Here’s the thing about books in 2014 – I read a lot of them. About 80 of them. Here’s the other thing about books in 2014 – reading them got even better because I joined Goodreads. Goodreads is the bomb diggity. Goodreads lets me make lists of books I’ve read and books I want to read. Goodreads lets me even organize those lists into other lists! Goodreads lets me share with you fine people what books I’m currently reading. Goodreads lets me review books (something I’m not actually good at) and read other people’s reviews. It’s like Amazon, but just for books. I’m in love. Another thing Goodreads lets you do is to set goals! Last year my goal was to read 60 books and I totally did. So for 2015 I’m aiming high, shooting for the stars, and setting a goal of reading 100 books. But before looking ahead, let’s look back on the 80 or so books I read in 2014. The best and the brightest and the lamest and the boringest.
The first eight months of the year were spent on 100 Childrens Chapter Books, so let’s talk about the other ones. One of my New Years Resolutions is to get better at writing book reviews so bear with me here. Somehow I can talk about books forever – talk about what I liked about the story, who I liked, where I liked, what I didn’t like – but when it comes to writing it down, I feel like I am totally unauthorized to talk about books. That there was some book review degree that I did not earn and therefore my typed up opinions aren’t even worth typing up. But here’s the thing, I’ve read a lot of books and written a lot of words and I think those two facts alone qualify me to write about books. I’m faking it till I make it here, a strategy that has never failed me before.
BOOKS THAT GREW MY WORLD //
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – I lived life through the eyes and mind and heart of a little boy in a poor village in Afghanistan, a slightly older boy in a picturesque village in Greece, a lost teenage girl in the suburbs of Paris, and an old woman trying to find her way back home.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – I lived life through the eyes of a brave, strong slave girl. I lived life through the heart of a brave, strong member of a slave owning family. I found myself in Sarah, in the south and again in the north. Isn’t that what books are for? To show us what we aren’t, yes, what we could never otherwise know, but also to show us exactly who we are.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann – This year what stood out to me in books where relationships. There are so many facets and faces of relationships. McCann spotlights the relationship between brothers, between friends, between lovers, between women with one unimaginable loss in common, and between awed strangers.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo – Boo immersed herself in the realities of slum life so we could, on a smaller scale, do the same. Culture is an all encompassing factor that influences everything we think, say, do, and believe. At the same time, we are each individuals with unique hearts and minds. Boo’s narration of life in a Mumbai slum show the coexistence of culture and self, the survival and the defeat of self within culture.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Before moving to the Dominican Republic I had never heard of Trujillo. Even now I can’t recall the man’s first name. He was a dictator in the Dominican Republic for 30 years until he was assassinated in 1961. A lot of how the Dominican Republic is now is because of Trujillo. Diaz broadened my view, let me step into the shoes of those who were so closely affected by Trujillo. He opened my eyes to the reality of the atrocities of now and then and the Dominican people’s choice of compliance or death.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – Now politics makes sense.
My Notorious Life by Kate Manning – This book grew my world of birth control and abortion and midwifery and women’s rights and health. This book (of course based on a real lady) caused me to look at these issues not as issues but as humans, as scared and strong and stuck women making really difficult life changing decisions.
BOOKS THAT FED MY IMAGINATION //
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – This quote alone made this book for me: “The thin girl was gulping down one of Richard’s bananas in what was, Richard reflected, the least erotic display of banana-eating he had ever seen.” 2014 was also my year of introduction to Gaiman, which was perfect timing for a year of literary relationships. In Neverwhere, Richard has significant relationships with three different women, and each relationship reveals something about Richard and about relationships themselves. Plus only one relationship is romantic, and even that is probably a stretch.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – As a writer, this book taught me that anything is possible. Adams was in charge of telling us about this universe and he told us, leaving no absurdity ignored or explained.
BOOKS OF BEAUTY //
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – It’s just a beautiful book full of beautiful people saying beautiful words.
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingslover – A woman looking for home, looking for herself, looking for a reason to stay. A woman looking for dreams worth having, worth acknowledging. A woman in a beautiful place, surrounded by beautiful, broken people saying beautiful, broken things. Relationships allowed to be what they are. That’s beautiful.
What the Church Won’t Talk About by J.S. Park – There is absolutely nothing more beautiful than the quiet and powerful truth of our messed-up-ness and the truth that follows so closely behind that says there is hope and redemption ripe for the picking. There is nothing more beautiful than the truths that Jesus is more than church, that so often we box Him in, and that He wants us still and always.
“WHAT THE CRAP?!” BOOKS //
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I’m pretty sure every chapter after part 1 was followed by gasps and “WHAT THE HECK?!”s. This lady is bananas.
Beloved by Toni Morrison – Because at times I thought I had surely downloaded a bad copy because of how quickly we jump from one thing to the other and wait, are we talking about a ghost baby? Yes, yes, we are and it’s not a bad copy, Morrison is just also bananas, Albeit a more quietly powerful, totally sure of herself, this is what I have to say and you can take it or leave it, beautiful kind of bananas.
Divergent by Veronica Roth – Only a “What the crap?!” book because I’m still not sure why so many people whose opinions I love and respect love this book so much.
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser – A true story about a murderer who believes he is innocent even though he totally isn’t. A murderer who convinced a girl to have sex with him, freaked out when she was pregnant, and killed her so he could be with a stupider, younger, richer girl. What the crap? This is real life.
The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure by James Dashner – Only “what the crap?!” because in the beginning I was so on board, and by the end of the second I was so disappointed in Dashner. The Scorch Trials really did have me on the edge of my seat though. Those cliff-hanging chapter endings worked on me, Dashner. What didn’t work were the flat characters and the all-of-a-sudden vulnerable super power.
There were more of course, but that’s enough sharing. I went to Strand Books yesterday in Manhattan and made a list of books I want to read, you know, instead of actually buying anything (besides a magnet with a soft pretzel on it). I also have my Book Challenge 2: Reader’s Choice list (a challenge I am abandoning in favor of this 100 Books in a Year challenge) so I should be good to go with books for a while. I started my first challenge because after finishing a book I was always stuck with, “What do I read now?” I don’t forsee having to ask that question for a while now, what with the magic that is Goodreads. So when I finish a book, I’ll just add it to the list, a list which will hopefully be 100 books long a year from now.
What were your favorite books in 2014? Favorite authors? Did you read any books you wished you hadn’t spent the brain power on? Any books you gave up on? (I just gave up on Red Rising – it was too similar to Hunger Games.) Do you have a game plan for 2015 books-wise? How do you decide which book to read next?