A 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!