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:
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.
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.