My new blog, ‘Child’s Play’, on the process of setting up a new communications team with a heavy impetus of storytelling in a public sector organisation has been published by comms2point0. You can read it here.

The ‘Andy’ Awards 2020

Posted: December 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

For many of us 2020 has been a year to forget. A year to consign to the dustbin. A bag of shite. Wringing any positives at all from it is very hard. But I suppose having the time to read more books (because of lockdowns and curfews and, quite simply, having nothing to do) has been one of them.

The good, the bad, and the bubbly

I’ve read an epic 77 books this year (which is my personal best since my records began; up from 57 in 2019, and from 61 in 2018… in 2017 I read a whopping 75 novels but that still don’t compete with – vidiprinter alert – SEVENTY-SEVEN). In that number have been the good, the bad, and the bubbly (which is the title of a book I didn’t read this year: an old biography of Georgie Best). I’ve read some absolutely fantastic stuff which I can highly recommend, and some stuff which was maybe less so, so you don’t have to. (Don’t, for example, chance your arm with Bill Clinton’s masturbatory novel in which he fantasises about president as superhero – see pic below.) Hence this chart. Pay attention to it if you like. But feel free to ignore it too. It’s just one man’s opinion after all (NB. Not George Best’s.)

I do this every year: I compulsively log everything I read after I’ve read it, marking it out of 20. It’s a pretty weird thing to do. But I’ve always done similar. On family holidays back in the day I used to compile ‘ice cream charts’ based on who had what every day. Cornetto Magnifico always used to come out on top because who wouldn’t want the biggest damned ice cream in the shop rather than a bog-standard size ‘other’ Cornetto?

Anyway, check out my list from last year, and from 2018, when the past really was a different place where they did things differently…

A weird book soup of a year

Anyhow this year I’ve read books by a wide range of authors – from a novel by the former president of the United states to a book by the son of the inventor of the table football game Subbuteo. I’ve read books on the psychology of traffic jams. I’ve read books on the squeam-inducing secret lives of doctors. And about some very weird American subcultures (yeah, at the back, that one was by Louis Theroux).

I’ve read a wider variety of types of books this year, too. I’ve read much more short story collections this year, for example, and those collections have charted higher this year than in previous years. It’s helped that two of my favourite authors – Paul Tremblay and Stephen King, both multiple ‘Andy’ award nominees (and winners) – both released collections in 2020. The Stephen King collection If it Bleeds is worthy of further comment, as it contains what it potentially the best short story I’ve read in many years: ‘Rat’. ‘Rat’ is the story of the painful nature of the creative process. I feel it, brother I feel it. I’ve read quite a bit more non-fiction. And I’ve even read a screenplay (again: King).

The numbers

The numbers this year have been read ’em and weep massive. SEVENTY-SEVEN. You could probably cross-reference my most prolific reading months against those data visualisations we’ve all come to know (and love and, yes, weep about) around lockdowns and Coronavirus numbers.

Though it was an all-round shitty year in most respects, it was redeemed – slightly – by the fact that a lot of my favourite authors put out new releases in 2020 (David Mitchell, Jo Nesbo, and Stephen King released books; Paul Tremblay put out TWO; I also read new stuff by Phillip Pullman and Margaret Atwood which although not officially released in 2020, were as near as damnit – certainly I didn’t have any time to read them last year)

But it wasn’t all about old school favourites, I also discovered new writers I really liked: Grady Hendrix, Camilla Bruce, Kate Weinberg, Shaun Hamill, Balli Kaur Jaswal, to name but a few.

It’s also worth noting books in my chart by (loose) connections of mine: Anna Stephens and Karis Dowsell.

The random nature of my reading list explained…

The reason for the very omnivorous nature of my reading list is, again, the Book Box at the end of our road (a little library enabling us to swap books with our neighbours). During lockdown we’ve called in at this many times, just for something to do, and we’ve also discovered three more in close proximity, so we’re getting even more random. It’s also helped that this year I’ve been a member of the Shelterbox Book Club* which each month sends a new book – one you’d probably never have encountered before – for you to explore.

One final point of note

Transcription by Kate Atkinson is worthy of a mention. Though it wasn’t my favourite book of the year (or even in the top twenty) it was one of the most resonant.

The novel captures the longstanding effects of war on the home front, on citizens who are still trying to keep up with everyday life (the terror, the boredom, the fear, the monotony, the sense that everything is moving at a different pace and the sense that nothing will ever be the same again, the lies and the subterfuge, the ‘grassing’ on ones’ neighbours, the rationing, and finally the spirit of community). I read the novel during lockdown and a lot of this reflected that weird and worrying time. That time of being on the cusp… and yet at the same time hanging about and not really doing much of a muchness…

Anyway, the above has all been so much filler… I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. My ‘actual’ year, not so much… . Here in all its glory is my top twenty for 2020. Drum roll please…

The ‘Andy’ chart 2020

  1. The Strangler by William Landay
  2. Knife by Jo Nesbo
  3. If it Bleeds by Stephen King
  4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  5. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
  6. Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
  7. The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson
  8. Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
  9. Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
  10. The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo
  11. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  12. The Truants by Kate Weinberg
  13. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  14. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
  15. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
  16. You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
  17. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
  18. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
  19. The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century by David Goldblatt
  20. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Honourable mentions to the other books I read this year:

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson; Mystery by Peter Straub; The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman; Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell; Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver; Dead Like You by Peter James; The Rooster Bar by John Grisham; The Testaments by Margaret Atwood; A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill; Storm of the Century by Stephen King; Transcription by Kate Atkinson; The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen; Godblind by Anna Stephens; Inside Story by Martin Amis; Traffic: Why we Drive the Way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt; Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix; The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux; Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin; The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce; Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty; The Cockroach by Ian McEwan; Butter by Erin Lange; The Reckoning by John Grisham; The Psalm Killer by Chris Pet;it; The Other Girl by C.D. Major; The Twisted Playground by Bryan Forbes; No Nonsense: The Autobiography by Joey Barton; Growing up with Subbuteo: My Dad Invented the World’s Greatest Football Game by Mark Adolph; Legacy of Lies by Robert Bailey; Inconceivable by Ben Elton; Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman; The Missing Sister by Elle Marr; The Flowers of Manchester: Remembering the Busby Babes by Ivan Ponting; The Lucifer Club by Mark Gatiss; The Black Phone by Joe Hill; Trust No One by Debra Webb; Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie; Good Friday by Lynda La Plante; Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon; Lockdown by Peter May; Man in the Middle by Karis Dowsell; Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury; Ten Words by Jeremy Waite; Last Rites by Neil White; The Bone Jar by S.W. Kane; The Silence by Daisy Pearce; The Names of the Dead by Kevin Wignall; Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne M.D.; Potty, Fartwell & Knob: Extraordinary but True Names of British People by Russell Ash; The Stone Man by Luke Smitherd; In the Dark by Richard Laymon; The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

*The Shelterbox Book Club – Look it up online and give it a try… You can discover themes, cultures and stories inspired by people and places in the real world – people who have been helped by ShelterBox in an emergency. Join a unique community of over 2,000 book lovers today and help disaster-hit families with every book you read.

Some thoughts on the chart…

This year’s winner, The Strangler, came highly recommended by Stephen King, so I knew I’d love it, but not as much as I actually did. It was an incredibly filmic book: one part The Departed, one part Goodfellas, one part Good Will Hunting (all those Bahston accents). It’s set in 1963, against a backdrop of the Kennedy assassination and – yes – the reign of terror of the Boston Strangler. But it focuses firmly on one family – and more particularly on the three sons of this family – of cops and robbers. Great stuff. Incidentally, last year’s winner, Dennis Lehane is a very similar writer to Landay…

Also in the top three are Jo Nesbo (I know, more crime) and Stephen King: two of the biggest-hitters in fiction right now. Nesbo rocked up in fourth place in last year’s chart with a stand-alone thriller (Macbeth) and came near as dammit to top spot this year with a new offering from his excellent Harry Hole series. King, who’s one of my all-time favourite writers hasn’t charted so highly in my recent charts, but mostly that’s on account of the fact that I think his older work is much better than his recent stuff, some of which has been quite… flabby. Not his short stories though, and his collection If it Bleeds is his best work for quite a while.

Neal Stephenson’s Reamde weighs in in fourth place in the chart. And it damn near breaks the scales. It’s the reason that – despite local lockdowns meaning I should have fair racked up the books-read – I barely read three that month. But it is fantastic. Tolkien-esque in scale but not in style: this is the new fantasy, straddling the real world and an in-game fantasy world, at times the line between both is blurred.

Also worthy of note is Paul Tremblay, who has not one but two entries in the top ten this year (a novel and a short story collection). Tremblay has been the one constant in my Andy charts over the years (just like baseball is the one constant in the movie Field of Dreams). In 2017 he boasted two from my top three and in 2018 he was my number one. In 2019 he only missed out because I didn’t read anything of his. If you haven’t trembled at a Tremblay yet – what are you waiting for, huh?

All in all, though, a fantastic year for reading. Which is a good job because it’s been pretty damned shitty for everything else.

The excellent Comms Unplugged has today published my new blog about #Movember. Read it, and weep. And, please, consider donating to my appeal.

Props to my daughter, Peggy, too. This is her first published picture credit.

I’ve had a new comms-y blog post published on the comms2point0 site today. You can read it here. It also features in their new emag, which you can sign up for on the website.

comms2point0

Small man review

Interested? You can buy the book here.

Small Man Cover

Perfect world review

Interested? You can buy the book here.

perworld

 

My prolific couple weeks’ blogging has continued today with my blog on personal and professional values – which first featured on the comms2point0 site – now taken up by the NHS Employers bulletin. You can read the blog here.

NHS Employers

NHS Employers2

My ‘gratitude initiative’ blog has gone viral. As well as trending on both Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s also been picked up by the ‘Alive with Ideas: Creativity in your Corner’ site (here). You can read the post here.

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The blog post I published on LinkedIn regarding the gratitude initiative we set up at my workplace has now been picked up and published by the fantastic ‘All Things Internal Comms’ site. You can read it here.

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You can read it here.

comms2point0