80 Books of 2015


Action shot of me, mid-book.

I’ve blogged about reading before (please see here, here, and here) and have really enjoyed getting stuck into a good reading challenge. I was aiming for 50 books last year but got carried away and ended up on 70, and so I aimed for 70 this year and got carried away again and went for 80. Next year – who knows, but I think it’s important to say that I haven’t read any of these books so I could get to an arbitrarily selected target, nor have I picked books I thought would be ‘easy’ so I could do this blog. But, here I am anyway, so here is a list of the books I read this year, and my thoughts on some of them.

As a child, I was a terrible reader. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read – it was that I just didn’t want to. I don’t know why this is, but I always make a point of letting my students know that it was the case, if they ask. The reason for this is that I love it now – and when I tell the more reluctant readers just how incredible I find it to be truly lost in a book, I want them to understand that while I totally empathise with their reticence, I don’t want them to miss out. In fact, if I could go back and slap my 13-19 year old self in the face and tell him nearly anything, it would be to READ! (OK, there would be some other stuff I’d tell him too, but reading would definitely be on the list).

Anyway, with that in mind, I thought I’d have a look back at the 80 books (fiction and non-fiction) that I’ve read this year, and talk a bit about some of them.

  • I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

First book of the year, a present from my wife at the end of 2014, and a 900 page behemoth at that. I don’t, as a rule, like reading things that are longer than 500 pages. My thinking was ‘If you can’t write a good book in 500 pages, you should have tried harder.’ This, on the other hand, totally blew that thinking out of the water. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Complex, twisting, but somehow tight and focused at the same time, I would recommend it to everyone.

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

I enjoyed the film, a lot, so I thought I’d check out the book, which is equally enjoyable, although you do have to make your peace with the idea of spending a few hours in the company of a thoroughly dislikeable character. An interesting insight into what humans will do for a quick thrill.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Loved by all, it seems. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find anything in it that I hadn’t read before. Still, perfectly readable.

  • Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

I really struggled with this one. It’s brilliantly written but hugely upsetting at the same time.



The unassuming hero of my year.

  • Shakespeare
  • Notes from a Small Island
  • Down Under
  • Neither Here Nor There
  • Mother Tongue
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Troublesome Words
  • Notes from a Big Country
  • The Lost Continent
  • At Home: a short history of private life.
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
  • Made in America
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Bill Bryson’s African Adventure
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

This year has been my year of Bryson. I love his style, his tone, his way with words; I have loved every moment of reading every book. If you know anyone who likes non-fiction, get them some of these.

  • Bounce by Matthew Syed

One of the core texts of the Growth Mindset movement, this is a fascinating insight into the mind of a successful person, and while it doesn’t dispel the idea of talent entirely it certainly contexualises it and reminds us how dependent success is on other things.

  • The 39 Steps by John Buchan
  • The Forgotten Holocaust by Scott Mariani
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Brilliant to know that astronauts are actually heroic and wonderful just like I thought when I was a kid. Hadfield’s book was superb.

  • A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
  • On a Sea of Glass by Tad Fitch and J.Kent Layton

I’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic story, and these books certainly helped me indulge my geeky side. Still an intriguing story that echoes through the ages – lots to learn both about it and from it, I think.

  • The Rosie Project
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • The Humans by Matt Haig
  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Having not really loved fiction this year, I must make an exception for this murder mystery which I enjoyed from beginning to end. Perfect length, really well constructed plot, engaging characters that don’t lapse into tired cliché, convincing denouement, all the ingredients came together brilliantly. I loved it.

  • My Take by Gary Barlow
  • The Knife that Killed Me by Anthony McGowan
  • Filth by Irving Welsh

By and large I love Irving Welsh – didn’t like this though. All of the complexity of ‘Trainspotting’ with none of the charm or class.

  • Filthy English – the What, Where, How and Why of Everyday Swearing by Peter Silverton.
  • The Run of His Life – OJ Simpson trial by Jeffrey Toobin

This was a real eye-opener, and a brilliantly constructed look at a case I’d heard a lot about without ever hearing much about it, if that makes sense. Tense, taut and thrilling, the book never feels like it’s moving to a sensationalist tabloid but remains remarkably honest. It’s clear what Toobin thinks about Simpson, but you get the feeling he is casting as impartial an eye over proceedings as he can. Again, a fascinating book.

  • Nightschool 5: EndGame by CJ Daugherty

Ever since first meeting CJ at a school event, I have felt very lucky to have discovered the Nightschool books – and this is a fitting final chapter to a series that has never disappointed. She came to my new school to talk to the students and they were absolutely spellbound throughout and ask me to this day when she will come back, so hopefully we can sort that out soon.

  • Kill your Friends by John Niven.

This doesn’t really count, as it was a re-read, but it’s so funny, I had to mention it here. It wasn’t any less hilarious on second glance, so do give it a look-in.

  • The Surgeon
  • The Apprentice
  • The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen

For all I haven’t enjoyed fiction this year, I’ve really liked the Rizzoli and Isles books. The TV show is great, and the books – while very different – are just as enjoyable.

  • The Long and Whining Road by Simeon Courtie
  • Stress Proof Your Life by Elisabeth Wilson
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

A lovely account of Russell’s year abroad, as she moves with her husband to Denmark so he can take up a position at Lego’s head office. Something important in here for all of us who live our rat-race life at full pace.

  • It’s Not what you Think
  • Memoirs of a Fruitcake
  • Call the Midlife by Chris Evans

As a child of the 90s, Chris Evans was always a bit of a hero of mine via The Big Breakfast, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, and (of course) TFI Friday. For all his faults, and he’s keenly aware of them too, he is a phenomenally talented broadcaster, and this likeability and seemingly effortless ability to engage with an audience comes across brilliantly in his writing too. Brutally honest, but utterly charming, all three books were informative and interesting.

  • Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?
  • Why not Me? By Mindy Kaling
  • Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
  • May I Have Your Attention Please? By James Corden
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

This got a lot of attention this year, understandably, and aroused plenty of controversy. That’s also understandable, but the some of the criticism I saw aimed at Lee was very unfair. I never adopted Atticus Finch as


Future grumpy racist, Atticus Finch.

my teenage hero the way some readers of ‘Mockingbird’ had, so perhaps I wasn’t as hurt by his characterisation in this book, but at the end of the day, a) he’s Lee’s character so she can do what she wants with him, b) he’s fictional so she can do what she wants with him and c) I think his flaws, imperfections and decline into cantankerous old racist actually shifts the focus onto Scout and makes her a heroine for our modern age – she has to deal with the fact that ‘every fair from fair sometime declines’ and the grace with which she handles it gives her a depth and colour that she never had before. So yes, Lee may have taken Atticus with one hand, but with the other she gave us Jean Louise Finch, who may be a more achievable hero for us all.


  • The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game
  • The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas by The Secret Footballer.
  • Bad Vibes: Britpop and my part in its downfall by Luke Haines

I don’t remember The Auteurs as a 90s band, and I don’t know whether Haines is being serious or satirical in his style, but I found him thoroughly dislikeable and the whole thing read as a diatribe about how scandalous it was that his incredible talent was disregarded by a shallow and materialistic world. I looked up the Auteurs music and had a listen; like Haines’ writing, I found it tedious.

  • Head Boy by Mark Wilson
  • The Sunshine Cruise Company by John Niven
  • Make Me by Lee Child
  • The Martyr’s Curse by Scott Mariani
  • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
  • Open by Andre Agassi
  • The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne.

Overall I felt a bit ambivalent towards this, but there was a point as I sat reading it alone in my room where something fell off the chest of drawers and I nearly had a heart attack, so it had obviously ramped up the tension enough to have me on edge!

  • Leading by Alex Ferguson
  • Red by Gary Neville
  • The Martian by Andy Weir

I saw the film twice, and I think it might be my favourite film of the last five years, so my expectations for the book were high, and met easily. A thoroughly brilliant piece of work, I thought. I think it’s rare (it probably isn’t – I’m no fiction expert) to find a book that feels like such an original idea. This didn’t feel like a story that had been done before, even though (of course) it has.

  • Where They Found Her by Kimberley McCreight
  • I never knew that about New York
  • I never knew that about London by Christopher Winn
  • Sampras: Mind of a Champion by Pete Sampras
  • Over The Top and Back by Tom Jones
  • Serious by John McEnroe
  • The Life and Loves of a He-Devil by Graham Norton
  • Outliers
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Tickling the English by Dara O’Briain.
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

So there’s my reading year. Can’t wait for the next one! In no particular order, my 8 favourite books of the year are:

  1. I am Pilgrim
  2. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth 
  3. Snow White Must Die 
  4. Shakespeare 
  5. Mother Tongue 
  6. The Run of His Life – OJ Simpson trial 
  7. It’s Not What You Think 
  8. The Martian 

What have your favourite books been this year? I need recommendations for 2016!


About PS

English teacher in Shanghai.
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One Response to 80 Books of 2015

  1. suecowley says:

    This is a great list, thanks, quite a few on there that I’ve read and enjoyed too. I really enjoyed reading a William McIlvanney crime trilogy this year, I think you’d enjoy his writing a lot.

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