Bedtime stories: I am a huge fan and the way I like them is in my ears, courtesy of technology.

In contrast with my declining use of technology elsewhere this past year, I’ve been embracing the art of the audiobook in a big way. It’s not new to me, but through this year of many, many sleepless nights and a reduction in social interaction, I’ve found myself ploughing through more than usual – what must be hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of words.

The audiobook is an art form in its own right. It’s so easy to disappoint – a beat too fast or slow, a weird inflection or cadence by the narrator and all is lost! Over the years I’ve honed my preferences to perfection and just won’t tolerate something that isn’t top notch. It means I reject a lot, even if the content is decent – after all, if it’s a book I really want to read, I’ll source a traditional hard copy.

Rounding up my favourite listens of the year, I was interested to see that the list of my favourite non-fiction titles was double that of the fiction, but don’t panic – there are no self-help titles in there! 

I’ve gone on to buy a few of these in hard copy format after enjoying the audio version so much – cos you know, who doesn’t love the feel, weight, smell and general loveliness that a book is, not to mention the functional advantages.

For those of you looking for a good read, then the following list will work for both visual and audio consumption. Just to be sure to make yourself comfortable first. Here, let me tuck you in…..

p.s. The list is in chronological order, rather than order of favourites.

Ancient Wonderings : Sometimes a book takes you to interesting personal terrain, simply by accompanying the author on their journey. I began this book around Winter Solstice 2017 and it set the tone for my whole year, corresponding with a personal and creative inquiry into the land of my ancestors, which is the land of my present. It’s been a rich, revealing and deep coming home to myself, with fresh discoveries and a few very welcome surprises. 

“Travelling the length and breadth of Britain, James Canton pursues his obsession with the physical traces of the ancient world: stone circles, flint arrowheads, sacred stones, gold, and a lost Roman road. He ponders the features of the natural world that occupied ancient minds: the night sky, shooting stars, the rising and setting sun. Wandering to the farthest reaches of the islands, he finds an undeciphered standing stone north of Aberdeen and follows the first footsteps on the edge of a long-lost Ice Age land in the North Sea.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

Landmarks : This topic was of great relevance to my aforementioned inquiry, but I’ve also included this title because MacFarlane’s writing is simply gorgeous and, as a Scot, I’m painfully aware of and bear witness to the loss of so much vocabulary tied into the landscape. This book describes some of the issues but also luxuriates in language, with a highlight being a recording of Finlay MacLeod reading words and definitions from his Peat Glossary for the Isle of Lewis.

“Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes are grained into our words. Landmarks is about the power of language to shape our sense of place. It is a field guide to the literature of nature and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to describe land, nature, and weather.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

Just Kids : Who doesn’t love Patti Smith? A distinct departure from the ancestral landscape of the British Isles, this memoir of Smith’s early life in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe is evidence of just how amazing Patti Smith is. Utterly inspirational, Smith is an uncompromising artist, both humble and outrageous, ambitious and ordinary and this memoir is made all the better by her distinctive narration.

Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. Beautifully written, this is a profound portrait of two young artists, often hungry, sated only by art and experience. And an unforgettable portrait of New York, her rich and poor, hustlers and hellions, those who made it and those whose memory lingers near..” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

Die Wise : In my mind, this is simply essential reading for every adult. Jenkinson is a master story-teller. Draw close to the hearth and allow his gut-wrenching, heart-breaking wisdom to bring you home to the truth of love, grief, death and living in these times. Don’t wait until a terminal diagnosis arrives to absorb these teachings. I am immeasurably impacted, forever altered, eternally grateful for this gift.

“Dying well, Jenkinson writes, is a right and responsibility of everyone. It is not a lifestyle option. It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation all people owe their ancestors and their heirs. Die Wise dreams such a dream and plots such an uprising. How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: This work makes our capacity for a village-mindedness – or breaks it.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

Natives : Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire : Akala’s book is here rather than Reni Edo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, because it spoke to me of the fuller picture. Akala describes his own upbringing as a racialised black youth in England’s capital as the background for a discourse on the current socio-political environment. 

“Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives will speak directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

The Order of Time : When I stopped grappling for a complete understanding of the physics and allowed myself to relax in to the art and poetry of Carlo Rovelli’s explanation of time, it both blew my mind and made me cry. I bought the hard copy to help me understand more of it, and hardly a page is without highlighted passages.

“With his extraordinary charm and sense of wonder, bringing together science, philosophy and art, Carlo Rovelli unravels this mystery, inviting us to imagine a world where time is in us and we are not in time.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

The Wood for the Trees  and The Hidden Life of Trees : I’m a tree hugger, and proud of it,  and unable to choose between these two. If you love trees, then either will be a treat!

“From one of our greatest science writers, this biography of a beech-and-bluebell wood through diverse moods and changing seasons combines stunning natural history with the ancient history of the countryside to tell the full story of the British landscape.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

“In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders, of which we are blissfully unaware.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

Come of Age : It’s your duty to listen to this book! No, really – for those of us in the midst of our middle years, and for those of us beyond them the time for this marvellous, hard-hitting and at times, gut-wrenching tale is NOW. The eloquence of Jenkinson aids this considerably and I could sit at his feet learning for a long time to come.

“Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting us – imploring us – to elderhood in this time of trouble. That time is now. We’re an hour before dawn, and first light will show the carnage, or the courage, we bequeath to the generations to come.” *extract from (available at other book shops) 

I find it extremely difficult to recommend fiction to others. Here’s a wee selection of some of the titles I enjoyed this past year. They each have in common an aspect of the unusual – I’m not a big fan of crime thrillers!

I’m hoping this post might be useful to others, but nonetheless in the composing of it, I’m reminded once again how useful it is for us as individuals to reflect on what information we’re digesting as we move along in our existence. 

p.s. A quick shout out to some hard copy books I’ve loved this year: What It Is by Lynda Barry, Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey and A New History of the Picts by Stuart McHardy.