At the end of December, I usually reflect on my favourite concerts of the year. This year however, as you will know all too well, we spent the entire year in a pandemic. Concert life is still badly impacted, and freelance musicians have been more impacted than most.
For me, the big event of the year was the publication of my book The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces and the associated concert at Wigmore Hall in London on 23 July – a memorable evening.
Thanks to the team at Yale University Press, The Piano has been widely noticed. As well as getting great reviews, it ended the year as:
A ‘book of the year’ in The Spectator
A ‘book of the year’ in classical music in the Financial Times
A ‘book of the year’ in the Presto Music Awards
A ‘Scottish book of the year’ in non-fiction in The Scotsman
A ‘Notable Book of 2021’ as chosen by the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago
I myself have done a lot of reading this year – more than ever before, probably. I know this because in my diary I always keep a note of what I’ve read. This year I seem to have read 52 books (and that’s not counting the reading I do for research purposes) – a reflection, alas, of how much time I have spent not going anywhere.
I have been struck by the high quality of most of the books I’ve read. Some of my favourites:
George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain – how to read Russian short stories
Ann Patchett, The Dutch House – multi-generational saga, gripping like all Patchett’s novels
Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus – wow, can that man construct a sentence!
Andrew O’Hagan, Mayflies – growing up in Scotland and grasping life
Elena Ferrante trans. Ann Goldstein, The Lying Life of Adults – disturbing psychological acuity
William Dalrymple, The Anarchy – stunning history of the East India Company
Sandro Veronesi, trans. Elena Pala, The Hummingbird – intriguing, multi-faceted Italian novel
Elizabeth Strout, Oh, William! – Strout continues to be one of my idols
Gavin Francis, Intensive Care – absorbing pandemic diary of an Edinburgh doctor
Lea Ypi, Free – eye-opening account of growing up in Communist Albania
Meg Mason, Sorrow and Bliss – smart, funny, empathetic novel about relationship troubles
Here’s to writers – and to all my readers! I wish everyone a peaceful Hogmanay.