Of all the goals I set for the year, this particular goal takes some real effort for me. It’s not that I don’t like to read, it’s just that there are times of the year where I’m just so busy. (Ok, and that I’m still playing Animal Crossing 5 nights out of the week.)
Initially I completed this goal a couple years ago and thought, I don’t think this needs to be a goal anymore; I read plenty. But then in 2013, I swear I read like three books in the whole year (shameful!). Ultimately, if I make my goals public, they feel more firm.
Top Four Books of 2014
The Martian by Andy Weir – Dare I say this was my favorite read of the year?? Written mostly as diary entries, the main character is an astronaut who has been accidentally left behind on Mars in the relative near future. His entries are a mix of depression, self-deprecating humor, and determination that (for me) made him the best hero you can imagine. I don’t want to give any spoilers because there are some good ones, so I’m going to stop there. Seriously though, this book was a page turner!!!
The Outlander by Gil Adamson – I read that this book was being adapted for the screen several years ago, and then I couldn’t find anything new, and I’m devastated. It immediately starts off with a young woman running for her life after murdering her husband (for reasons we don’t find out immediately) into the wilderness to survive on her own. The writing is incredibly cinematic, and I felt like a casting director as each new character was introduced. Dear Hollywood: here is who I pictured for each role:
The Ridgerunner: Joseph Gordon Levitt
The Reverend: Daniel Day Lewis
McEchern: Peter Dinklage
The Jail Keeper’s Wife: Helen Mirren
The Widow: Lady Gaga
Did I not just make an Academy Award Winning blockbuster or what?! Anyway, I totally recommend this book.
S by JJ Abrahms and Doug Durst – Basically there are multiple stories going at once; and this book is INTERACTIVE, in a way. Pretend you’re cruising around an old library, and you find an old book that someone has written in and it is stuffed with additional items like postcards and photographs. There is the actual book’s story, Ship of Theseus, that you read; and then all the notes in the margin tell a completely different but related story. I’m not gonna lie – it’s overwhelming, but in a good way. I loved the narrative of Ship of Theseus. I can’t wait to go back and read it simply on it’s own. The story starts out with a guy who wakes up and has no idea where he is or who he is, but he’s all wet like he washed up on shore. There are twists and turns (as you can expect) as he continues to search for who he is – a pirate? a political rebel? an international spy? contracted hit man?
Then you’re also reading notes in the margin. The story is that the “author” of the book (VM Straka) was a mystery never solved. He himself was rumored to be all those things above and the margin notes are that of two people trying to decode the book for clues. Are you confused yet? Cause I’m not done. THEN there are the footnotes. Supposedly Straka was so secretive that he only sent his manuscripts to his editor and they never met in person. They were finally supposed to meet to pass off the manuscript for Ship of Theseus but he was thrown from the hotel balcony right before she got there (by who is also a mystery) and she scooped up the manuscript and published it, knowing it’s importance. Her footnotes include secret messages and clues. Then you’ve got all the notes, postcards, pictures, and so on stuffed INTO the book (put there by the margin note couple). Part of it relates to their search for Straka’s identity, and the other part is the characters opening up to each other about a lot of personal stuff.
There is no way you can read this book once and call it good. And frankly I can’t recommend it for a lot of people because it requires work to comprehend what’s going on (but for those who are willing to take the plunge, I think you will be satisfied). It’s a novel for those of us who really appreciate a story that goes beyond well written – it’s totally inventive and evolves the experience of reading.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy – I picked this one up because I noticed a lot of my student had been ripping through it this year, and plus it’s set in Portland. It is the first of a trilogy, and it’s comforting to know that in the land of popular (yet poorly written) young adult fiction, there are jewels like this one that can be full of adventure and gracefully written at the same time. Basically, a young (and feisty) girl, Prue, witnesses her infant baby brother kidnapped by crows and taken into Forest Park (a real park located in Portland that is literally 6 times bigger than Central Park)…however in the book, no one goes there…it’s full of mystery and danger. But Prue must save her brother so she goes in (with classmate, Curtis, in tow) and the forest comes alive with the people and talking animals who live there. But don’t think this is a soft and fluffy animal world – right from the beginning they are blowing each other to bits in multitude of political battles. The writing is very fluid and I felt like I could see each scene unfolding in a movie scene (and I’ve read a film adaptation is in the works). At one point I remember putting the book down, looking at Thor and saying, “This book is Star Wars meets Portland.” And I mean that as a compliment.
Obviously I’m not into your girly romance kind of stories, and interestingly I can easily see a theme amongst my four favorites of 2014: stranger in a strange land. Each one of these novels focuses on a lone character who is immersed in a new, uncharted world outside their comfort zone. Guess I have a thing for westerns, in a way.
ALSO, these four books are new reads of 2014. Let me remind you that these books I read this year (as favorite re-reads) should be on your bookshelf, as well:
Top Four Lifetime Favorites
King Rat by James Clavell – This is officially the 20th summer in a row I have read this book. I almost feel like there should be some special limited edition print just for me, like “Lindsay’s 20th anniversary edition.” I’m not sure why this books speaks to me so much, but perhaps it’s my own personal fantasy in some sadistic way. There are no women characters, but a slew of POWS held in Singapore during WWII by the Japanese, and I find their relationships intriguing, entertaining, and complicated. Every time I read the book, I feel like I’m unraveling a new clue, and if you saw my recent post about planning my funeral, you know that I want the final passage to be read at my wake.
St Mawr – by DH Lawrence: Not sure what came over me, but I was compelled to buy a hard copy of St Mawr at a vintage book shop during my trip to Phoenix. It is my favorite DH Lawrence story but it has been a good ten years since I last read it. Basically, it’s about a girl and a horse. And good and evil, and life and death, and mothers and daughters, and man vs nature, and innocence lost and pretty much every other theme you could imagine, all subtly packed into one little novella. That’s what makes DH Lawrence my favorite author of all time. Perhaps it’s that I am always seeking more, always thinking, always questioning, that is story resonates with me. Or maybe I just like horses. This book is not for everyone, but I think it’s possibly one of the best things ever written.
Watchmen by Alan Moore – If you don’t know what Watchmen is, then you’re living in the dark. If it’s been awhile since you read it, I recommend you pick it back up. While reading, I simultaneously watched the Motion Comics series of Watchmen that I bought off iTunes several years ago (you can also find it on Youtube).
For a time when the real world is riddled with international conflict and fear, Watchmen has a very real relevance in 2014. Maybe this story speaks to me because I have a pretty fatalistic view of society, and I not-so-secretly think I’m destined to be a vigilante someday. And while I think there are a lot of fun apocalyptic and dystopian series out there for young adults (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc), if you’re an adult you should really be picking this one up instead.
Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – I first heard a chapter read aloud by my friend, Amanda, back in grad school, and I’ve subsequently taught the book every year to my students. That being said, I get something new out of reading it every time, and even thought it’s a “children’s” book, I believe there’s some pretty big stuff in there. In a nutshell, you’ve got an incredibly self-absorbed china rabbit (who cannot talk or move by himself), named Edward Tulane. Unexpected events cause him to be owned by several different characters until he really discovers the meaning of his own existence. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s deeeeep. Little kids love it, big kids love it, adults love it. Now when are they going to make the damned movie?!
There you have it – my favorite reads of the year. I also read a lot of crappy books, but I won’t make a Bottom Books of 2014 list because what’s the point of rehashing something that sucks?
What great books did you read this year?