2014: A Year in Review

It’s a cliche to say the year has gone by quickly, but 2014 seems to have gone by particularly quickly. I keep thinking of things that I thought happened a month or two ago, only to realize that they happened back in 2013. But I’m glad the year is over because it has been one of challenge for me, with one (mostly minor) crisis after another all year.

Those crises kept me from reading as much as usual, as did my beginning a fairly regular yoga practice to help me cope with the various troubles during the year. I don’t regret the reduction—I still read far more than the average person—but I hope to get a little more time for reading this year.

As for the books themselves, I had an excellent year, with so many fine books and far fewer mediocre ones. I was quick to give up on books I didn’t like, even when they were extremely well regarded, and I got much choosier about my sources of recommendations. (I see now that I didn’t keep good records of books I tried and gave up on, and I’d like to get better about that, just because it’s interesting to me.)

So which books stood out? It’s hard to choose! I’ve narrowed my list down to fifteen, displayed above, but the choice feels downright arbitrary. But here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • Ariel by Sylvia Plath. This was the year I rediscovered my love of poetry, and Ariel was a big part of that.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This may be my favorite of Atwood’s novels, and it stands up to rereading.
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This graphic memoir really gets at ambiguous and difficult family love can be.
  • The Home and the World by Radbindranoth Tagore. I adored this 1916 Bengali novel for the way it shows how a manipulative jackass can get his hooks into people.
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. This was a rollicking fun read, with a particularly interesting heroine.
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson may well be my favorite living author, and this book beautifully and painfully illustrates the difficulty not just of loving, but of being loved.
  • No Name by Wilkie Collins. I may not love this quite as much as I did The Woman in White or Armadale, but my complex feelings about Magdalen Vanstone’s efforts to win back her family fortune made this an especially rewarding read.
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. This was the year of North Korea for me, and Demick’s book is far and away the best of the four that I read.
  • The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigihara. An accused child abuser defends himself (badly) in this fictional memoir, complete with footnotes from an adoring protégé.
  • The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett. Jenny and I finished our reread of the Lymond Chronicles. This is not my favorite of the series, but it was my favorite of the two we read this year.
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This was the year of Maggie Stiefvater, and I struggled to decide whether to include this book or one of the two books from the Raven Cycle that I read this year. I went with this one because it tells a complete and satisfying story.
  • The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm. This book about Malcolm’s research into the lives of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes reveals just how complex the work of a biographer is.
  • The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan. Morgan shows how fictional biographies ought to be done in his novelization of the lives of the Brontë sisters.
  • Thirst by Mary Oliver. I know many people who love Oliver’s poetry, but this year was the first time I’d read her work, and it is indeed wonderful.
  • The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. I’ve slowed down on my Allingham reading, perhaps because I fear than none of the remaining books will stand up to this, my favorite so far.

And here are a few honorable mentions: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamieson,  The Explorer by James Smythe, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear MacBride, The Murder Farm by Andrea Schenkel, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and Under My Skin by Doris Lessing, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. The fact that none of these made my top-15 is a testament to how many excellent books I read this year.


And Some Stats

As I think about my reading numbers for the year, I can’t help but think of the limits to setting reading goals. We only have so much time to read, and sometimes other things get in the way. And sometimes working toward one goal makes it impossible to work toward another. In my case, reading more diversely and reading more classics are hard goals to work toward simultaneously because the classics I have in mind are often by white Europeans (and I don’t want to give those writers up). But I still like keeping these goals and trends in mind as I choose what to read. If I can’t decide which of several desirable books to read next, I’ll often choose one that meets one of my goals. So here we go:

Books Read in 201282 (96 in 2012). The various personal distractions this year really ate into my reading time and my level of concentration when I did read.

Review Copies: 6 (7%), 5 of which were e-galleys. Down a lot from last year’s 13. I took a long break from review copies this year and was quick to give up on ones that didn’t work for me, and the results were good. This number may go up a bit this year, but I like the idea of keeping it under 10 percent.

TBR Books from before Jan 1, 2014: 35. One more than last year! I’ll demolish that TBR yet!

Books Acquired in 2014: 58. Fewer than last year, when I acquired 85. I read six of these during the year, leaving 52 for the TBR pile. It occurs to me that acquiring more books than there are weeks in the year is a little preposterous when I read just a little more than one book a week.

Library Books Read: 25 (30%). Down from 40% percent last year. It surprises me that this number has gone down, but that may be because I’ve been on a library kick lately.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: 63 fiction, 19 nonfiction (78% fiction, compared to 80% last year). I like this balance.

Audiobooks: None. I’ve given my driving time completely over to podcasts, so audiobooks are mostly off my radar now.

New to Me Authors: 48 (59%, compared to 45% in 2013). Hovering at about half and half seems pretty reasonable to me.

Male vs. Female: 56 female, 26 male (68%, compared to 59% female in 2013). It continues to mystify me how so many review outlets skew so strongly male. I make zero effort either way in this area.

Pre 1900 Books: 4 (5%, compared to 5% in 2013). Sigh. This continues to annoy me. I will read some more of those classics on my e-reader this year.

20th Century Books: 34 (39%, compared to 42% in 2013).

21st Century Books: 44 (54%), with 12 (15%) coming from 2014 (compared to 53% from the 21st century and 19% from the current year in 2013). I felt like I was reading a lot more new books, but I think most of the ones I was thinking of were actually from 2013.

Translations: 8/10% (compared to 6% in 2013). A good upward trend!

Books by Authors of Color: 15/18% (compared to 11% in 2013). An even better upward trend. I do worry about how my desire to read more pre-1900 books will affect this number. The choices are so much more limited before the 20th century.

US vs. UK Authors:  35 US/30 UK (compared to 45 US/38 UK in 2013.)

Non-US/UK Authors:  19 books/23% (compared to 15% in 2013). This is great! I wasn’t even paying much attention to this, but I was reading books that have been on my TBR for a long time, and many of those are from when I started becoming interested in reading international authors.

Author Nationality Map:

I read books by authors from 16 nations, compared to 18 nations in 2013. After the US and UK, Canada and India got the most “visits” with 3 each. I hadn’t realized that I was neglecting Latin America entirely. Something to consider this year.


And Finally…

Although this isn’t book-related, I would feel remiss in talking about 2014 without mentioning Sophie and Anya. Many of you have seen pictures of my three-legged cat Sophie over the years, as she joined me for readathons and posed in bookshelf photos. In November, after several weeks of weight loss and other problems, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. I started her on chemo that day, and two days later, on Thanksgiving day, she died in my arms. It was devastating, but I am glad that, if the treatment wasn’t going to help, she wasn’t sick for a long time.

Aside from when I was in college, I’ve never been without pets for more than a few weeks, so it didn’t take me long to decide my house was too empty without a feline presence, so my Christmas present to myself was to adopt a new cat from King Street Cats. This beautiful girl, now named Anya, was skittish in the shelter, but now that I’ve gotten her home, she has proved to be a real sweetheart. Although she’s no lap cat at this point, she follows me around and meows at me, raising her paws and tapping my arm or leg to solicit head rubs. When I saw her at the shelter, where lots of cats roam free, she looked just like an introvert who had been at a party far too long and needed some space, and I’m glad I was able to give that to her.

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31 Responses to 2014: A Year in Review

  1. Tamsin says:

    So sorry to hear about Sophie–it’s been years since I lost a cat, but I know how devastating it can be (they really are family members). Anya is beautiful, though, and sounds like a gem!

    On a cheerier note, your “best of” list has given me some ideas for reading in the coming year. I’ve been feeling like I should reread The Blind Assassin for some time (it’s one of those books I always say is a favorite, but honestly have some problems remembering, outside of the fact that I loved it), and now I’m definitely feeling inspired to.

    • Teresa says:

      Sophie was just 11 years old, so I really didn’t expect to lose her for a few more years. My previous cat died at age 10, so I’ve had some rough luck in that regard. They think Anya is about three years old, so I’m hoping to have many more years with her.

      I was just the same way about The Blind Assassin. I remembered loving it but couldn’t have told you anything about it. A book group I was in for a while decided to read it, which pushed me to reread it, and I’m glad I did.

  2. Lisa says:

    As always, I am impressed by your stats, and by your thoughtful reading. I’ve also realized that I have yet to read anything from Latin America, and I’m on the lookout for recommendations. What surprised me about my own reading when I was looking over it earlier today is how few library books I read, versus the numbers I check out. Those tend to be more often the books I don’t finish – and some I never get around to starting before they’re due back.

    I hope 2015 will be an easier, more peaceful year – with lots of good books!

    • Teresa says:

      Love in the Time of Cholera is probably my favorite book by a Latin American author. I think you’d like it. Isabel Allende’s books are also worth checking out.

      I check out so many library books that I don’t start. I have four that I plan to return tomorrow. All of them are ones I may check out again.

  3. Stefanie says:

    So many good books you read in 2104! No wonder it was so hard to choose favorites. So sorry about Sophie. Anya is a beautiful kitty. I know she will never take the place of Sophie but I hope she is a good companion. Have a good 2015!

    • Teresa says:

      I read fewer books, but I think I read better books, and I’ll take that!

      I deliberately looked for a cat who seemed sweet but different from Sophie, because I didn’t want to replace her, just give myself a new companion. So far, that has worked very well.

  4. Melwyk says:

    I also loved The Tiger in the Smoke :) Haven’t read any of her others yet…I hope they’ll stand up to this one!

    I am sorry to hear about Sophie — we lost our beloved cat a few years back now, and it was very hard indeed. I hope that Anya settles in nicely — we adopted our cat from a shelter for the very same reasons.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve been reading the Allinghams in order, and although none so far is as good as The Tiger in the Smoke, some of them are very good. Sweet Danger and Traitor’s Purse are probably my favorites after this one.

  5. Kristen M. says:

    When we adopted our kitty boys, we picked one extrovert and one introvert. Now the introvert is the one who curls up to us all evening long. :)
    I agree that No Name is a close third to those other two Collins books. I thought a lot while reading it about how unique a story it must have been when it was written.
    Have a happy New Year!

    • Teresa says:

      The shelter identified certain cats as ones who would do better in a single-cat household, so those were the ones I looked at. But Sophie taught me that those introvert cats can be very loving to their people–and eventually to guests that the people invite in.

      I would love to know more about the reaction to No Name. I couldn’t quite figure out how much we were supposed to be on Magdalen’s side.

  6. aartichapati says:

    I’m so sorry about Sophie. I think we chatted a bit in your comments for 5 Days at Memorial about how I’ve never had a pet and therefore don’t really understand how deeply people become attached. But I can only imagine how horrible it must be to lose a close friend, and I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you, Aarti. I’ve always been someone who connects strongly to animals, but I can see how it would be hard to understand the feeling if you haven’t experienced it. It is very much like losing a good friend, one who is a presence in your life every day.

  7. “an introvert who had been at a party far too long and needed some space” – best cat description ever. Actually, could you adopt me? ;-)

    • Teresa says:

      In the shelter on the day I adopted her, she was swiping at every person or cat who came near her, and I thought I’d do the exact same thing if I’d been living in a small room with 30 other people 24/7 for months.

      The extroverted kitties climbed all over me the minute I sat down. I think I had three on my shoulder at one point!

  8. Sounds like you’ve had a great reading year. I read We Have Always Lived At the Castle this year too and really loved it. Happy New Year!

  9. Barbara says:

    Please check my blog I’m new, and it would really mean a lot to me! By the way you girls are my huge inspiration

  10. Denise says:

    82, that’s a lot of books!

    • Teresa says:

      It doesn’t seem like a lot compared to many other bloggers I know, so I have to remind myself that it’s way more than most people read in a year (or three).

  11. priscilla says:

    Awww, Anya is beautiful and so very lucky to have a new forever home with you! Congratulations on your terrific tear of reading, even if the overall list was smaller. You’ve convinced me that I need to read The Blind Assassin, which I picked up back in 2009 and for some reason never finished. that will be a great one for the TBR Double Dog Dare! Happy New Year, Teresa.

    • Teresa says:

      Happy new year to you, Priscilla!

      The Blind Assassin is really a terrific book. I keep hoping Atwood will get back to her realistic fiction. I like her speculative work, but it’s her other books that I love.

  12. So sorry again about Sophie, Teresa. I was a wreck when my kitty died. I’m glad that you were able to get another cat quickly, and as I think I said on FB, I LOVE her name.

    Are you planning to read Hanya Yanagihara’s next book, A Little Life, when it comes out next year? I had some complicated and ferocious emotions about it, and I’m interested to see what other people who loved People in the Trees will think of the author’s second book.

    • Teresa says:

      I did get A Little Life from Netgalley, but I’ve been hesitant after you told me how much you didn’t like it. I still intend to try it and see how it goes.

  13. pburt says:

    I too lost my beloved cat this year. And a few months later two delightful kittens came into my life. They do well with books but are no help with the crossword puzzles. May your new friend bring you lots of joy and may Sophie ever remain a part of your heart.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh I’m so sorry to hear about your cat. It’s a hard, hard thing, isn’t it? But how fun to have two kittens! I don’t think I have the patience for kittens anymore.

  14. Lu says:

    Sending all the love for Sophie and all the welcomes to Anya. One of my goals in 2015 is to read a book of poetry a week, because I really miss poetry. I have been supremely disappointed in Fairfax County’s poetry selection (and their comics selection). So I think I’m just going to have budget a little bit more for buying those this year. (I’m totally ok with that!)

    • Teresa says:

      That’s too bad that the poetry and comics selection are not so great in Fairfax. I haven’t looked much for poetry in Alexandria, but the comics selection is pretty good.

      I’ve been really liking the Poetry Foundation’s poems of the day. I subscribe to the RSS feed, and there’s a nice variety in their selections. I don’t think I could read a poetry book a week, but adding a poem or two has been nice.

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