It’s been an excellent year, reading-wise. While I had to slog through “The Sound And The Fury” and, it’s fair to say, hated every second of it, I found the rewards of it and the interesting class discussion in my lit class to be satisfying and more than worth the investment. Otherwise, even considering I had little-to-no choice in around a third of the books I read this year, I’ve loved a good number of them. I’ve added five titles to my “Books I love” Pinterest board (which previously only had eleven on it – it’s a high bar and I’ve been adding only books that have totally wowed me since 2010).
My favourite reads of the year have been:
“Astonish Me“, by Maggie Shipstead. Ballet! Cold War! Doomed love! Beautiful prose! Paris! Loved this one.
“Dept of Speculation” by Jenny Offill. This one isn’t for everyone, but it is right up my alley, and there are many people who love it – hence its presence of many, many “best of 2014” lists. I think of it as a cross-genre prose poem/memoir of a marriage. Beautiful, heart-breaking, eminently quotable. Sometimes there is a reason everyone is climbing on the same bandwagon.
“Jazz” by Toni Morrison. This book, this book! The writing is simply gorgeous, often echoing what jazz does, with its riffs, repetition, and rhythm. The characters will stay with you long after you’ve read it. After I finished it, I just wanted to sit and let myself feel things for hours.
“Tenth of December” by George Saunders. I had lost count of the number of times I’d picked this up in Kramerbooks and thought, hmm, I should really get around to this one. But then someone for whom I would basically do anything said I should read it and I finally went for it. So glad I did. After all these months I feel so strongly about it that when I was listening to a discussion of it on the Slate Audiobooks Podcast, I had to fast forward the part about my favourite story, because my heart still feels too tender in regard to it. I’m not, as a rule, a huge fan of short stories (though I’m more persuadable on this than I ever have been) and certainly not of sci-fi or futuristic fiction (though not all of the stories are of this ilk), but I’m so glad I allowed myself to go beyond my comfort zone – it was more than worth it.
“The Hours” by Michael Cunningham. It had been a long time since I’d fallen in love with prose the way i did with Michael Cunningham’s. I’m definitely planning to dive into his backlist. He has such tenderness for his characters .If you love Virginia Woolf – or if you’re just intrigued by her – you won’t want to miss this one.
Honourable mentions also go to:
“Love, Nina” by Nina Stibbe – a charming collection of letters sent home by a nanny in 1980s London. I put off reading “Department of Speculation” because I suspected that would edge this one out of my Top Five. Sorry, NIna! If it’s any consolation, you’d definitely be in my Top Five Books Published in 2014 (alongside “Astonish Me”, “Dept of Speculation”, “After I Do” and “One More Thing“).
“The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood – Penelope’s take on her husband Odysseus long absence. Short and fun and re-readable.
“After I Do” by Taylor Jenkins Reid – a really interesting look at a faltering marriage. It has a pleasing feeling of realness about it, but it’s not lacking in romance either. As I’ve said elsewhere, if I were married I would make my husband read this so we could discuss it. Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favourite living authors – her debut, Forever, Interrupted was my favourite read of 2013. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next (it’s mildly terrifying that I know by heart that “Maybe in Another Life” comes out on 7th July 2015).
“One More Thing“, by BJ Novak – a funny, thoughtful, thought-provoking collection of short stories and flash fiction (i.e. very very short stories).
“Head Over Heart“, by Colette Victor – fantastic middle-grade (11-13 yr olds) fiction about a British Muslim girl figuring out what it means to honour her identity and her parents in an increasingly confusing world including a non-Muslim boy she has the biggest of crushes on. (Side note: I much preferred the original title, “The Zig and Zag of Being Zeyneb”.)
“Arts and Entertainments“, by Christopher Beha – a fun, easy-to-read gentle satire – gentle in the sense that it doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of the possibility that something like this could happen. I enjoyed it much more for not knowing the basic premise before I started so I won’t spoil it for you either, other than by saying that it’s about a disillusioned actor struggling to make ends meet, who takes some drastic action…
“You Had Me At Hello” by Mhairi McFarlane – great British, well-written, chick lit, of the “why can’t these two people who’ve liked each other forever just get it together?” variety. The characters went to university around the same time as I did, so it was nice a nostalgic trip back to late 90s/early aughts Britain.
In a less satisfying reading year, I might have more to say about “Mrs Dalloway“, “Never Let Me Go“, “Yes Please“, “Freedom“, “The Trial“, “The Vacationers“, “Americanah“, “Fangirl“, and “Fangasm“, but there was just too much good stuff this year. (My full list is here.) Nice problem to have!