January 4, 2015

2014: The Year in Books

Last year, I made an effort to read more and I was successful.

I love reading.  It's something that makes me feel more balanced as a person.  More whole.  Written words make me feel less alone.  Also, my book club is a great group of folks and as a result of their selections, I picked up and finished several books I otherwise would have never read.

The total physical books read for the year is 34, which makes me very happy.  I'm hopeful I can read a similar number in 2015 (although the Harry Potter books went so fast that it may be difficult to repeat the same volume).

Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
Couldn't make it through the book in time for book club.  Slowly slogged through…finally finished and didn't enjoy it at all.  Big surprise given how much I loved The House of Mirth.
Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte
I'd never read this one.  So different than I expected.  Dark, dreary, sad portrayal of mental illness and the power structures that placed women at the hands of men.
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Jonas Jonasson
So enjoyable.
Lighthearted and yet full of historical references and a constant reminder that if you live a long life, even the things that seem like a very big deal become relatively small in the grand scheme of time.
The Tao of Pooh
Benjamin Hoff
I think I read the Te of Piglet many years ago.  This one was very enjoyable to me, particularly due to some of the cute plays on words ("Confuse" was always capitalized in a way that made it clear that there was a strong reference to Confucianism).  Overall, I like the Tao.  And the Tao of Pooh, well, I like it, too.  More chill and going with the flow.  Who could possibly argue with that?
California Apricots:  The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley
Robin Chapman
A great historical view of Silicon Valley from the agricultural side.  Nice pictures.
Kurt Vonnegut
So it goes.  A wonderful book to read with book club.  An impressive work -- the tone is so balanced, yet the outcome is so very strongly anti-war.  Many layers to discuss and enjoy.
Sputnik Sweetheart
Haruki Murakami
Yet another magical mythical dream interwoven with reality and the loneliness of Japanese life.  If you usually like Murakami, this one will please you, too.
A Study in Scarlett
Arthur Conan Doyle
The first book introducing Sherlock Holmes and the first half was exactly what I'd expect.  The second half, however, surprised me greatly -- a tale of Mormons in Utah leading to murder and a 2-decade long search for revenge, not anything like what I thought it would be.
The Soul of a New Machine
Tracy Kidder
1981 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and a book E read as a kid.  This book tells the story of bringing up a start-up-like project to fruition within the confines of Data General Corporation.  Many of the experiences of the engineers who "birthed" the machine are so similar to the stories of my clients and my own experiences within startups.  This book definitely aged exceedingly well. 
Happy Potter And the Sorcerer's Stone
J.K. Rowling
Read this with my niece and enjoyed it very much.  Fun and predictably fanciful with more advanced vocabulary than I expected.   I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.
the all of it
Jeannette Haien
A delightful quick read.  A recent widow insists on telling her life story to a priest and reveals actions that could be considered sins, for which she wants no absolution.  A beautiful intimacy between them develops as the story unfolds. 
The signature of all things
Elizabeth Gilbert
Such a different story than Eat, Pray, Love -- if I didn't know it was the same author I never would have guessed. A thoroughly enjoyable well-researched historical fiction.
Bram Stoker
The root of all vampire stories -- so interesting to see how prominent the lawyers were and the origins of various myths that were expanded along the lineage.  Defintiely one of the more meaningful and rewarding books I've read in book club, in terms of making me feel like a better educated and cultured individual.
Gone Feral:  Tracking My Dad Through the Wild
Novella Carpenter
A softer side of Novella than the one she shows in City Farm investigates and tries to understand and accept her outsider father.  He is a man who tries to live off the land, but in today's world, this is almost impossible.  In seeking a relationship with him in his old age, her idealism meets reality and she must learn to accept many more faults than she realized were there.
Palo Alto
James Franco
I almost had to read this one -- it's about being a teenager in a town that borders my own.  Wow!  Teenagers have way more sex, drugs, and angst than I ever encountered (but I had a bit of an odd teenagerhood).  I enjoyed it more than I thought it would and it made me want to see the movie, which I was previously uninterested in seeing.
Brain on Fire
Susannah Cahalan
A journalist suffers a psychotic break, and afterwards, uses her skills to document the unique disease she suffered in all of its confusing and crazy reality.  Extremely well done, if a bit scary in how clearly it shows that the line between sanity and insanity isn't really a line at all.
The Magicians
Lev Grossman
My sister-in-law gave this book to me as a birthday present and she was dead on.  I ripped through it in every spare moment I could find and when I finished it, I went to the store to buy the next 2 books in the series.  Set in modern day, but also magical fantasy, it is best described as chronicles of narnia meets potter with a darker more gritty reality.
The Magician King
Lev Grossman
Very enjoyable.
The Magician's Land
Lev Grossman
Sad that it had to end.
The Diagnosis
Alan Lightman
Perhaps one of the most depressing books I've ever read.  A man without much of a life slowly loses his faculties.  De-press-ing.
Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone
J.K. Rowling
A little late to the party, but I bought my niece the set for her birthday and we co-read, scheduling phone calls or in-person discussions to go over the book.  It was fun.  And I was hooked.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling
Continuing with the niece reading until it became apparent that he onslaught of middle school made co-reading with her aunt much too low on her priority list.  So I forged forward solo.  Actually, I raced to the end of the book.  So enjoyable.
Happy Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J.K. Rowling
The first book in the series I read solo -- I tried to rip through it, but my life is not structured for reading.  So often, I'd find myself opening, paging back and re-reading the previous 2-3 pages to re-orient myself before another 3-4 pages and then good night.  As you can imagine, when this pattern is repeated, it is not exactly hyper efficient.  But it was enjoyable.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J.K. Rowling
Harry is getting older in this one, maturing, the plot gets a bit darker.  Enjoyable twists and turns.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling
At this point, I'm in full on addiction mode, just ripping through the books as quickly as I can.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
J.K. Rowling
Still enjoying my romp through the series.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J.K. Rowling
A very satisfying end. 
An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England
Brock Clarke
Book Club Book.  A bit of a let down.  None of us enjoyed it very much.  I kept feeling like the book itself was some sort of meta-literary joke being played on me, the reader.
The Jennifer Morgue
Charles Stross
Otherworldly, fast, geeky, fun.  A great travel read.
The Bette Davis Club
Jane Lotter
Simple, syrupy, plot-driven, guilty pleasure. (re-read)
Mrs. Hemingway
Naomi Wood
One of my favorite types of fiction.  Well-researched historical stories that tie together actual historical facts with an imaginary tale.  I learned more about Hemingway and the Jet Set of the 1920s from this book than I have since re-reading the Great Gatsby.
Dance Dance Dance
Haruki Murakami
This one ended up being a bit of a mystery with a traditional "solve" albeit in the crazy Murakami multiple worlds way.  Very enjoyable.  Read almost all of it on the couch on a Saturday after rolling my ankle on a trail run.  A wonderful way to spend the day.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
Haruki Murakami
Another excellent work in the inimitable Muraki style.  His ability to create mysteries, both magical and in the real world and to weave them together to describe the loneliness and otherworldliness of human relationships is so enjoyable.  Color, music (particularly piano), dreams, many things unexplained.  Surprisingly light on moons and cats.  But heavy on food and coffee.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel
Adelle Waldman
Book club book.  A tale of the modern love life from the perspective of a mid-20s male writer in New York  with serious commitment issues.  Well done, but the character is so shallow.  Far enough from the actual life experience of all of our book club members that we couldn't decide if it was realistic or overdone.  Interesting.


Jen said...

I definitely need to bookmark this list. Thanks for the recommendations!

bt said...

Glad you found it useful, Jen. I love reading other people's reading lists, so I figured I needed to give back.

Ramesh Dharan said...

For what it's worth, I thought the Nathaniel P. book was very realistic. As do a lot of Brooklynites I've talked to about it :).

bt said...

@Ramesh -- thanks for the background. Definitely answers the biggest question we all had.