Writing Make It Mighty Ugly really screwed up my reading habit. For nearly two years, I just wasn’t able to focus on reading, and my appetite for fiction took a nosedive. Finally, around the middle of 2014, I snapped back to it and started to feel like my usual reading-self again (added bonus: I’ve apparently become a reader of non-fiction, too).
I didn’t quite meet my modest goal of reading twenty books over the course of the year, but since I didn’t get back to myself till the summertime, I’m not at all feeling like I failed. Also, I did spend considerably more time making stuff than I ever had before, so that’s a new factor in my reading life (not at all an unwelcome one).
Here’s what I read in 2014:
- The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. Greg got into this epic, classic, fifteen-volume fantasy series (called The Wheel of Time) during our holiday at the end of 2013. He raved about it so much, I started it, too. (He read nothing but this series in 2014! He’s on, like, book twelve or something now.)
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce. A family friend literally pressed this book into my hand at the library one day. It’s a lovely novel that manages to be both light and deep.
- The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas. Of course I read the first Veronica Mars novel. Obviously. (The plot was great, and very Rob Thomas. And Veronica’s voice sounded perfectly – and eerily – like Kristen Bell’s. But the writer he partnered with lacked some nuance. Still, perfectly enjoyable, and I look forward to the next VM book, which I believe will come out later this month.)
- The Great Hunt, Robert Jordan. Second in the Wheel of Time series.
- The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. I’d put off reading this because kids with cancer, but I’m so glad I finally caved. I cried, sure, but the book is as good as the hype says it is. (And the movie didn’t suck.)
- The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill. Greg’s aunt recommended the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels to me, and I always take her recommendations. This first book was wonderful, with an outstanding twist. I loved it so much I’ve put off reading the second, but I think it’s time.
- Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness. I didn’t love the first book in this trilogy (A Discovery of Witches), but for some reason decided I wanted to continue with it (probably due to lots of hype about the final book coming out). I liked this second even less than the first. But I’ll probably read the last one, for no good reason I can think of.
- Slightly Married, Mary Balogh. I was looking for romance novels that don’t suck, and this writer came highly recommended. The book was good, but the seemingly ubiquitous formula of romance novels doesn’t compel me to read more. Do you love any romance novels that don’t follow the will-they-won’t-they/forbidden-love/Pride-and-Prejudice trajectory? I’d love to read some; please share!
- The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkman. This book. This is the one that rocked my world. I’ve recommended it to pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to about books, self-help, business, or life (so, pretty much everyone, period). As I was coming to accept that I’d written a self-help book, myself (it hadn’t been my intent, so the understanding of that fact came to me slowly, over time), this book allowed me to think through why I can’t stand reading self-help books. I always find them irrelevant to me in a way that used to make me feel broken beyond repair, but that now makes me realize I just kind of have a different worldview than, it would seem, most people writers write self-help books for. Positive thinking, for example, gives me hives. I just find it a lie. It’s just a lie. Because sometimes shit happens and sometimes life hurts, and that’s all well and good. Reading this book – which is not actually a self-help book but rather a journalistic exploration of what the author calls the cult of positive thinking and the antidote to it, which he calls the negative path to happiness – allowed me to place Mighty Ugly into a much wider context, beyond my own personal quirks. Of course I think ugliness is the key to creative happiness. Duh. Read this book. Do it now.
- What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?: A Memoir, David Harris-Gershon. I struggle, as a North American Jew, with some of the very propagandistic rhetoric many Jewish organizations and people I know and love share about Israeli-Palestinian relations, because I think that Palestinians are, you know, human beings who deserve basic human rights just like all human beings. (I also struggle, as a lefty artsy person, with propagandistic anti-Israel rhetoric that comes from some of my lefty-artsy friends. Propaganda: it pretty much doesn’t contribute meaningful conversation no matter who creates it). I read this book at the recommendation of a new friend, and I recommend it to anyone interested in gaining perspective on a difficult issue rather than defaulting to a deliberately one-sided view. Harris-Gershon’s experience (his wife was nearly killed in a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem; eventually, he was only able to heal, himself, after trying to reconcile with the terrorist who executed the bombing) is eye-opening, and inspiring.
- Claudine, Barbara Palmer. In my continuing quest to enjoy romance novels, I took the publisher up on an offer to send this book to people who had never read erotica. I found the book to be uninteresting and unmemorable.
- Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater. Hm. I didn’t read much YA fiction this year, eh? This book, the first in a trilogy, was good. But not so good that I decided to continue with the series.
- Fiona’s Flame, Rachael Herron. Apparently, romance (also non-fiction) was the theme of my reading year. I’ve read all of Rachael’s knitting romance books (full disclosure: she’s a friend, and I interviewed her for Make It Mighty Ugly), and this one is by far my favourite. She just nailed it (see what I did there?). Yeah, sure, these books totally follow the formula. But instead of being boring, they’re just downright delightful. It’s possible I’m picky about romance novels because I’m spoiled by hers.
- The Last Policeman, Ben H. Winters. I think I read about The Last Policeman trilogy on a blog somewhere, and whatever it was I read led me to order the whole trilogy immediately. I wasn’t disappointed. The setting alone (it’s pre-apocalyptic!) – more, the author’s treatment of it – is worth the price of admission.
- A Spear of Summer Grass, Deanna Raybourn. This book is why I love Twitter. One day, Deanna tweeted that she enjoyed my book. I thanked her, and looked up what she does. Lo and behold, she’s a romance novelist. And I happened to need a next book to read. So I asked her which of hers I should start with, and A Spear of Summer Grass was one of the ones she recommended. I really enjoyed this book. Yup, it’s the formula. But the characters in this book are rich and interesting, and I utterly enjoyed getting to know them.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. This book was my return to reading books that are talked about. It’s outstanding, and you should read it, too. Especially if you have any background or interest in research psychology. I’ve been dying to talk to someone who’s read this book, because you can’t actually talk about it without giving away a plot twist. So if you’ve read it – fascinating, amiright?
- Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. Another very buzzed-about book, and worth every bit of hype. It was short-listed for the National Book Award, I think, and it wouldn’t have been wrong for it to have won. (Canadian book people: I haven’t seen this novel discussed as Can-lit, and I can’t figure out why. Half of it is set in Toronto and the author’s Canadian. Is it that she doesn’t live in Canada? Is it that the book was both a critical and commercial success across the border? I don’t get it.)
Did you read any great books in 2014? What are you looking forward to reading in 2015? (I’ve set myself a more ambitious goal for the year – to read thirty books, and I’m going to try to build some non-fiction reading time into my workday, too. You can follow along as I go, over on Goodreads.)