The Annual List of Bestselling Books turned up in the Guardian today so I did my annual scan of it for books I actually bought or read, and it’s an almost record-breaking four – though that depends on the resurgence of To Kill and Mockingbird, which I’ve owned for thirty years now, and the first Game of Thrones book, which I read from the library over a decade ago.
That leaves just two genuine 2015 books I have bought and read, Owen Jones’ The Establishment, and the last Terry Pratchett.
I was thinking about books before I even got to the bestsellers’ list, as the Guardian also filled three pages of readers’ best books of the year, the only one of which I had read being the aforementioned The Shepherd’s Crown, which the reader was praising to high heavens on every level. I could only think: if you say that sort of thing about this book, what the hell have you got left for a Pratchett book that was actually any good? Let alone the truly great ones.
I’m trying to remember what new books I’ve read this year. I’ve read continually, as I always do, but apart from Jones, the only new books I can remember were Pratchett’s last (which is a dreadful disappointment) and the new Gene Wolfe, A Borrowed Man. Now it’s years since Wolfe last wrote a true classic, and you have to go back to the end of The Book of the Short Sun trilogy for that. The last six standalone novels have been enjoyable in themselves, but none has been better than B-list standard, and A Borrowed Man (to which Wolfe is writing a sequel) isn’t even up to that level.
Wolfe’s pace is now approximately two years per book, and whilst we who find his work so brilliant should be grateful for anything we receive from an author who is now 88, I confess that the prospect of waiting four years for something about which I can feel optimistic is, at both his and my ages, a touch depressing.
Given the overall brilliance of their respective bodies of fiction, I really have nothing to reasonably complain of about the latest of both Pratchett and Wolfe, but to be disappointed by both in the same year is a sad coincidence.
I am becoming a creature of the past, but ends of years are times when you find yourself forced to look forward, anticipating the new. And on the evidence of 2016, the new ain’t cutting it when it comes to books. 2015 was hardly a vintage year, for anything, come to think of it.