book. I enjoyed all of my Agatha Christie revisits which had both mystery and adventure and, best of all, were in a range of settings from traditional country houses to more exciting ones like the Blue Train and the French Riviera, Africa, and even in England, the murder game scenario. [My reviews or posts on these are linked in the titles by the way–for all the books.]
The next set of revisits were 4 out of the 6 books in the Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson. Written between 1920 and 1939, these tell the adventures and battles for social one-upmanship of Mrs Emmeline Lucas ‘Lucia’, domineering and formidable, who rules over Riseholme with her faithful lieutenant Georgie Pilson, and Miss Elizabeth Mapp, also domineering but spiteful who tries to do exactly the same in Tilling (based on real-life Rye), but with less success. While in the initial books, we follow the ladies separately, in Mapp and Lucia, Lucia at first decides to spend a summer in Rye and finally moves there as does Georgie. With this begins the battle between Mapp and Lucia. This year I reread Miss Mapp (book 2) first because a book group I am part of was reading it, and as was my impression reading the first time around, while Miss Mapp’s antics were entertaining, her spitefulness makes her much less likeable than Lucia. Next I read Queen Lucia which I had planned to read since this one too turned 100 this year. This was a fun read where Lucia finds her ‘kingdom’ slipping from her hands when opera star Olga Bracely (a very likeable character) moves to Riseholme. I went on to read two others, Mapp and Lucia and Lucia’s Progress. I actually like the characters from Riseholme better than those from Tilling and also the kinds of things they get up to (holding seances and hosting yoga Gurus among them), but the two ladies’ adventures and antics are largely (though not always) good fun. I had thought I would read the other two as well but haven’t got to them yet–perhaps in 2021.
Also among my rereads this year were Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban; the Harry Potter books started coming out when I was in school but I only read my first one in college when a friend lent me one–Half Blood Prince). I loved it and then went on to read the others. Still somehow the earlier ones remain my favourites and I find myself revisiting these more often than the later ones. The magic of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where we are first introduced to the wizarding world somehow never pales for me, and Askaban I love for the timeturner and buckbeak.
Besides these that could possibly fall in the children’s books category, I also read a very favourite Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle, a book I also came across for the first time only as an adult and which is one of the few of her’s where none of the animals get into trouble. Instead we have a little girl (a human girl, also not usual in her books) who comes across an unusual washerwoman, Mrs Tiggy Winkle, a hedgehog, when tracking her missing clothes. Charming and with gorgeous illustrations as always, this was a delight to revisit. Then I also revisited Artemis Fowl, first in the series featuring the twelve-year-old master criminal in which he decides to kidnap a fairy; alas, my revisit was not much better than my first time reading this, it wasn’t a bad book, fun enough actually but still left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. And I still haven’t solved the code at the bottom, just like the first time around, I started but was too lazy to carry on.
Almost at the end of this long long first part of my wrap up now. The only classic I revisited was also a favourite, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. This was for a group read on Goodreads and possibly my fourth or may be fifth time reading this book which is the tale of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a vicar who has been brought up with her much wealthier cousin. When she returns home, she finds her father has decided to leave the church and the family is to move from the picturesque rural south to the industrial north of England where the environment and pace of life are very different as is people’s outlook. Here Margaret must cope with family difficulties and challenges that life in the north brings; yet she learns that understanding different places and viewpoints, communicating with one another is what can eventually solve a problem.
The last of my revisits this year was The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery which is the story of Valancy Stirling, who is 29, unmarried and with no prospects before her; life with her formidable mother and Cousin Stickles is unbearable, and her relatives are no better, pulling her down or making fun of her. Then some alarming news from the doctor frees her unexpectedly of all the inhibitions she may have had and she begins to live the life of her dreams. I know I find the ending of this a bit too over the top, still it is a very enjoyable read, somewhat on the lines of The Enchanted April, Miss Pettigrew lives for a Day and such.
So even with the pandemic changing my reading pattern for a bit, I actually ended up having a fun time revisiting previous reads. While there were one or two among these that were ‘so-so’, most were wonderful to go back to, even ones I had read many times before–and I had a great deal of fun and comfort reading.
Did the pandemic, lockdown and such change your reading picks in any way? Good or bad? What old favourites did you find yourself turning to this year? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations.
All the cover images are from Goodreads as always.
More segments of this year-wrap-up will be posted over the month.