It just goes to show you that quantity is not always reflective of quality. I may have read fewer books this year than previous years, but I didn't have a problem coming up with a promising-looking pool of 'favorites' candidates. As a matter of fact I had to leave a few off that I think were memorable and exceptional reads, but my list would otherwise have become a little too unwieldy had I shared all of them. I'm linking back to my original posts so you can read more about the books if you see something that catches your eye.
My standout reads for 2014:
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki -- Sorry I didn't get around to writing about this one properly! "It's an amazing read--multi-layered, well written, thoughtful, and filled with thought. It's a story within stories, told from varying perspectives in parallel times. And she pulls it all off perfectly and beautifully."
The Dead by James Joyce -- "I thought this was a pretty amazing story and the more I think about it, the more I like it. How impressive that in so few pages an author can pack such a wallop and I know that another reading of it would help in peeling back the many layers of it."
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My favorite reads of 2014 (in the order I read them):
In the Dark by Deborah Moggach -- "Every so often you come across a book where when you turn that last page it isn't just with a contented sigh of of satisfaction. There's that, too, but you think--wow, now that's really brilliant."
Black Lake by Johanna Lane -- "Johanna Lane’s debut novel, Black Lake, is the sort of story that creeps up on you. You don’t realize just how good it is until halfway through the book when you begin seeing all the layers of meaning, so immersed have you been in the telling of the story. If I could press a copy of this slender novel, so understated yet so elegantly constructed, into your hands right now, I would."
During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase -- "Quite often the best reading experiences I have, or at least the most memorable ones, are stories that are in some way challenging or difficult. This doesn’t necessarily mean difficult in terms of style, as easy reads can be deceptively so, cloaking a story of great complexity or depth in straightforward and unembellished prose."
Eline Vere: A Novel of the Hague by Louis Couperus -- "Here is a heroine who feels so very alive to me--flesh and blood. She is someone I can sympathize with even at those moments when she is at her weakest. She's not perfect, quite flawed in many ways. A reader might often shake her head at Eline's behavior, but she is someone who grows into something more, has deeper feelings and understanding about herself by novel's end."
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf -- "This is a big breath of a book with so very much to take in and admire. Wulf organizes it so well that it all just flows from one topic to another, one man to another, one story to another."
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley -- " . . . is just as charming and delightful as I was expecting it to be. Definitely one of those why did I wait so long to read books! I absolutely adore Helen McGill and she elicited more than one chuckle and the odd guffaw out of me. If I had a brother like her, though, I think I would have 'run away' a little sooner."
My Michael by Amos Oz -- I've not yet written about this one yet, but it is most definitely one of those 'wow' sorts of books. Everything I read in my Israeli War Literature class was really exceptional (if there is one bright spot in my otherwise not-so-good reading year it is most certainly the class I took, the books we read, and the discussions we had!). Oz is probably the best (and best known) modern Israeli writer and if you try him you'll understand why. This story is a little heavy and a little dark but truly amazing, too.
Every Eye by Isobel English -- "Every Eye is such a beautifully crafted story and written with real elegance. Tone, description and style all play off each other nicely making this one of my great finds of the year."
The Lover by A.B. Yehoshua -- " . . . in the space of some 350 pages and through the voices of six (often disparate) characters you get a view into this world. Each voice mostly moves the story forward, though, sometimes the narrations overlap or tell the same scene from varying perspectives shedding light on how people think and feel, what they believe (for good or bad), how they see each other and themselves. It felt to very authentic. And this is what floored me."
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young -- "This is such a surprising novel. I had heard it was good, but it was good in ways I didn't expect. So much going on under the surface."
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And a few honorable mentions:
Two exceptional books showing me a part of the world I would never have known otherwise: Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron and Beaufort by Ron Leshem. The former has a nicely balanced quirkiness and humor that plays off perfectly with what is a much more sobering subject matter and the latter reminded me of one of my favorite reads, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.
Best audio book to lose yourself in: The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood.
Best Christmas scenes: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Best comfort read: Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart (I definitely need more of these next year--that is comfort reads and books by Mary Stewart).
Best historical fiction that I've read in a long time (with the added bonus of being a seafaring tale) : The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin. (I need more historical fiction next year, too).
Onwards to 2015 and more good reading.