Ten Favorite Reads From 2014

This has been quite the year for me — finished my last semester of school, graduated with my masters degree, moved across the country (twice!), started working full-time, and settled into life as a adult (whatever that means). I read 63 books in 2013 and thought my goal to read seventy-five books in 2014 would be a stretch. This year certainly felt busier than last year, and I think the fact that I read zero books in February and April and only two in March is a testimony to that.

Yet, here I am on the last day of 2014 with 150 books read! So I guess there is an upside to being hit by a car and unable to do much beside lay on the couch. Although, I would gladly trade away some of my stats for the year to avoid ever reliving that experience.

According to GoodReads, I read 37,678 pages in 2014 ranking this year fifth out of the seven I’ve logged on the site. The numbers might be a bit skewed — this year ranks as third in terms of the number of total books read — because nine of the 150 books I read were comics/graphic novels and 36 were audiobooks.

I didn’t keep a spreadsheets of my stats this year so I can’t break down my reading to the detail I have in the past beyond the basics — 62% fiction versus 38% nonfiction, 63% female authors versus 37% male, 81% library books, and 65% printed books. (For the first time, audiobooks jumped to double digits — a whopping 23%.) Instead, I thought I would offer up ten of the best and most memorable reads of the year.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

In Canada, Ruth discovers the diary of a young girl, Nao, amidst debris that washes ashore following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Unsure if Nao perished in the tsunami, if she will ever have the opportunity to return Nao’s diary to her, or if the timeline of Nao’s diary ends with the beginning of Ruth’s discovery, Ruth discovers that time not distance separates her from Nao and the possibilities for Nao’s ending are up to her to write. Ozeki’s book builds from the contradictory understandings what “time being” means — “time being” being the present moment that we’re stuck with now and must embrace, or “time being” from the Buddhist viewpoint where each human is entrapped by time, which means that we are all in this together. My father and I listened to the audiobook read by the author as we drove across New England and ended up have a fascinating discuss about the meta nature of this novel. As I wrote in my review, easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Part One | Part Two)

I don’t think I can possibly thank Trish enough for hosting the readalong that encouraged me to give this book a try. I read this book with no idea what it was about and loved having the story unfold for me but, basically, the novel is about a group of friends sent by the Vatican to study the newly discovered planet of Rakhat. One returns to Earth near death after being found maimed in a brothel on Rakhat and is unable — or, unwilling – to tell investigators from the United Nations and the Vatican what happened during their missions. This novel moves beyond science fiction, though, to become one of the most ethically and spiritually challenging books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. (And, yes, I’m still unsure about the ending!)

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I should not have resisted reading this novel for as long as I did. It truly is the masterpiece people claim it to be, and I paused the audiobook read by Frank Muller on more than one occasion to ponder some seemingly small detail the narrator, Winston, mentions in passing. More importantly, though, Orwell’s novel raises important questions about the intersection of government and journalism: is the record of history being continuously rewritten by each new regime? Is war a tool to motivate the economy? Is fear utilized by the political elite to control the masses and continue to perpetrate the need for war?

The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce

Entangled in the political juggernaut of reproductive rights, adoption is championed as a “win-win” compromise to a woman’s right to choice — abortion opponents “win” as the woman has not had an abortion, pregnant women “win” because they do not have to raise the fetus in question, and couples struggling with infertility “win” because they can finally become parents. Yet adoption is also entangled with serious moral and ethical dilemmas — as suggested by the subtitle of Joyce’s novel, “Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” — that are only exacerbated as the demand for adoptable orphans far outpaces supply. The complexity of these issues are well-research and presented in such a way that I never became lost or bogged down in the intricacies of an international issue. Joyce’s book is, frankly, a terrifyingly sobering read and one I would encourage anyone considering adoption — or, to be honest, anyone who cares about children, period — to read.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

This book is not Harry Potter and thank goodness for that. Rowling’s very adult novel focuses on a single council in the United Kingdom known as Pagford where the residents are divided in respect to their support of the local council estate, known as the Fields. The thirty-four characters in this novel experience a range of social issues, including rape, racism, drug addiction, domestic abuse, child abuse, self-harm, and suicide. The novel is a great demonstration of Rowling’s ability to construct multifaceted, intriguing characters – villains and victims, alike – regardless of the genre. The majority of the characters had very distinct voices; I blame the few that didn’t on the fact that the narrator of the audiobook, Tom Hollander, can only change the pitch of his voice so many times.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I actually attempted to read this novel in June 2011 without much luck, but the image of conjoined twins separated at birth from each other and their biological parents in Ethiopia during the 1960s never let me, and three years after my first attempt I plucked the audiobook version of the novel off the library shelf and tried for a second time. The narration of the audiobook by Sunil Malhotra was, quite simply, amazing, and I largely attribute my enjoyment of this novel with my love of his narration. This sweeping epic takes readers from Ethiopia to the United States providing insight into the history and culture of the former and a critique of the medical system in the later.

Someone At a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

This gem of a novel republished by Persephone Books — it was originally published in 1953 — follows an English family as they grapple with the impact a young, French woman has on their lives. It is a quintessential “domestic” novel that turned my gut reaction to the genre on its head. I absolutely fell in love with Whipple’s novel and her style of writing. All of her characters — even those who play the role of femme fatale – are written with such compassion and finesse that it was easy to understand their motivations and reactions, and particular attention is paid to how expectations of how life should be can upend how life actually is.

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. Moss’ book explains in detail how American ended up with a food system to pushes these high intake levels onto its consumers breaking down the problem into three key ingredients — salt, sugar, and fat. His information is detailed but easy to follow — no easy feat given how convoluted the heath research can be — and was the basis for several interesting conversations I had during 2014.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Off the coast of Washington on San Piedro Island in 1954, Japanese-American Kabuo Miyamoto is accused of murdering a local fisherman named Carl Heine Jr., who was found entangled in the drift of his boat out at sea. The accusation relies on the still raw history between Carl Jr. and Kabuo, between the Caucasian residents and those of Japanese descent who came under suspicion following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. I was so enamored with the poetic way this novel addressed racism towards people of Japanese descent during World War II that I made a whole list of nonfiction books to read on the topic. But the most thought provoking aspect of this novel — and the reason why I added it to this list — was its examination of how difficult it is for communities to set aside hatred after a war in which their neighbors are presented as their enemies.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Famous for introducing Americans to the art of French cooking and, later, for producing the first cooking show on television, Child’s memoir follows her life from her first moments on French soil when she tasted French cuisine. The memoir was finished by her husband’s grandnephew following her death in August 2004, yet the novel never loses Child’s voice — I felt as though as I was having a conversation with her, especially since I listened to the audiobook — and her love of French cuisine and the French people is conveyed with gusto and infectious enthusiasm. She was a truly remarkable woman, and I’m so glad I finally took the time to read her memoir.

It was difficult to limit myself to ten books and I hope to have the same problem in 2015. Other than that wish, I have only two plans for the new year: (1) continue to make progress on my list for the Classics Club and (2) raise the percentage of books read off my own shelves from a pitiful 9% by participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare.

Before I ring in the New Year and head off to airport to spend a well-deserved vacation (in my humble opinion) with my family, I would like to take the time to thank you all for reading my blog, sharing your thoughts, and celebrating all things bookish with me since 2008. I wish you all a happy and book-filled 2015!

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18 thoughts on “Ten Favorite Reads From 2014

  1. Fantastic selection of books! I’ve read and loved most. Of the ones I haven’t read The Sparrow is very high up my TBR pile – I actually own a copy and really should get around to reading it. The Child Catchers wasn’t on my radar before, but it sounds amazing so I’ve added it to my wishlist. Salt Sugar Fat also sounds like something I should read. I’ll keep an eye out at my library as it owns a copy. Thanks for a wonderful year of blogging 🙂

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    1. My pleasure! 🙂

      After reading your review for Cooked, I really think you would like Salt Sugar Fat. It really made me reassess my eating habits and how I choose low fat versus low carb, etc.

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  2. I really enjoyed Snow Falling On Cedars when I read it years ago, too. It’s a book where the atmosphere of it really sticks with you. I’m a little behind, but I’m so sorry to hear you were hit by a car! That sounds terrifying!!! I was in a car accident in 2013 that could have been much worse and it’s just so nerve-wracking. This probably isn’t healthy, but I totally avoided the intersection where I was hit! It just wasn’t a safe intersection, though, so I thought, well if I can avoid it, I might as well! Isn’t The Sparrow just great? I reread it during Trish’s readalong and it just solidified it as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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    1. I completely understand that sentiment. I was able to squeeze in one last bike ride before winter hit after I recuperated and it was completely nerve wracking to peddle right past where I was hit. Unfortunately, I was hit in the bike lane and I can’t avoid those without biking in the road, which is certainly not as safe.

      Anyways, yes, The Sparrow is wonderful. I’m so glad I joined Trish’ readalong otherwise it would have continued to fly under my radar. And I loved the atmosphere of Snow Falling On Cedars, although I’m a bit biased about that particular region of the world.

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  3. I got offered Someone at a Distance this Xmas – glad to see it made your list. I couldn’t handle The Casual Vacancy – so unrelentingly dark. Almost half-way through I needed a break and never returned. The Child Catchers in on the wish-list because of your review!

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    1. Ooh, I hope you enjoy Someone at a Distance. A relative recently visited London and brought me back several Persephone novels so I’m looking forward to reading those.

      I cried twice listening to The Casual Vacancy, and I’m not one who usually cries. It’s dark (although, my family will tell you I tend to read books on dark, deviant behavior) but so superbly written that I had to finish it.

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  4. Yay The Sparrow!!! And A Tale for the Time Being is one that I’ve been meaning to read for way too long. So glad to see Nineteen Eighty-Four on your list as it’s been one that I’ve been really intimidated by as well.

    Hope you have a fantastic 2015–and hopefully no accidents! Yikes.

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    1. A coworker made a joke that next year in order to improve upon my performance this year, I need to get hit by a car — twice! As much as I enjoy having the extra time to read, if that happens, I’m packing up and moving out of this city.

      I was terrified Nineteen Eighty-Four wouldn’t live up to Animal Farm, which I absolutely adore. So glad it managed to meet my expectations.

      Happy New Year!

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