book reviews,  books

Reading List 2014

This year I started carrying a Bullet Journal to keep myself organized.  On the third page of my journal is a page where I proudly wrote the words “Reading List” back in the beginning of January, since I realized that I’m more or less hopeless at remembering to keep my Goodreads profile up to date.  It turns out that I’m not so great at remembering that I have a reading list in my Bullet Journal either.  Nonetheless, here’s a somewhat informed list of the year’s reading.

General Fiction

The-Round-HouseThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
The Bastard by John Jakes
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Love Medicine (PS) by Louse Erdrich
The Children of Liberty by Paulina Simons
Faithful Place by Tana French

There were a few novels in this section that really struck me this year, but the author that I couldn’t get enough of was Louise Erdrich.  This is partially her subject matter, which is always centered around Native American themes.  Not being particularly knowledgeable about contemporary Native American issues and culture, I find her books both educational and compelling for the vivid and interesting world that she creates.  She so honestly represents the pressure of maintaining a traditional culture while integrating into modern American life, while providing an authentic window into a subculture of America that is so poorly represented by our popular culture.  Neither The Round House nor Love Medicine (PS) are books that I am going to forget for a very long time, both for their story lines and for what they were able to teach me about my own country and its history and politics.

Tana French’s Faithful Place is another novel that will stick with me.  Focused on a desperate and hopeless neighborhood in inner-city Dublin during the worst of the late 20th century economic recession, French does her usual magic with deeply character driven murder mysteries.  On top of the socioeconomic backdrop, French provided such an accurate portrayal of what being a child of an alcoholic is like that there were times I had to step away from the novel to shake off my own memories.  I’m not generally a crime reader, but I’ll never pass up a French novel.  She’ll definitely be on my list for 2015.

Likewise, I was really pleased by Julia Glass’s The Widower’s Tale, which tells the story of a retired father who is renegotiating his relationships to his community and children.  It was an absolutely beautiful page-turning story, with just enough tongue-in-cheek New England humor to keep the story light during its darkest points.  I look forward to reading more of Glass’s work in the future.  The Widower’s Tale was as beautifully crafted as it was enjoyable.




The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Mathilda by Mary Shelley
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Floating Opera by John Barth
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James
Maggie, A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane

The majority of this section was read for classwork, though certainly not all of it.  This was a second read of As I Lay Dying and Dracula, as well as my first successful complete read of The Call of the Wild.  Although I enjoyed Dracula just as much as a teenager as I did this year, I did not understand  Faulkner or London on my first readings.  This year, I really appreciated the dark humor of As I Lay Dying and the socialistic underpinnings of The Call of the Wild in a way that I completely missed as a younger reader.

My real love of this section, however, was Ernest Hemingway, who I also read as a teenager and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.  The Sun Also Rises is a beautiful novel in many ways, but what really struck me was Hemingway’s sense of dialog, which feels both stylized to the time period and extremely realistic.  Reading Jack London and Hemingway together was particularly enjoyable — London is so obviously an influence on Hemingway that reading London gave me a different appreciation of what Hemingway’s thinking might have been as he wrote.  I can only imagine what might have happened if Hemingway and London had ever been in a room together, but I’m certain that it would have been strikingly manly.  Both have a no-nonsense terseness to their writing styles, though I admit that I prefer Hemingway’s often painfully honest emotionalism over London’s brutality.  I’m looking forward to more Hemingway over the coming year.


letsexplorediabetesLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Loss and Grief, Edited by Sean Hanish
Beethoven by George Alexander Fischer
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis

I have a good friend that is a huge fan of David Sedaris’s work, so I’m only surprised that it’s taken me so long to pick up one of his books.  Although I still have no idea why the book is named the way it is, despite having watched an interview in which he was asked that precise question, I laughed for nearly the entire read and have passed the book along to multiple people since reading it.  Sedaris is a master of situational comedy and you can’t help but wonder what a day in his life must be like, given some of the situations that he describes as truth.  It’s a book filled with lunatic moments, in which he blends his own sense of the absurd with a deep love of the quirks of the people that he meets.

I read Three Minus One in the same week as Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  They could not be more different — Three Minus One is a compilation of stories about miscarriage and stillbirth, while the most serious that Sedaris gets is to wonder at his relationship with his father.  Ironically, I was reading it when I took the three pregnancy tests that confirmed that we were now taking our own chances with the pregnancy game.  Out of a certain sense of superstitiousness, I wondered if I should stop reading the book, but found that I couldn’t because while it was a compilation of sad stories, it was also a compilation of stories about the strength of the bond between parents and their children.  Ultimately, it is a celebration of love, through the saddest lens that I can imagine.  Every day that my child has grown, I’ve thought about those stories and been inspired by the strength in them to be a little braver and love a little more.


A Dance with Dragons hb f

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

I first came across Mary Robinette Kowal through her blog, but when I learned that she had written fantasy novels in an Austen-like universe, that was an irresistable hook.  Taking on Austen’s world is a formidable task — so many have done it that it’s difficult to bring something fresh to the table.  Yet Kowal brought magic into the equation, which made it a fun and light-hearted read that was both authentic and pleasing. The other books in the series are certain to show up on my lists in the future.

Naturally, after last  year’s delving into the Game of Thrones universe, I had to finish off what was written of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I’ve now joined the hordes of Martin fans that are eagerly awaiting the next installment of this series, particularly given the cliffhanger ending.  I have yet to be disappointed by the rich world of intrigue that he creates — I only want more, more more.   Yet I’m surprised to see that this section has so few books in it this year — perhaps my readers could give me some recommendations?

Previous Reading Lists



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