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In the second instalment of a two-part series, we’ve asked people around the Penguin office to take a look back at the year and pick out a book that has meant something to them, and to tell us why.

Over to the Penguins…

Simon Prosser, Publisher Hamish Hamilton:

“A book I have enjoyed reading in 2013 is The Collected Dorothy Parker (Penguin Modern Classics). Because who wouldn’t be hooked by a writer who begins a story like this: ‘The young man with the scenic cravat glanced nervously down the sofa at the girl in the fringed dress.’ Pure, acid pleasure.”

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Kimberley Atkins, Michael Joseph Marketing:

“A book I have enjoyed reading in 2013 is The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. I absolutely adore dystopian YA novels, (hello The Hunger Games!) so found an alien invasion told from a teenage perspective incredibly compelling and scarily realistic, particularly with each of the distinct waves of attacks. The characters were all fascinating and I thought that Yancey linked their individual stories together incredibly skilfully. Plus anything with a truly impossible romance at the core is the sort of book I want to read. Can’t wait for the sequel!”

Joanna Prior, Managing Director, Penguin General:

“One of the best parts of my job is reading manuscripts hot off our authors’ finger tips, which means that so much of what I’ve read and loved this year isn’t published yet.  So look out everyone for Darragh McKeon’s astonishing and heart-breaking first novel, All That is Solid Melts into Air, set at the time of the Chernobyl catastrophe.  Although it tells the story of a particular time and place and set of dreadful events, it is really about survival, heroism and acts of kindness.  For all round pleasure, as both a reader and a publisher, I must recommend Love, Nina as my favourite book of year.  Nina Stibbe found her way to us through a complex web of contacts, friendships and family links.  The memoir of her life as a North London nanny in the 1970s told through her letters to a sister back at home in Leicester is simply the funniest book I’ve read all year.  We are lucky enough to have found a wonderful new comic voice and this won’t be the last anyone hears from Nina Stibbe.”

Read Nina Stibbe‘s ‘Soundtrack to the book’ blog for us here

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Lija Kresowaty, Penguin General Publicity:

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz was the hot book we passed around the office this year (by the fourth person it had wine stains on most pages). It really spoke to my inner amateur psychologist (and the quality of my unsolicited advice went way up after reading it).”

Lucy Beresford-Knox, Penguin Adult Rights:

“One of my top books of 2013 was Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle – a wonderful tale of Tudor court intrigue, forbidden beliefs and fragile alliances.  I loved it not only for being a fantastically gripping story set against the rich backdrop of the court of Henry VIII, but also for the wonderful character at its centre – the strong and passionate Katherine Parr, whose story had real heart.”

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Ingrid Matts, Penguin Press Marketing:

“When I started in Penguin Press earlier this year I read Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson. Isolating oneself in a Siberian cabin by a lake sounds like heaven on earth, if you ask me. I did feel a bit drunk reading it, considering how much vodka Tesson manages to put away. But it is a remarkable piece of writing, and made me want to put on a pair on snowshoes and go hiking on the ice.”

Matt Clacher, Campaigns Manager, Penguin General:

“A book I have enjoyed reading in 2013 is Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Blood Horses, now published now in the UK after the success of his deliriously entertaining and informative essay collection Pulphead, is ostensibly a pretty moving memoir of his sportswriter father, but being the insane enthusiast that he is, it is also a fairly comprehensive history (culturally, socially and otherwise) of the horse, as well as an expert gonzo piece on the modern Horse Racing from the big money breeding and training of the owners to the big betting and drinking of the racetrack. It is not hyperbole to claim that JJS is the finest prose writer working today, an excellent raconteur, you could read him forever and never get bored.”

Juliet Annan, Publishing Director, Fig Tree:

“I’ve read (and edited) the astonishing Everland (publishing in March 2014), the second novel by Rebecca Hunt whose debut Mr Chartwell we published a couple of years ago. It couldn’t be more different and it is stunning, ostensibly about Antarctic exploration, but it’s really about reputation, history, bravery and honesty.  A truly shattering novel, that also manages to be very funny. The Other Typist is a crime novel; it’s a gorgeous trapdoor through into the speakeasies and precincts of Prohibition New York; and it’s a strange and unsettling story of female friendship and identity.  And I love a really good unreliable narrator. Finally, I read Mohsin Hamid’s How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia this summer on holiday and was blown away: what starts as a seemingly pat conceit turns into a rich humane story full of feeling and empathy for difficult lives.  It reminded me of Maupassant or William Trevor in its delicate and complete and beautifully written narrative of entire lives.  I loved it.”

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Penelope Vogler, Penguin Press Publicity:

“I have LOVED Love, Nina.  Her tone is brilliantly done; joyously eccentric, understated and bang-on with whatever the on-page equivalent is for comic timing.  She is never tempted to over-elaborate; she leaves each little exchange at the perfect moment and I’m guessing she learnt quite a lot from neighbour Alan Bennett (although clearly not about cooking or bicycle mending (or cooking)). As a child, I’d have loved her as a Nanny (not that I ever had one); as an adult I’m not sure I’d want her to look after my potplant.”

Vanessa Godden, Penguin Children’s Marketing:

“I loved reading an early proof of Dandelion Clocks, by debut young fiction author Rebecca Westcott, which is published next March. In Dandelion Clocks we meet Liv who’s mum has a terminal illness. Liv takes us on a journey through her life from ‘Thirteen Weeks Before’ to ‘Six Months After’. I couldn’t put it down, it tickled me with nostalgic mother-daughter-relationship-humour and it made my insides ACHE. I don’t remember them aching so much since The Book Thief and I really do think it’s such a gift to be able to evoke emotion like that with words. The characters are strong, none neglected and I became very fond of them all.”

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Craig Taylor, Editor, Five Dials:

“The César Aira box set (Three Novels) because there is nothing like it out there. These aren’t novels; they’re novelitas. Amidst hundreds of novels full of well-wrought, polite epiphanies, Aira shows us how joyful writing can be. Who else has the temerity to change genre in the middle of a book? Or introduce enormous, world-destroying silk worms? Who else has the audacity to be this entertaining?”

Victoria Lyons, Penguin Digital:

“A book I have enjoyed reading in 2013 is The Village by Nikita Lalwani.  Drawing on the author’s own experiences of working in a television production company, it portrays life in an open air prison.  Full of drama and tension it opens your eyes to the complexities and failures of the penal systems around the world.”

Kalle Mattila, Penguin Press Community Manager

“A book I have enjoyed reading in 2013 is Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The biggest eye-opener in it for me was the concept of ‘skin in the game’. We live in a world where decision makers don’t share in the costs and benefits of their decisions and are thus morally suspect. It made me appreciate entrepreneurs and question bankers. Most of all though, it led me to click like on Taleb’s Facebook page – the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Louise Willder, Copywriting Manager, Penguin Press:

“I suspect my book of the year might have been Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, but I haven’t had it for Christmas yet. So instead I’ve chosen Geert Mak’s In Europe, a history of the continent in the twentieth century that I read while driving around Europe on sabbatical. Opinionated, moving and unbelievably atmospheric, it’s unlike any other history I’ve read.”

Natalie Ramm, Penguin Press Marketing:

“A book I loved this year is one I read in manuscript form, which we’re publishing in May 2014, called The Flytrap. It’s a warm, poetic, witty memoir about a life spent catching hoverflies, but really it’s about much more than that – travel, history, love, loss, the joy of collecting, and the beauty of limitation.”

Poppy North, Penguin General Publicity:

“My book of the year is Evie Wyld’s gripping All the Birds, Singing. Evie creates the most wonderful sense of place; her descriptions of the natural world are incredibly evocative. The nature of the narrative, which skips between present-day Britain and the protagonist’s past life in Australia, forms a haunting tale that will leave you wanting more.”

Amelia Fairney, Communications Director, Penguin General:

“When Zadie Smith did a takeover of Penguin Twitter earlier this year she made the comment: ‘I urgently want to be everybody else all the time’. This seemed to me to be a perfect description of the fiction writer’s life, and explains to a great extent the absolutely convincing characters this brilliant writer is able to create. My book of the year is her story The Embassy of Cambodia. In a very short space she makes you care about her characters so much that I was actually checking out people at the bus stop and wondering if they might be Fatou or Andrew, and even now, months after I read the book, I keep thinking about them and wondering how they are getting on. It’s the book I have given to everybody this year.”

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That’s it from us at Penguin Towers, we hope this provides some reading inspiration for you in the run up to Christmas. Now without further ado, a special Christmas message from some of our authors:


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