The best books I’ve read in recent years
Reading has been one of my favourite hobbies since I was six years old. Back then, I never had any problems finding interesting, entertaining and educating books: my mum would pick them up for me, everything from classics to nonfiction to good-quality children’s reads. All I had to do was enjoy them (and make notes in my reading diary, which I cherish to this day).
As a grown-up, finding good stuff to read has proven considerably harder. It’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s published, and trying to find a truly brilliant read among the ever-growing piles of new titles sometimes feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.
All too often have I become disappointed in the books I’m reading, and while I do enjoy most of the ones I end up finishing, finding a true gem is very rare. There are notable exceptions, however. In celebration of the International Read a Book Day, here’s a selection of books I’ve read in the last few years that have made me feel as if I was a child again, discovering the joy of literature for the very first time – the sort of books you don’t want to end but you can’t put down either.
In no particular order, here goes!
The Best Books I’ve Read Recently
Donna Tart – The Goldfinch
There are books that can make you cry. Usually, it’s towards the end and the climax of the story. With The Goldfinch, I started crying on the first pages. Tart describes one of the most terrible experiences a child can undergo (no spoilers, I promise!) with such acuity that I could not help but wonder if she had experienced it for herself. If she hadn’t, how could she write about it with such recognisable, poignant desperation? And if she had – and this, to me, was the more important question – how could she still have become the bestselling author she is today?
Even if you’re not personally touched by the themes and events of The Goldfinch, you should read it because of how good it is. The New York Times described it as Dickensian, and I would agree (this is probably another reason I loved it so much – Dickens was one of the first writers mum introduced me to, and Oliver Twist became my favourite book when I read it in first grade).
I can’t explain how The Goldfinch can have a rating of only 3.9 on Goodreads. Don’t trust Goodreads on this, trust me – you won’t be disappointed. (Or if you’re one of those people who didn’t like it – why?? Please explain. No, really. I’d like to try to understand it).
Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels
If you asked me to write down a list of things I did last November, one of the items I’d place near the top would be “read Ferrante”. To be completely honest, there were days I did little else. Here’s one Instagram entry from that time:
“I finally got my hands on The Story of a New Name, the second book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. This meant that from Monday, when I started reading it, until yesterday, when I finished, all my free time was spent in the company of Lenu and Lila, sometimes feeling happy for them, sometimes screaming at them (silently, I hope!) to reconsider their actions, sometimes feeling sad that these extraordinary women are having to spend so much time serving, pleasing, and thinking about the banal men they’re surrounded with. What a waste.”
The feminist undercurrent of the Neapolitan Novels is one of the things I loved about them. The setting – first in Naples, one of my favourite cities, then in other towns across Italy, a country I love – was another. Perhaps the most important factor was how real the protagonists felt. To quote myself some more: “For me, the four novels together form one of the most impressive reads of recent years – I don’t think I’ve been this invested in a(ny) protagonist(s) since The Goldfinch.”
If you haven’t read the Neapolitan Novels yet, I am a bit jealous – you’re in for a real treat. What a masterpiece of a series.
Jonathan Coe – What a Carve Up
Satire’s not normally one of my favourite genre’s, but What a Carve Up is the exception that makes the rule. Set in 1980’s and published in 1994, it’s surprising how well it fits post-referendum Britain. The characters are one more repulsive than the other, the plot seems almost absurd – until you turn on the news. You will laugh, but you might also end up crying.
Recommended to all those who like great literature and/or live in Britain. Also recommended to anyone who needs some motivation for becoming a vegetarian. Ha.
Graeme Macrae Burnet – His Bloody Project
In September 2016, I walked a Marathon. Yup, the full 42km of it. After it was done, and I was home at sunrise having been up for more than 30 hours straight, my boyfriend ran me a bath. I got in and reached for His Bloody Project. I was completely knackered, but I had to know what was going to happen next in the sad and shocking case of Roderick Macrae. (Not surprisingly, I ended up falling asleep in the bath, dropping the book into the water and having to buy the library a new copy.)
No wonder I was eager to get on with the reading: His Bloody Project is so good it made its way onto the Man Booker shortlist. A wonderful, captivating story that is not just about a crime but also about justice – or rather, the lack of it.
Herman Koch – The Dinner
This is another of those books that split opinions on Goodreads – and with this one, I can understand why (though the rating, currently at 3.22, is definitely too low). After reading people’s comments, I’m almost scared of admitting I liked it – some seem to be of the opinion that only a sociopath could enjoy it (that probably isn’t true, given that The Dinner is an international bestseller that has sold millions of copies).
Unlike some of the other entries on this list, The Dinner is easy and quite quick to read. This means that even if you find the premise – two couples trying to decide what to do about a violent crime committed by their sons – distasteful, you could still give it a go. Chances are you will find it delicious (haha).
These are the best books I’ve read in recent years – what are yours? Are you familiar with any of the entries on my list?