Year in Review: Books

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ― Jane Austen This year I set out to read 100 books, and I managed it. I was feeling proud until I heard that the indomitable Janssen read at least 150 and immediately felt unlearned by comparison. Ah well. It’s not like I’ll run out of novels. 2014 was the year I set aside literary snobbery and took Nancy Pearl’s advice to just read everything. Fiction, nonfiction, history, poetry, mystery, trashy novels, biography, YA, classics, contemporary, self-help…you get it. It’s a trend I intend to continue in 2015. Above all this year, I felt quite suddenly over the idea that I had to justify or defend any of my likes, dislikes, or general preferences, and this is probably clearest in the eclectic-ness of my reading habits. My picks of the year follow, but tell me what books you read and loved, or alternatively loathed, in the comments and why.

Favorite Historical reads:
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann. A follow up to his book 1491 which explores the New World before the Columbian Exchange kicked off, this book a bit dry and info dense (and about the width of textbook), but if you’re a nerd–and of course you are, kittens, because we’re all nerds here–this thing is a revelation.

Favorite women’s issue reads: 
The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Yes, I just read that cover to cover for the first time this year. Let’s not discuss it.
Reading Lolita in Tehra, by Azar Nafisi. I have never appreciated my education and opportunities as a female so much in my life as when I put this book down, but nor I have ever been as aware of how quickly things can go so badly in a society or a religious community, especially based on overzealous good intentions.

Most jarring read: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. Mostly because the main character is named “Cadence,” and that’s just wrong.

Didn’t-stick-the-landing reads:
The Thursday Next Series, by Jasper Fforde. Let me be clear, I inhaled every one of these books I could get a hold of beginning in winter 2013, but I’ve felt the books getting weaker as they go. Which is vexing because the first handful are so hilarious and witty and clever. Perhaps I shall do with this series what I do with the 5th Indiana Jones movie and the last dozen or so Pirates of the Caribbean films. Specifically, pretend they never happened.
Across the Universe Series, by Beth Revis. A YA science fiction series that explored some interesting themes of culture, free-will, history, and government and then (I callously assume) had to be wrapped up in a trilogy leading to a confused and frustrating final book.

Best biographical read:
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, by Sally Bedel Smith. A very engaging read about one of the most famous women in the world who I would never, ever refer to as a “celebrity.”

Most “meh” series:
The Luxe Series, by Anna Godbersen. After rave reviews by a lot of friends…this is just Gossip Girl in corsets.

Best nonfiction read:
Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson. The habits, techniques, and standards of cookery through (admittedly mostly Western, but with a decent amount of world history thrown in) through the ages. Medieval chefs apparently mostly cooked naked

Favorite novel:
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Fractal storytelling at it’s best, a life is lived and all its potentials followed through, some of them in surprising ways. Stop what you are doing and find a copy immediately.

The Worst Book I Read All Year:
From Ashes, by Molly McAdams. I unequivocally hated this book. I tried to write a decent Goodreads summary as to why this book was so dreadful, but the size of the task before me was too daunting and I was forced to sum up, “Abusive damseling at its finest.” This book is the worst lifetime movie ever made, during which mad executives decided to up the improbability of every plot point and the baselessness of every character to pathological degrees, and had the whole thing edited by unstable tweens for good measure. The depth of my feelings on this one shocks even me.

2 thoughts on “Year in Review: Books”

  1. I also really liked Life After Life. It was one of the first books I read this year and when I finished it I had this feeling that although it didn’t feel like a literary classic it would be one of those books that stuck with me throughout the year.

    Azar Nafisi has a new one out that I’m excited to read.

    I totally get your depth of dislike for a book. I read this horrible, horrible YA book about a completely dependent and spineless girl and stayed up half the night writing a rant about it.

  2. i am so relieved you made the decision to consume trashy novels and YA this year, or you’d never be able to read any of my writing.

    i found “we were liars” jarring as well–partly because of the protag’s name, and partly because i find overly twisty endings annoying unless they’re done PERFECTLY. i just feel cheated, you know?

    let me know when you’re leaving and i’ll forward you the latest version of 17. janssen may have you beat in numbers, but you WILL beat her in terrible unpublished early drafts!!

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