61. That's the number of books I read in 2014. Nine more than my goal of 52 books, or one a week, approximately.
It began as a challenge, something I had to think about and dedicate time to doing, but I'm so happy to say that as the year draws to a close, reading has become much more "part of me". It's something I crave and consider a natural necessity, even part of my daily routine, like cleaning my teeth or making a pot of tea. I don't need to hope that I'll keep reading in 2015, I know I will because I am reaping the benefits of reading more every single day. My only additional aim for 2015 is to read even more. Maybe even 100 books? (Did you know that I have over-optimistic tendencies?)
That said, my good intentions to write a monthly summary of the books I'd read, and to also share photos of them on Instagram, faded very quickly. I have left fairly indepth reviews for most of them over on Goodreads so it all felt a bit repetetive. It's taken me far too long (two years+) but I'm finally realising how ridding my life of repetitive acts is a good thing. But I do want to keep sharing book recommendations with you (and not just over on Goodreads) so I will try to do so next year, though I'm not sure what the format will look like just yet.
For now, let me list my favourite books of this year. I heartily recommend them all.
I feel as though I've already overshared my love for this book (I used a quote from it to introduce one of the short stories in London Eyes, which is still reduced by the way!) but here I am again, telling you how I regret not reading this sooner. Slickly composed prose and utterly believable characters aside, this is a book that passes comment on a specific time in British society, and yet still holds true today. It's also just a very intriguing story with both highly satisfatory twists and unexpected outcomes.
Unbelievably this was my first Raymond Chandler novel, though already it won't be my last as I quickly followed it up with two more (Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye). Maybe it was the novelty factor that made this one more brilliant in my mind, or maybe it was just the charmingly original way in which the reader never really knows what Philip Marlowe is thinking, but you always know he's thinking something. Trying to guess what it is became half the fun as a convoluted plot is masterfully tackled and resolved, with some of the punchiest, smartest, wittiest one liners I've ever read.
I devoured this book. It was nostalgic, poignant and authentic in equal measure, and only lost a star because I found the ending so heart-braking (spelling intended!) in it's unjust abruptness. While I have no idea what it's like to be a teenager in 1986 Omaha, Nebraska, I do know what it's like to be a teenager, to feel as awkward as a bad joke at a funeral and I surprised myself with how vividly this made me recall what it's like to fall in love for the very first time. Read, remember, revel in this book, my second foray into Young Adult fiction.
This was my first YA book and again, I read it with as little pause as possible. I'm embarrassed to admit I may have even finished it while on the toilet. I laughed at Hazel and Augustus' killer-quick repertoire. I sobbed at the unutterable sadness of teenagers with terminal cancer. And I applauded (I think I actually did, once I'd got off the loo and washed my hands, of course) John Green for ensuring that this book lived up to all that hype and then some. Also, part of it is set in AMSTERDAM!!!!
I also recently watched the film which was very, very close to everything I imagined the book to be visually, but it didn't have the same depth or rawness, in my opinion. Though why I watched it on a plane surrounded by strangers is beyond me... A week later, my eyes have just about lost their puffiness.
At the beginning of the year I did some research to find novels based in Amsterdam and this was one of the first I bought. It began something of a splurge of old orange- and green-spined Penguin Classics and Penguin Crime books so it must have been good. Much to my surprise this book is set not just in my home city but the murder in question actually takes place just a few streets from my apartment (somewhat sadly close to where I saw a body being lifted out of the canal though I found out that that was not a suspicious death). Set in the Sixties and with a brilliantly deadpan and unorthodox lead detective, Heer Van der Valk, I was pleasantly surprised with how well this story held my attention and played out.
I really did not expect to like this book. It was my first Iris Murdoch and the blurb painted the picture of a novel about pretentious Londoners with too much time on their hands to overanalyse their relationships. I wasn't wrong, this is what the book is about, but it's so excellently done I had to award it five fat stars. Yes, the language is accomplished and both carried me along while also impressing me at regular intervals, but even the absurdity of the unravelling plotline and its characters gave me enough entertainment to ignore, or maybe enjoy despite myself, their mind-boggling ridiculousness.
Another book with more hype than a mobile taxi app, I put off reading The Book Thief for a few years before I finally succumbed, which wasn't hard considering I was lying on a sun lounger in Morocco at the time. I sped my way through the digital ink pages and thought about the book when I was away from my Kindle. This is no small feat when you actually know the ending of the book from the very outset and you have Death as your narrator...
Already a fan of her short stories, I was a little apprehensive of Aimee Bender's first novel because of the lukewarm reviews for it. Silly me. This book is enchanting, in the very literal sense of the world. It's magical... or magical realism as others would like to call it. I don't want to give away any of the plot (because truth be told there isn't that much to it) but approach this book with an open mind and an open heart and you're likely to find both affected by this book.
Sticking with magical realism, The Ice Queen has a number of similarities with Aimee Bender's work, but I found it has a slightly less abstract and more emotional, and emotive, narrative. In fact, there is hardly a page that isn't fused with feeling. Admittedly, this means it possibly isn't for everyone, but when the writing is so strong and the plot so tight, it's very welcome to me. I will definitely read more Hoffman in the future. In fact, I don't know why I haven't already.
I read more non-fiction this year than I anticipated, and enjoyed it much more than I expected. While I read several good books about writing, business and personal growth, my favourite non-fiction books of 2014 were memoirs and certainly this one was at the top of that list. Here's an extract from my Goodreads review which explains the reasons why better than I can right now: "Eloquent and elegant, yet equally self-deprecating and openly humbled by her experience - one that she was honestly petrified by - following a young woman on her journey around the world, travelling solo, in the 1880s was like stepping back in time and understanding a period of history and travel that has long gone. And yet many of Bisland's observations rang true to me, recalling my own observations of the tropics, the colour of the sea and the feeling of being a million miles from home and yet very close to where you should be in life."
Yes, the film is brilliant, but trust me when I say the book is one hundred times better. There is more authenticity (understandably), there is more heart-aching detail - historic and otherwise - and there are countless undeniably hard truths about our world 200 years ago. This book doesn't make you "understand" slavery better, but it does give you a new awareness of personal struggle and of the human spirit which can be both frighteningly easy to break, but immovably solid in how it repairs itself and pushes a person forward in the face of so much hardship and adversity.
This book taught me so much as a reader and a writer. It showed me the value in connecting two worlds that shouldn't really ever collide, and it taught me how there really are no rules in terms of who or what you write about. It's up to you, the writer, to make it convincing and concrete in a reader's minds, not the other way around. Ozeki does this masterfully, with, no doubt, years of researching having been ploughed into this novel about a British Columbia-based writer who finds the diary of a Japanese teenager washed up on the shores of a beach near her house not long after the March 2011 Tsunami. The premise will pique anybody's interest, but the unfolding of the story will grab you and hold you fast until the final pages.
What were your favourite books of 2014? I'd love to know so I can add them to 2015's reading list. Oh and let's make friends on Goodreads!
Frances M. Thompson
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