Two years in a row I’ve wanted to do an end of the year round up of the books I’ve enjoyed reading most and twice started writing that out only to abandon it when we’re too far into the new year and new books for that to feel relevant. This year I’m going to try and do it on the way through instead. Here’s the first instalment. Fingers crossed.
First up, my favourite so far and will probably still be in the top three by the end of the year:
House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. This is an engaging and at times challenging story of Zamani, a young man trying to make sense of his place in the world and create a history for himself he can feel good about. He rents a room from a husband and wife whose son has gone missing and the main character uses this to try and manipulate his way into the couple’s affections. Read this review for more background or just get it and read it. I found it compelling all the way through and for a story that had so many difficult and traumatic moments the ending was really satisfying in that it continued the same way and didn’t make any attempt to try and cheer us up or soften any of the horror. Which I like because it feels more real especially for a novel that is fully entwined with real world events.
About a year ago I succumbed to curiosity and signed up for an Audible account. I’d got into the habit of listening to podcasts more and more and was tempted by an offer to try the longer form. It’s brilliant. I’m finding this a great way to get my non-fiction hit, I’d rather use my own imagination than other people’s voices for fiction, but often these are narrated by the authors which I like. One from last year I found was fascinating was Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.
Favourite of the Audible list this year is The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn. Not surprising really. Some time after my first trail race with Maverick in October 2017 I came across the Billy Yang podcast via a random twitter share and became interested in the world of ultra running through hearing the stories of the ultra runners. At this stage I had not yet completed a full marathon let alone any further and had almost no interest in running as sporting thing (i.e. the competitive side and keeping track of who’s winning what). Fast forward to now, over years year and two full marathons later, a first ‘mini’ ultra at 54 km (34 miles) booked for this coming July it was just the right time to listen to this story of one much more experienced (and much, much faster) marathon runner start to tackle the longer distances. Finn went straight in at the deep end with the 165 km Oman Desert Marathon and continued from there all the way to the Olympic status of ultra race – the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). While my sights aren’t set quite that high I can see myself one day attempting a 100 miler and, after having listened to this, find myself quite curious about a 24 hour race where the goal is to complete as many laps /miles as possible within the time. Not that I would have any chance of getting anywhere near it but the current women’s world record for this is a mind blowing 163 miles set by Camille Heron in 2018. If you’re interested in running at all or in what it takes to meet and overcome self imposed challenges then you will probably enjoy this well written and self effacing epic adventure into a quite frankly bonkers but fascinating sport.