Tuesday, December 23, 2014
My year in books
There have been some really good books published in the last year and I've been fortunate enough to have read a number of them plus having reread a few oldies but goodies from my past. As I look over the list of books that I've read in 2014, it's difficult to pick the cream of the crop, but I've considered each month individually and tried to pick my own personal Book of the Month. For some months, even that has been impossible and I've had to include more than one title. Here, then, is the extended list of my favorite books read (so far) in 2014.
January: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini - In my review of this book, I wrote, "This story stretches all the way from Kabul and the villages of Afghanistan to Paris, Greece, and, finally, San Francisco, but everywhere it goes, it is about family relationships and how we love and take care of those closest to us and what we owe not only to parents, children, and siblings but also uncles, aunts, cousins, and all those with whom we share blood. It is a multigenerational story about how decisions and choices made today can resonate and affect future generations." I gave the book five stars in my rating.
February: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert - In this well-written book that popularizes scientific concepts and principles, Kolbert discusses the five previous mass extinctions that have occurred on this planet and reveals why scientists believe the sixth one is in process.
March: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol - This book by a French writer is, at its core, about the difference that having enough money makes in a person's life. As a way of getting at that core, the book explores relationships and infidelity and how people deal with all that and the long-term consequences of a well-meaning lie.
April: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - The main action of this book takes place in post-World War II India as it is attempting to gain its independence from Britain. We experience it through the eyes of two brothers with very different personalities and outlooks and, as the years go by and one of the brothers emigrates to the United States, we see how the personality and memory of the absent brother continue to dominate his life.
May: (1.) Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat - We meet Claire on her seventh birthday which is also the seventh anniversary of her mother's death. It will be a momentous day for this luminous child and her beloved father and the lucky reader gets to experience it all. The novel is set in Danticat'a native Haiti, just before the earthquake that devastated that island nation in 2010.
(2.) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - On the surface, the novel is all about hair, about caring for the hair of black women, but underneath is a rich tapestry of the experience of a Nigerian immigrant to the United States and her experiences upon returning to Nigeria - where she is viewed as an "Americanah."
(3.) The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly - I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Connelly's character, LA lawyer Mickey Haller, someone who I believed might finally be able to fill the hole in my heart left by the absence of Perry Mason.
June: One Hundred Years of Solitude By Gabriel Garcia Marquez - This was a book that I had read many years ago, but after Marquez died this year, I decided to reread it as my homage to him. After all those years, I found it still to be an overwhelming story full of so much detail that it is hard to absorb, but ultimately, a profoundly stunning reading experience.
July: Someone by Alice McDermott - This was a deceptively simple story where nothing very dramatic or earth-shattering happened. Indeed, it is a story about the lives of ordinary people in an ordinary neighborhood in New York. They were people with whom I could easily identify and perhaps that's why I enjoyed the book so much.
August: The Terrorists by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo - This was the tenth and last entry in the Swedish writer couple's ground-breaking police procedural series featuring detective Martin Beck. I loved reading the series and could have put all ten books on my list of favorites for the year, but I settled for the last one, because I think it was my favorite.
September: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain - This story of the heroic Bravo Company's return from the war in Iraq to be feted at the Thanksgiving Day football game featuring the Dallas Cowboys - and more particularly, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders - was funny and poignant and insightful in just about equal measures and, in the end, it gave those of us who have never been on a battlefield some sense of just what that must be like.
October: Back Spin by Harlan Coben - I surprised myself by actually liking this third entry in Coben's series featuring sports agent Myron Bolitar. Although I hadn't been too impressed by the two earlier books in the series, this one grabbed and held my attention all the way through.
November: The Plantagenets by Dan Jones - If I had to choose my favorite book of the year, I think it might be this one. This popular history treatment of the first real royal dynasty in English history had all the drama, the blood and the sex of Game of Thrones, but it was for real!
December: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Admittedly, the month isn't over and I'm still reading, but I don't think I'm likely to find a book that I will enjoy more this month than this tale of the passionate but unlovable ex-math teacher who was the sun at the center of the solar system of the small town of Crosby, Maine. For me, it was one of the many un-put-downable books that I was fortunate enough to encounter this year.
There you have it. My own personal and quirky list of the best of the best of 2014. The list could have been longer. For example, it was very hard for me to leave off The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, the latest entry in her Armand Gamache series, one of my favorites, but after all, one does have to draw the line somewhere! I can only hope to find books that are just as entertaining and enlightening in 2015.