If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed something about me: I love books. (Fancy that, a writer loving books. Shocking, I know.) I try to keep a list of what books I’ve read (or attempted to read); it helps to know what writers have influenced me, my thoughts, and my own writing.
In the past year, I attempted to read 50 books. I finished 44.
- 11 non-fiction (10 finished, 1 unfinished)
- 39 fiction (34 finished, 5 unfinished)
My top books for 2014:
Award for fiction: The Blind Man’s Garden, by Nadeem Aslam.
A profound, moving novel, one of the few that I’ve awarded 5 stars on Goodreads. It revolves around a family in Pakistan shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. It brilliantly captures the conflict within Islam between the extremists and the moderates, as well as the conflict between the foreign military forces and the culture and people in the invaded land. Violent, heart breaking, and powerful. It’s a different perspective on America, one that (I believe) Americans need to recognize.
Award for classic novel: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy.
Categorize this under “now why haven’t I read this before?” Tim Fall mentioned this book in a comment, and though I dreaded Thomas Hardy the way some dread needles and dental work, I thought I should read Tess. It wouldn’t be proper for a good literature major to admit ignorance of a literary classic, no matter who penned the words. (I read Anna Karenina for a similar reason; my rocket scientist husband had read it, and I couldn’t bear the idea of being one-upped by an engineer.) I was thrilled to discover this work for the first time. It spawned several blog posts, too, which is a plus for me.
If you can handle the subject matter (which includes rape), give it a try. (If in doubt, read a synopsis first. I do this with many long, classic novels. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story to know the ending, and I appreciate the author’s mastery of plot, etc., more when I’m not wondering about the ending.)
Award for genre fiction: Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny.
To call this a “genre” mystery is to seriously under-describe this book. I first heard Penny’s name a few years ago when I was writing my first novel. Penny wrote The Cruelest Month, which is what I had titled my book. How dare she! Being an unreasonable person, I seethed a bit, even though we both got the phrase from Chaucer and Eliot. After recovering my sense of reason, I laughed at myself and checked out her work. And loved it. She’s one of the few authors whose works I consistently enjoy.
In this one, she manages to weave three mysteries in one: a previous case unsatisfactorily solved (the murderer insists upon his innocence), the present mystery of the death of an archeologist, and a professional tragedy that has left Inspector Gamache and his team shaken and personally traumatized. Her language is beautiful, her characterizations rich, and the ending–well, this is one book where I’m glad I didn’t read the ending first. It lifts the mystery genre to literary heights. (To fully appreciate this novel, read The Brutal Telling first; this book will make much more sense if you read the previous one!)
If you’re picky about language/sex/violence, be forewarned that both books have some 4-letter words, though not as much as many other non-CBA novels, and while there are no sex scenes, there are two homosexual men in a committed, monogamous relationship. If this is an issue for you, these aren’t the books for you.
Award for non-fiction (tie)
Basic premise: of course David defeated Goliath. He only appears to be an underdog because we fail to recognize the advantages he had over the giant. What we think is an obstacle might really be an advantage; what we believe is an advantage may be the reason for our downfall. What’s more, we can turn those disadvantages into advantages.
After reading this, I sat down and thought of all the disadvantages and obstacles I face in writing and publishing. Then I decided to make them advantages. I’m still working on this one!
I’ve recommended it to several people. Ross is a medical doctor who writes fluently about the various ailments famous writers have suffered and how those ailments influenced or inspired their work. Some writers have well-documented issues, while he diagnoses others from the symptoms that contemporaries describe but don’t have a medical explanation for. The Bronte family (TB, mental illnesses); Melville (eye issues, mental issues); Swift (dementia, possible Asperger’s)–just to name a few. (Yeats, Shakespeare, Milton, Orwell, Joyce, Hawthorne, and London also receive a chapter devoted to them.) The book has all the medical and literary research references in the appendix. I’m not a medical person but Ross explains the issues clearly enough for a layperson. Recommended for all who love literature and medicine.
Okay, enough babbling about my favorite books. What was your favorite book in 2014? Tell me about it in the comments!