The Year Behind, The Year Ahead

strawberry-chocolate-champagneA very merry Christmastide and the happiest of happy New Years to all of you!

2014 was a difficult year for me in terms of reading. I had family crises — fires to put out, just about literally — and work pressure, and I managed to convince myself that television is less stressful than books far more often than I’m proud of. I don’t keep the careful statistics and tags that Teresa does, but looking back, I read perhaps just half the number of books this year that I ordinarily do. Even in terms of finding things I loved, 2014 didn’t measure up to some of the spectacular years I’ve had (2012 was a year never to be forgotten, for instance.) And a bit after mid-year, I cut my losses and decided not to review some of the things I’d read that I really did engage with, disappointing myself (I’m sure) far more than anyone else.

Still, and with all my excuses made, I did read some marvelous books. I never really need reminding why I read, so I won’t say they did that. But they moved me, informed me, made me laugh, shocked me, melted me, surprised me, taught me. Here are a few of the best, in a few ragtag and informal categories:

Most sex, blood, and rock and roll (along with a few ideas about eternity): By Blood We Live, by Glen Duncan. This conclusion to Duncan’s melancholy, sexy, literate, smart, violent vampire/werewolf trilogy did not disappoint. Start at the beginning, though, with The Last Werewolf. Runner-up for this category was Bring Up the Bodies.

Book I recommended most (with or without success): The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway. Jeanne the non-necromancer recommended it to all her readers for years, and I finally read it, and now I recommend it to all sorts of people. Six-year-olds. My granny. It is wonderful.

Best nonfiction: I actually had a terrible time deciding the finalists for this category. My nonfiction made up some of the very best books I read this year. In the end, after agonizing, and leaving out at least three books I wish I’d included, I went with a three-way tie. 1) Persian Fire by Tom Holland. In fact, I was just recommending this to someone last night! It is both so well-written — such excellent storytelling — and so well-researched. A rare and terrific combination. 2) Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. This shocking (shocking!) 1962 exposé of the use of pesticides in everything we touch, eat, drink and breathe changed the environmentalist movement and the world. 3) One Art: Letters of Elizabeth Bishop. These letters from the American poet are lively, with a wonderful voice, and tell as much about her interlocutors as they do about her own poetry.

Books I’m still thinking about long after I read them: Another three-way tie. 1) My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. This is one of the books that I left unreviewed, unfortunately, but it’s a short book by a former editor of Poetry magazine. In very dense, meaning-heavy language, he talks about his faith in a postmodern world, and what it means in the face of his terminal cancer diagnosis.  2) The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway. Yep, second time I’ve mentioned it. Yep, still thinking about it. 3) Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. This book about Dominican dictator Trujillo was horrifying and revealing, and Llosa’s use of unconventional narrative to unsettle the reader and question authority was part of that.

Best pre-20th century fiction: Basically all the pre-20th-century fiction I read. The Entail, by John Galt. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope. Adam Bede, by George Eliot. Lady Audley’s Secret didn’t quite make it, since one of her secrets wasn’t a secret, but almost.

Sequels I’m looking forward to most in 2015: The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel. A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny.

As far as the year ahead, I’m experienced enough now not to make too many resolutions. I have a few parameters that I’d like to continue working with (and maybe refining): I read at least one author of color each month, and one nonfiction book a month, and I like to include pre-20th century books on a regular basis as well. Other than that, I’ve been having fun reading off my TBR list more or less at whim: what sounds good right now? I also plan to try to read a major classic during the summer months, though what that will be I’m not sure yet.

What are your reading plans for the coming year? May you be blessed with good reading, good books, well-stocked libraries, and plenty of time!

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16 Responses to The Year Behind, The Year Ahead

  1. Yayyyy for Persian Fire! It IS an excellent book, telling many excellent stories.

    I forgot that there even was going to be a third of those Hilary Mantel books! It’s been so long since Bring up the Bodies that I just had a vague notion she had stopped. I need to get cracking on reading those first two, then!

    • Jenny says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy them! I know you have very strong opinions on Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, so I hope it’s everything you could wish. I found them completely convincing and immersive.

  2. JaneGS says:

    Happy New Year! Sounds like 2014 provided you with good reading even if it wasn’t a banner year. Reading time/inclination, like everything else, ebbs and flows, and the key is to get what you want and need from it.

    I have always meant to read Silent Spring–truly a game-changing book, thank goodness. Adam Bede is one of my favorite George Eliot novels–interesting on many fronts.

    Reading one author of color monthly is a good goal–I’m at about one per year, and am trying to broaden my understanding and horizons.

    Read on!

    • Jenny says:

      Silent Spring was just so horrifying. I know that it changed things on many fronts, but it frankly feels as relevant as the day it was written.

      About reading diverse authors — once you start, it becomes clear that this is not some gesture, it’s a whole new piece of good fortune. I’ve read a lot of Native American authors this way in the past couple of years, and have read some amazing stuff!

  3. Nicola says:

    Like the sound of a collection of letters from Elizabeth Bishop will check that out. Happy New Year!

  4. lisaalmedasumner says:

    It sounds like you still managed to read some very good books this year. I’m writing some of these titles down. The Way We Live Now is such a good book… I really need to reread it. I hope 2015 will be a better year for you. Happy New Year!

  5. Lisa says:

    An early happy New Year, and wishing you too good books & time (and energy) to read them. I am adding Persian Fire and The Gone-Away World to my list, and will probably be back for more recommendations :) I already have Adam Bede on my TBR shelves – though I am thinking that 2015 could finally be the year for Middlemarch.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, Middlemarch is glorious. I hope you read it and I read your review of it, Lisa. I think you would absolutely love it. And if you read The Gone-Away World, I’ll be absolutely thrilled! :) Happy New Year to you, and lots of good reading!

  6. Happy New Year! I still (*still*) haven’t read the 2nd + 3rd Glen Duncan books, despite the excellence of no.1. This year has just slipped away from me. But, then, looking on the bright side, I still have them to look forward to in 2015. I hope 2015 will be everything that 2014 was not – best wishes.

    • Jenny says:

      Happy New Year, Vicki, and I hope you love the other Glen Duncan books — different from the first, but great. Happy 2015!

  7. Stefanie says:

    Nonfiction this year for me was really fantastic too. I will be reading One Art in 2015 and I am really looking forward to it. Happy New Year!

  8. aparatchick says:

    Joining you in eagerly awaiting Hilary Mantel’s latest.

    I read far fewer books this year than in years past, and I found fewer really good books. The ones I loved, however, I loved fervently, so perhaps quality makes up for lack of quantity.

    And finally, a big thank you for this blog; you’ve given me hours of enjoyment reading it and my TBR list grows (and grows!) thanks to you. Cheers!

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