In some ways, this was a crappy year in the Bookternet (a word I’m now using just because Jessica said I never would). Events and interactions online often left me feeling crappy. Still, some of the outcomes were positive: like many others, I feel determined to refocus on what drew me to social media book talk in the first place, a love of reading and of talking about books.
Partly because of my disaffection with Romanceland, I read little genre romance this year, but that has meant that I’ve started enjoying the romance I am reading again, and my romance numbers have picked up in recent months. I only “let” myself be a romance reader a few years ago (when I got an e-reader: I am such a stereotype) and for a couple of years I binged on it and read little else. But I’m naturally a more polyamorous reader, and I got unfairly frustrated with romance when it couldn’t fulfill all my reading needs.
In 2014 I read about 69 books and listened to 42. And looking back at the list, I realize how many were really good, despite my often cranky feelings about my reading. What the hell, Liz! Here are some highlights of my promiscuous reading year:
Big Fat Books
It felt really good to flex some atrophied reading muscles (and other kinds, in the case of a hardback)–and I’m grateful to Twitter friends like Sunita and Ros who inspired me to take up the challenge of reading longer books again. In March I read Donna Tartt’s hefty page-turner The Goldfinch, and in July I was fascinated by David van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People. I also listened to Middlemarch, which I’d been meaning to re-read for years and not getting to. Which brings me to . . .
Ohhhhh, how I love Stevenson as an audiobook narrator. I started in January with her reading of Austen’s Emma, which Rosario praised. I went on to listen to her read Persuasion, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, North and South, and Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. They were all superb and emotionally nuanced readings, with characters well differentiated. She might even get me to revisit Virginia Woolf. I don’t understand why Audible doesn’t have an unabridged version of her reading of Pride and Prejudice. WHY NOT?!?! Or Room With a View, for that matter. Kelly tweeted that she wants all of Mary Stewart’s books to be recorded by Stevenson, and I couldn’t agree more.
Listening to Nineteenth-Century Fiction
In addition to the audiobooks listed above, I listened to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall (the only one of all these that I had never read before). Listening has proved such a successful way to reintroduce Victorian novels into my book life that I plan to do more of it. I’ve got Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? in my Audible library already (can I do the whole Palliser series in 2015?) and I’m wondering if there’s a good recording of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.
I read or listened to 13 non-fiction books this year, not a huge proportion of my reading, but almost all of it really good. Congo was definitely the stand-out and one of my favorite reading experiences of the year; Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, and, on a totally different note, Ann Patchett reading her essay collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage have also all stayed with me.
I rarely read short stories except for work, but this year I read three collections (four, counting Georgette Heyer, and why wouldn’t I?) and they were all excellent, especially The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol and Phil Klay’s Redeployment. Each of those had a story I’d like to put on a course syllabus one day. Heyer’s stories in Pistols for Two were perfect travel reading: short, fun and engrossing. Next year: more stories!
Most Fun I Had Reading This Year
Actually, listening: Andy Weir’s edge-of-your-seat scifi adventure tale The Martian, read by R. C. Bray. This ended up on a lot of best-of lists. I gave it to my 16-year-old for travel listening, and he loved it too. In general, light, action/adventure SFF was a hit for me in 2014: I also enjoyed Meljean Brook’s Kraken King serial (more for the adventure than the romance, but that was just my mood this year), Rachel Bach’s Fortune’s Pawn, Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge, and Doris Egan’s Gate of Ivory. I’d really like to read more, and some more serious, SFF, but these books were a good reminder, in a year where my reading tended to the “serious,” that it’s OK to have fun reading. (Runner up: Elizabeth Renzetti’s chick-lit/women’s fiction/satire Based on a True Story).
Once the core of my genre reading. I got back into it this year by getting away from the dark Scandinavian books I’d burnt out on. I read a lot of British-set books, but I really enjoyed adding diversity with Ed Lin’s This Is a Bust and Naomi Hirahara’s Summer of the Big Bachi.
I don’t think I read enough romance to pick favorite/best this year, but a few highlights.
- Character I’m still thinking about months later: Sunny, the tough, ambitious, afraid-to-be-vulnerable secondary heroine of Suleikha Snyder’s Spice and Smoke.
- Book that, while not the Best Ever, kept me up late for the first time in ages: Rosy Thornton, More than Love Letters.
- Book that totally sucked me in though I’m not sure why it got so much buzz: Sonali Dev’s A Bollywood Affair.
- Book that I thought at first was nice but not standout, but in retrospect I love how it handled some issues romance often does badly: Leah Ashton’s RITA-winning category romance Why Resist a Rebel?
- Book I’m reading right now, which is exactly what I need at the end of a busy and stressful year/holiday: Kate Hewitt’s novella A Yorkshire Christmas.
OK, probably my favorite romance this year, especially for the way its characters had full, important professional lives: Emma Barry’s Special Interests (I love the political stuff in here; the book is messy in spots but it’s only her second and I’m really looking forward to reading more from her). I told you I was getting back into romance!
Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman. His Aaliyah is the most memorable character I encountered this year, and while I don’t think a character needs to be “relatable,” I did see some of myself in this woman who lives more in books than in the world. If I had to pick a “best” book of this year, this would be it. I have recommended this book a lot, despite the fact that I am terrible at spelling unnecessary. And Alameddine. (I read more “literary” books this year than I have in quite a while, and I had good luck with my selections; I don’t think there was a dud in the bunch).
Happy New Year, everyone! I’m busy making reading and blogging resolutions for 2015, and I’ll post those in a couple of days.