Books I read in 2014

I totally DID read many short stories this year. I always do: they are always there. But I was lazy in 2014 and did not note them in my list. My bad. I’ll get my stuff together in 2015 and talk about shorts again, mixed in with my regular-length books.

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Though I read this in my twenties, I only recalled that it was a tragic romance. Read again today, and there is so much here! Bold new ideas in worker-invested farming, and sharp commentary on politics and war kept my attention and made a rich novel. The interpersonal relations were told so close to reality, mimicking the actual conversations in actual relationships to this day. Daily scenes were wonderful: the men hunting snipe, Levin’s agony as a first-time father, dinners at Moscow clubs, naps in the fields, cloud-watching, bee-keeping…it is packed full. And surprise again, when Tolstoy grabs onto religion and cleverly provides an argument for the existence of God.
  2. A Clash of Kings and a Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. I read books 1, 2, and 3 at the end of last year, then…with all the characters in a big confused jumble in my head, read all three again. The books improve with a second reading. Martin has done an excellent job of developing a realistic world, with depth of character and depth of setting.
  3. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin. This seems like a transition book; as though Martin is getting characters ready for their next startling role to play in the saga. He mildy continues the creepy story of Catelyn Stark, tantalizingly builds upon an already remarkable history for Arya Stark, frustratingly still does not report on the missing wolf Nimeria (Thankfully he did remember to bring Ghost back into the story), gets Sam into troubled times, and shows we can rely on Brienne. The inner politics of House Tyrell are illuminated and he drives a wedge between the inseparable Lannister twins, and we are introduced to the Sand Snakes.
  4. Watership Down by Richard Adams. I last read this one in 2002, so I was due for a re-read. It remains a favourite. The plot slows us down and expands dimension into rabbit understanding, so a field becomes enormous and it takes two days to cross a wood to the next field. So many possible frightening and wonderful and hopeful and remarkable things can happen from hour to hour, when one is a rabbit. Adams’ story is filled with legends and religion, dreams, friendships with other races, family, second sight, a rabbit language, astonishing battles, bloodshed and death, and through it all, constant humour and the clever wileyness rabbits are famous for. There’s a prison break, mate-stealing, a psychotic war general, skunks and kestrels and owls and cats and stoats – all on the prowl. There is escape from tyranny, from development construction, from wire snares.
  5. American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson. I liked this one. It’s funny, but thank the gods not filled with cheap attempts at easy laughs. Since my bedtime is 8:30 pm, I had never heard of Craig Ferguson. Nope, never. I found that I liked his story. I could feel for him in the bad times and the good. His story is real, and it’s interesting, and the laughs run the gamut from his funny way of looking at things to laughing cuz you’ve been there too, to laughing to keep from feeling despair. And you just can’t believe the guy kept getting up and trying again, but he did, and when you read about it, you’re sorta glad he did.
  6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. This one is another recommend; it is everything the people rave about. I was drawn to the story after only a few pages, and couldn’t wait to get back to my book. The world described is so evocative, I found myself remembering particular sliding doors, and floor tiles, and the way the light entered a dark room in Japan. Maybe I didn’t even remember it, but the author is so skilled to make me believe I had actually been there. This is a history and culture lesson, but brought in such a way as to make me hunger for more.
  7. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It ended up being a wonderful story about friends; maybe even more simply a tale of a relationship. But the setting is one that resonates within another dramatic period of our nation’s history. I have an entirely new image of President Taft, and find that I like him more than Roosevelt. Still, Roosevelt was a better leader in that he possessed the arrogance and bravado necessary to get people excited, and the love of publicity that got people on board and into action. Taft was a greater man, imho, but quiet and methodical and humble. He never should have been President, but took the office as a show of good faith to his friend Roosevelt and to his wife. Goodwin’s most exciting tale here is the birth and life of McClure’s magazine and the story of how American journalism changed politics.
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. “This book is heartbreaking,” I said to Tara. “Where are you?” “They’re on a plane to Amsterdam.” “Oh, you don’t even know. Any of the John Green fans would just roll their eyes at you because it hasn’t even started to get heartbreaking yet.” John Green is one of Tara’s favourite authors, and she recommended the book. I do, too. It’s written for young adults, so you can get through it in a day if you find that you can’t put it down. Which, you might not be able to do. And it’s refreshingly unflinching and intelligent. It’s also a comedy, which you would expect, if you are the kind of person who jokes her way through pain.
  9. The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. Recommended to me by my therapist, so that tells you I’m suspected of narcissism. {wink} This book defines narcissism as the result of childhood neglect, which was not the way I had previously understood the word. I assumed narcissists were simply arrogant jerks who hurt others, but Miller’s perspective from her clients and her research says rather that narcissists were taught as children that being themselves was not enough, and so they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives looking for approval from others and having desperately poor self esteem. There was some good stuff in here, but Miller was at such pains not to discuss any specific examples, and thus possibly reveal her clients, that I had a hard time knowing what she was talking about. Further, she contradicts herself all the way through the book by stating unequivocally that 1) children raised by narcissistic parents will inevitably do the same harm to their own kids, and 2) learning what narcissism means will stop the process.
  10. Looking for Alaska by John Green. A book I suspect teens love, but it might be harder for their parents because of the non-stop drinking, smoking, and talking about sex. But hey, that’s what teens do, eh? It’s a pretty deep story about some smart kids who bond while attending a private boarding school, and are forced by circumstances to think extensively about the meaning of life. Green does an excellent job of capturing the wild emotions of youth, and like The Fault in Our Stars, which I talk about above, he has the same stark honesty that makes me trust the writer.
  11. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin. I am impatient with the narrator of the audiobook, who continues to change voices and pronunciations from book to book. Book 5 of a Song of Ice and Fire is much like book 4 in that it brings in a group of new story lines and new characters with new motivations. In this book I appreciated that many of the new characters tied in with old stories, which helped me keep track of them. I still have a feeling there are too many loose ends to resolve, but it’s all very creative and interesting, while not perfectly satisfactory. Martin has a great way of illuminating religions (there are many in this story) without judging them, and how they clash or tolerate each other. I’ll keep reading in hopes that one day a conclusion will be found without destroying all the main characters.
  12. The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson. This one was a fascinating look at a real point in U.S. history: the events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I absolutely loved the detail in political negotiations to win the right to host the event, the different buildings and who created them, the atrocious treatment of all the international “natives” brought in, the larger-than-life characters in the story, and the dreadful demise of the place by neglect and fire. The murder story revealed a sinister and attractive young man who wound a black smear across it all, and was more gruesome and calculated than I could have imagined.
  13. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Time to read this favourite again. Always recommended if you’re looking for a new book. I am tickled by the idea that the demon and the angel are friends because of their common love of humans, and after all, when you’ve known each other for 6000 years, you can’t help but form a bond. The most reliable laugh comes right at the beginning when it’s revealed that any cassette left in your car for over a fortnight becomes Queen’s Greatest Hits.
  14. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Another great history story, and this time with baddass women heroes. This is the tale of Julie, a spy, and Maddie, a pilot, together a formidable resistance to their Nazi enemies during WWII. It’s written as a young adult novel, but it’s no light tale, as these best friends face capture,  cold, starvation, torture, being shot down from the sky, and the deaths of their comrades.
  15. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts {in progress}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s