My Best Books of 2017

I always love sitting down at the end of the year and compiling my favourite reads of the past 12 months. Often I haven’t really noticed whether it’s been a good or bad year (reading-wise) until I do this – and I’d say 2017 has been steadily very good. Only one of the books I read is likely to find its way onto my all-time faves, but there were dozens that I’d have been very happy to see on an end of year list. And it’s been a very good year for mid-century books!

 

My usual rules for myself apply – only one book by each author can feature, and no re-reads. Each title links back to my review. Here they are, from #10 to #1…

 

Rachel and I read this for ‘Tea or Books?‘ back in February, comparing it another novel about the Thompson/Bywaters murder case (E.M. Delafield’s Messalina of the Suburbs). It’s probably the podcast ep I’m proudest of, as I think this comparison is fascinating – and FTJ’s exquisite novel won that podcast decision and tenth place on my list.

 

When I read Howards End is on the Landing, there was never any doubt that it would be my favourite book that year. I’ve eagerly awaited the sort-of-sequel ever since, and I did absolutely love it. The only reasons it isn’t higher are that I wanted more about books, and perhaps slightly fewer bizarre pronouncements from Hill. Still, nobody else could have written quite this book.

 

I’ve read any number of Taylor novels, and read this one for a conference on Undervalued British Women Writers 1930-1960. It’s more dramatic and dark than many of Taylor’s novels, but absorbingly brilliantly brilliant.

 

Look, I’m never going to get over how much I love the title of this book – which looks at the history of the ‘Shakespeare authorship question’ over the years. Shapiro saves his unanswerable reasons for being pro-Shakespeare until the final chapter; before this he is wise, amusing, and thorough.

 

This quirky, brilliant novel is a masterpiece of unusual structuring, and entirely beguiling. It was also given to me by a friend who died this year, which makes it (and her recommendation) all the more special.

 

I’ve yet to write a review of this one, but I’ve linked to the podcast episode where we compared it to Eden’s other novel, The Semi-Attached Couple. This is a very funny, very arch novel in the mould of Austen, elevating itself past imitation into something rather wonderful.

 

Also published as A Stranger With a Bag, I only reviewed this collection of short stories a week or so ago – I’m glad I waited to make my Best Books list, because these observant, calm, insightful stories are a thought-provoking delight.

 

I reviewed this over at Shiny New Books, and it’s a hilarious account of a year in the life of a Scottish bookseller. Bythell is quite cynical and snarky, but if your sense of humour overlaps with his then you’ll laugh and laugh – as well as getting a glimpse into the Promised Land.

 

This was a slow burn, and had to be read gradually, but it was one of the most rewarding reads I’ve had in a while. Timothy Casson is a writer who moves to a small village in wartime and wants boating rights on the river – of such small things are masterpieces made. Rachel and I will be discussing this one in the new year…

 

It truly has been the Year of Beverley. I’ve read quite a lot of books by him this year, but I had to pick the one which kicked off my Beverley love affair – I read Merry Hall for the 1951 Club, and never looked back. This (presumably heightened) account of buying a house and doing up the garden is hilarious, charming, and (praise be!) the beginning of a trilogy. Don’t wait as long as I did to read Beverley – if you haven’t yet, make 2018 the year you read him!

19 thoughts on “My Best Books of 2017

  • December 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm
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    Predictably, I’ve not read any of your choices, but do own the Bythell, Hill and have more Elizabeth Taylors on the shelves. I read my first Beverley Nichols this year too (Crazy Pavements) and enjoyed it, but I can’t say I’ll make reading more of his work a priority. I do love reading about all the ‘forgotten authors’ and old favourites you champion though. Happy New Year!

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  • December 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm
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    Simon, please stop! I have already broken my New Year’s Resolution – not to buy any more books until I have read the newly bought pile of your recommendations- by making a list of further ‘ want to reads’ .
    I didn’t enjoy Jacob’s Room…..nearly as much as Howards End…..however. But, having read My Name is Lucy Barton,I followed your and Rachel’s recommendation of Anything is Possible and loved it.i also read and liked Olive Kitteridge.
    I normally read more modern novels, particularly American literature so it is a pleasant change for me to be directed into the literature of my youth- Pamela Frankau, Beverley Nichols…..Goodness!!
    I hope you have another enjoyable Reading Year in 2018!
    Delyn Williams

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  • December 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm
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    I love this so much! We have one best of in common. Also I have an STW on my list! and I have Swans on the Autumn River (under its alternative title) tbr. I also have Diary of a Bookseller tbr – I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet. So delighted to see A Pin to see the Peepshow and A Wreath of Roses on your list both wonderful novels.
    I am determined to read Beverley Nichols this year, having acquired two dusty old tomes several months ago.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 1:58 pm
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    I have several of these on my shelves waiting to be read, several are ones I would like to buy, and I have already read the Elizabeth Taylor. I bought The Diary of a Bookseller on my vacation in London because your review of it was so enthusiastic. I’m planning on reading it soon but we all know how reading plans go….

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  • December 31, 2017 at 2:43 pm
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    What lovely list. We share two books this year. Taylor and Bythell. I enjoyed them both so much as well. And I just finished Susan Hill’s book too and liked it a great deal. Sadly, it didn’t get on the list because of the timing.
    I think I would have loved that conference about undervalued writers. I’m so glad that I have many of the authors on your list on my piles. Now I’m already looking forward to next year’s reading.
    Happy 2018, Simon.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 4:34 pm
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    I haven’t read any of these, but am delighted to see Jacob’s Room is Full of Books on your list. Howards End is on the Landing has a follow-up at last! The Diary of a Bookseller sounds wonderful, and I need to investigate Beverley Nichols. Happy New Year, Simon!

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  • December 31, 2017 at 4:57 pm
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    Best time of the year for readers! So glad The Boat, and A Wreath of Roses made your list, Simon, as they’re two standouts from my reading past. Beverley Nichols is a new name to me and Merry Hall sounds irresistible so it’s going straight onto my wishlist. Happy New Year, Simon!

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  • December 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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    Thanks to your podcast and blog (and Slightly Foxed Quarterly, to which you introduced me), I spent a crazy amount of money on books this year. I bought, read, and enjoyed three of the books on your list (Frankau, Bythell, and Nichols) and have two more of them (Shapiro and Eden) in my January to-read stack.. Actually, I bought Merry Hall twice. It was such a pleasurable read that I gave it to someone as a thank-you gift, then spent the next six months looking in every bookstore I came across (I was traveling around the US) for another copy. I finally broke down and ordered it and four other Beverley Nichols books from Abebooks. For 2018, my goal is to read at least half of the books I bought this year – which means a year of Beverley Nichols, The Cazalets, and memoirs.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 5:13 pm
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    Your list is always my favourite end of year one! And I’ve actually read a few of these – Merry Hall and, just this week, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books (in which Hill was just a little too obnoxious in some of her rants to earn it a place on my Best of list). Really intrigued by Swans on an Autumn River, The Semi-Detached House and The Boat so hopefully will track them down myself in 2018.

    Happy New Year and I hope 2018 holds only good things – and good books- for you.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 5:42 pm
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    I have a copy of A Pin to See The Peepshow (great title isn’t it). Have a great New Year

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  • December 31, 2017 at 5:47 pm
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    I think this is the only top books list I’ve ever read where I haven’t read any of the books, any but one, that is. The book I have read is Merry Hall, which I read because of your review, and it will be on my top ten list this year, too (coming out in January on the anniversary of my blog). Since I haven’t read any of the other books on your list, it provides a source for future good reading on my part. Thanks, Simon!

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  • December 31, 2017 at 6:50 pm
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    Lovely list Simon, and yay for Beverley! He really is such a treasure – I hope you read more of him in 2018! And “Pin” is one of my favourite Viragos ever. If you get round to reading Beverley’s autobiography “Twenty-Five”, one of the chapters is about the Thompson/Bywaters case and it makes unexpectedly serious reading from BN. Although I actually think he’s a little deeper than he would have you believe…

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  • January 1, 2018 at 2:44 am
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    I love your list. So many wonderful sounding books. I pulled my own copy of the Hartley out to peruse and have ordered Merry Hall! Happy New Year Simon!

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  • January 1, 2018 at 2:45 am
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    I love your list. So many wonderful sounding books. I pulled my own copy of the Hartley out to peruse and have ordered Merry Hall! Happy New Year Simon!

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  • January 1, 2018 at 4:42 am
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    Hopefully I can read some Elizabeth Taylor in 2018; everyone I respect adores her. What an interesting list you have, all of them new to me. This blogging world is so huge, and so filled with our personalities. It’s really exciting. Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.

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  • January 1, 2018 at 3:57 pm
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    Merry Hall is a great place to start with Beverley Nichols. I read this many years ago, and I cannot understand why he has not been republished.

    I asked for Diary of a Bookseller for Christmas following your review, and have The Semi-Detached House on my tbr pile. I think the pile is going to get a bit bigger after reading the above listings!

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  • January 3, 2018 at 6:59 pm
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    Good list – I have read three of them, and I think my list was a similar vintage to yours in many ways. Happy 2018 reading. My 2017 was solid but not amazing – more books read overall but a LOT of light reading in my difficult medical month of May. But I have some superb books waving at me from the TBR!

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