Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Best and Worst I Read in 2014

I read 72 books in 2014! Well, OK, I read sixty-something books and I listened to a handful as audio books on my mp3 player while out walking or running. But for the purposes of this blog entry, same thing. Let's take a look at my 2014 year of reading in review!

I read more truly great non-fiction than truly great fiction this year. While I enjoy reading non-fiction and obviously love when it's great, I would also really like to be able to read more great novels, too, and by that I mean, I would like to stop being so disappointed in more than half of the novels I pick up. But we'll get to that in a second. First...

Easily the two best novels I read this year were Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko and Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. Both deal with the utter horror show that is humanity but in completely and totally different ways. The former is a gargantuan tome of Native American-Mexican-Arizonan-bring-on-the-revolution wisdom that will shock, horrify, and awe you if you have any ethical bones in your body. It will also teach you some history, make you homesick for Arizona if you're from there, cause you to seriously ponder your role in society and humans' role on the American continent and the globe, and possibly inspire a little tiny eensy bit of hope for the world. (But not too much.) There's also a fair amount of sex and drugs mixed in. It's hard to explain. The latter is Amis' famous novel told in reverse about a Holocaust "doctor" -- in order to grapple with the how-could-this-happen and how-did-he/they/we-become-evil questions, he tells the story backwards and it's basically genius.  I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

The other good novel I read this year was Men Against the Sea by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, the second in the Bounty Trilogy. Actually, the first, Mutiny on the Bounty, was all right, too, but the struggle of the men in the boat in the second book is just so hardcore, and you end with so much respect for them and an understanding of their deep love for the boat that helped them and brought them to safety.

The great non-fiction I read this year includes:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown -- This history of what happened to Indians in the American West should be required reading for everyone. The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times by Francis Russell -- Yes, you actually do need to read a biography of Warren G. Harding, if for nothing else than for the shenanigans of the smoke-filled rooms at the 1920 Republican convention and for his kindness to puppies.
The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution by James A Mitchell -- I was born too late (to live in the early '70s) but John Lennon wasn't and he was incredible and I previously had no idea how hard the U.S. government tried to get rid of them. (And succeeded?)To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov --  If you hate when people say "X changed my life" or when people are hailed as brilliant because they gave a TED Talk even though they are physically incapable of critical thinking, you'll dig Evgeny's thesis. If you are bristling at these notions, you are in need of Evgeny's thesis.Zola and His Time: The History of his Martial Career in Letters by Matthew Josephson -- When I finally got around to reading a Zola book (Therese Raquin) the other year, I was less than impressed. But! This bio re-fascinated me about him. And poor, poor Dreyfus (he of the Affair) -- such a fascinating bit of history and a groovy group of literary pals, who are definitely not without their flaws. 
Get out of my face, Gone Girl, The Interestings, Sue Grafton, Sharon Olds (Stag's Leap and her undeserved Pulitzer in particular) and, frankly, Sophie's Choice, too. So much disappointment!
The Fault in Our Stars, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Little Women (re-visited as an adult), No Ordinary Time, and some of Truman Capote's short stories included in the volume along with Breakfast at Tiffany's.  SOME FUN SURPRISES: The Wicked Pavilion  by Dawn Powell. Who knew?
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Check it out if you want a classic novel that's also basically a pioneering mystery novel and not on everyone's radar.
Missing Justice by Alafair Burke. Even though I've read a few of her novels previously and I am well acquainted with her and her life commentary, I was still delighted by the sharp feminism in this page-turner.
Also, 10 A ños con Mafalda, a collection of the Argentine comic strip Mafalda, opened my eyes to a bit of social history I never would have otherwise known. 
And you? How was your 2014 reading?

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