When I think about where I was and what I was doing this time last year, it’s all a little fuzzy, but when I think about what I was reading, it feels like it was just a few weeks ago! Notwithstanding gaps in my blogging and reading due to some personal projects sucking up most of my free time, I read 86 books this year, four more than last year. 78 of these were NOT re-reads, which means seven more new (to me) books than last year. Weirdly, this only totaled to about a thousand more pages than last year, perhaps because I read quite a few whoppers in 2013, and very few books that were over 600 pages this year.
My favorites were:
The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker: I loved the magical elements, but what has stayed with me is how Chava, the golem, and Ahmad, the djinni, come to understand and appreciate each other’s strengths and limitations. Wecker’s debut novel has the sparkle of a fairy tale, but its nuanced treatment will be best appreciated by adults. I very much hope to see something new from this author within the next year or two.
Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith: This is the kind of book that takes you over. It is funny and sad and smart and gripping. It’s the kind of book that makes me roll my eyes at the YA haters. I’m forcing myself to wait to read it again till I’ve forgotten more of it, but that’s going to be hard, as I suspect it’ll stay with me for a long time. I go on at length in my review.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin: Just freakin’ gorgeous. I can’t believe I didn’t read it sooner. My only excuse is that I read the first book in her Earthsea series about fifteen years ago and wasn’t as impressed as I’d thought I would be. Well, now I might have to re-read it, because Left Hand of Darkness has not only a strong, skillful prose style and some masterful world-building, but also a love story that moved me to tears. I’d go so far as to say it could be appealing even to non-sci-fi fans. It starts out as a story of political maneuvers and halfway through spins off into something completely different, and the composition of that arc will inspire admiration in anyone who appreciates good writing of any genre.
But my single biggest literary development of 2014 was the discovery of Sarah Waters. I was looking for something spooky to read and kept seeing recommendations for The Little Stranger. Well, after raving about that, I went on to her newest novel, The Paying Guests, and then read her other three novels, all inside of a month. My favorite of these was Fingersmith, a novel set in Victorian England that features basically everything I love about Victorian literature: doubles, sham marriages, the madhouse, laudanum, conspiracies, and interrogations of class and gender constraints. (And the BBC film adaptation is wonderful.) I loved all Waters’ novels, but these three became instant favorites with me. I may write up my thoughts on Fingersmith at some point this year just because so much of it is still rolling around in my head.
Although I’m still not sure I can call it a favorite, I re-read Charlotte Brontë’s Villette this year and was impressed all over again by what a weird, uncompromising book it is. In her creation of Lucy Snowe, Brontë writes a deeply flawed character whose problems are partly of her own making, and partly due to a world that did not easily accommodate intellectual women. Brontë shows how Lucy is buffeted by forces outside her control, but also how she is complicit in her own alienation. The atmosphere is dream-like, and the plot would be ludicrous in its series of coincidences and ambiguously supernatural elements were it not obvious that Lucy is a highly prejudiced and unobjective narrator. It is a puzzling and challenging book.
Less puzzling, but perhaps more enchanting, were The Snow Child, a beautiful and simple story by Eowyn Ivey, and Far, Far Away, by Tom McNeal, of which I was at first highly skeptical but then completely wowed by.
I’m hoping very much to get back to regular posting around the end of this month, especially since I’ve already got a backlog of books waiting for me to read!