I had such gusto going into 2015. I mean I was practically riding a white horse out of the old year and into the new. I had enormous intentions for productivity in my house, my personal life, my novel-writing, my cooking ingenuity, my dietary habits, my musical knowledge (I was going to start learning to play harmonica).
And then we found out I was pregnant. I am pregnant! Growing this little bump, growing this little family…
And I got sick. Really sick. So sick I slept every day past nine, went to bed before evening television even commences, stopped seeing any of my friends, stopped making plans, stopped attending Bible Study and church, stopped reading, stopped editing, stopped exercising (except when I had to show up to teach a class at the Y), stopped cooking, stopped talking on the telephone, stopped smiling at my husband. This pregnancy has wrung me out like a kitchen rag, feeling like throwing up at every and any second. Then I got a stomach bug or food poisoning and about quit it all. But all the time, treasuring the knowledge that it’s a gift, what comes at the end of this.
However, I think the difficulty is passing now. One of the reasons I think it is because I started wanting to read and write again. Those two pastimes, which have always felt as common to me as breathing, disappeared for almost two months, but then suddenly last week I felt myself thinking about reading, and then picking up a book, and then, last night, standing in line at Chipotle with a paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in hand, moving slowly to the place in line where you finally say “Burrito bowl, please. With chicken and pinto beans.”
There is so much I want to blog about, but today I’m going to honor my promise to release my book list from 2014 with brief reviews, in order of date completed. Let’s get to it.
I read twenty, which was my goal. Made it by the skin of my teeth.
1. No Country for Old Men (auth: Cormac McCarthy) Bone-chilling, haunting, bare-bones story in the southern part of the country bordering Mexico. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s a startlingly well-done rendition of McCarthy’s story. I was baffled by the uniqueness of the protagonist/murderer Anton Chigurh, who is sort of mechanical and animal, with a strange streak of human. It’s this detachment from his crimes which makes the story bearable, in a way. Can’t explain it, read it. McCarthy writes in a minimalist way. Recommend? YES.
2. A Catalog of Step-Fathers (auth: Jessamyn Kirkwood) Fantastic Young-adult novel not yet in publication, author is my personal friend and editor! I read to edit. The young female lead character is hilarious and honest, a bit snarky, intelligent, dealing with somewhat odd family dynamics resulting from her upbringing with several different step-fathers. Explores the uniqueness of kids raised in and around the Silicon Valley, the perspective of children raised by multiple parent-figures over time. Can’t wait to see this one in print! Recommend? YES.
3. The Luminaries (auth: Eleanor Catton) I was really excited to read this one, a different back drop (New Zealand), a story I’d never heard (the gold rush in NZ following America’s own rush to the west coast), a chilling murder mystery with layers and layers of characters. It would have been great if not for its length (something around 800 pages – seemed to go on forever!) which caused me to lose track of who belonged to which storyline, name, plot point, etc. Would be good for a long winter vacation. Beautifully written. Recommend? NO, unless you’ve got lots of time.
4. The Fault in Our Stars (auth: John Green) Another Young-adult novel. Two high school kids battling cancer, also falling in love. This book has gained incredible acclaim this year, especially after being made into a movie. It’s a good story, but very emotions-driven. Recommend: NO.
5. The Shadow of the Wind (auth: Carlos Ruiz Zafon) This is a fantastic story. Set in Spain with a plot circling a great mystery surrounding an old book, it’s like getting sucked into a long, thrilling movie. Book is translated from orig. publication language (Spanish) which at times seems obvious. It’s something like a cross between Zorro and Wuthering Heights. Recommend: YES.
6. The Girl You Left Behind (auth: Jojo Moyes) First half is about a woman in a small French (?) village during WW2, second half about a woman in modern-day London. The connector is a painting by the same name of the book. Fast read, interesting, intriguing story. Wouldn’t say it’s terribly thought-provoking, but I enjoyed it. Good beach read. I’ve heard some of her other books are good. Recommend? YES.
7. Half-Broke Horses (auth: Jeanette Walls) This is the second book by the woman who penned her memoir, The Glass Castle, which I devoured and enjoyed tremendously. This is a biographical novel about the author’s grandmother (a smart, self-sufficient wonder woman) and her life in the west. The chapters are short and read like anecdotes. Interesting story, not nearly as good as the first. Recommend: YES, if you liked The Glass Castle.
8. The Interestings (auth: Meg Wolitzer) I couldn’t get enough of this one, but it’s a different flavor. A group of high school kids meets at a summer camp for the arts and stays friends for life. The narration jumps around over years, between people, the intricacies of their friendships, the brokenness that people hide, the unmatched value of loyal relationships, the agony of loving and losing. It’s value is not in sweeping events or twists, it’s in the steady flow of the story. It’s not PG. Recommend: YES, but not to everyone.
9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (auth: Maria Semple) Yes, yes, a hundred times YES! Favorite book of 2014. Takes place in Seattle, narrated through the eyes of a teenage girl who’s mother, Bernadette, has gone missing. E-mails, phone calls, letters, newspaper articles, etc. form the skeleton of the story, which is quirky and hilarious and so moving I just stared at the window for about forty minutes when I finished. I love a book that makes me laugh out loud, cry, surprises me, and leaves me thinking about it for days and weeks after. I never wanted it to end and I walked away feeling so GLAD I’m quirky. Recommend: Obviously YES.
10. The Cuckoo’s Calling (auth: Robert Galbraith / i.e. JK Rowling) Rowling’s first publication under her male pseudonym, a modern mystery takes place in London. It reads relevant, progressive, reminded me of the era in which we find ourselves. A model is murdered in her London flat, a beat-up detective takes the case. Kept me reading. Recommend: YES.
11. Secret Daughter (auth: Shilpi Somaya Gowda) Chose this because of the setting in India, which is a place I don’t feel I know much about. Writing felt juvenile and basic, and dialogue was not great (my number one deal-breaker) but the story was interesting – an adopted child in America and the connected family in India. Deals with infertility, the effects of it on marriage, adoption, cultural clash and other very pertinent themes. Can’t take the writing, felt younger than it should. Recommend: NO.
12. The Light Between Oceans (auth: M.L. Stedman) This is a hard one. Beautiful writing, fascinating story, unique (story is based on an island with a lighthouse and the family that keeps it up), compelling. However, it’s one of those stories that, from the very beginning, you know it can’t end well. I just need good people to have a happy ending, or at least some redemption, so I spent the whole book dreading the end. I think objectively this is probably a great story. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend. NOPE.
13. What Alice Forgot (auth: Liane Moriarty) This was another one, much like Bernadette, I just loved. I love the way she writes, I love how much I can relate to the way the characters think and feel, I love the way I thought about my life differently afterward. A 39-year-old mother of 3 wakes up after a fall and has amnesia for the past ten years. As she learns about her “new” life, she has a completely fresh perspective, seeing her faults, the ways she has made the bed in which she doesn’t want to lay. So refreshing, so thought-provoking as I think about the future for my family. Thankful for this book. Recommend? YES.
14. The Time Traveler’s Wife (auth: Audrey Niffenegger) It’s virtually impossible to communicate the processes of time travel without confusing your audience. That said, this was a minimally confusing rendition and a tragically beautiful story to go with. Makes time seem even more terrifying than it already is, without worrying about having to repeat, or skip ahead. I spent the first two hundred pages thinking I didn’t like it, and the last fifty thinking it was wonderful. Recommend? Undecided! Still.
15. Gone Girl (auth: Gillian Flynn) The book is sensational, which you know even if you haven’t read it because it was the cover of every book you saw on the bus, on the beach, at the gym last year. It’s this horrific murder mystery with a savage twist half-way through. The rest was, to me, a slow denouemont. I kept turning and turning the pages, flying through, for THIS ending, and what I got was THAT ending. Sheesh. I mean, I have to recommend because it’s really well done. It’s also pretty gruesome and twisted. Recommend? YES.
16. Interrupted (auth: Jen Hatmaker) One of the only non-fiction on the list. This one rocked my world upside down – fresh perspective on what believing the teaching of Jesus means in the world we live in right here, today. Challenged me on the depth of my beliefs in a great way. Recommend? YES.
17. Travels with Charley (auth: John Steinbeck) Discovering you’re favorite author, who is dead, published a book you never knew about is the most glorious happiness, this frantic giddy joy. THIS BOOK – a memoir of a trip Steinbeck took with his dog, Charley, around the country for the sake of his writing (understanding American people as a whole, not just those from the Northeast, specifically New York City) and his musings on this journey. It is about the people, the places (his favorite state? Montana. I’ve got to go), yes, but it is most of all a story about him. Who he discovered himself to be after months spent alone, on the road. The end – he pulls back into his street in New York – had me unraveled. Recommend? Can’t highly enough.
18. The Gate at the Stairs (auth: Lorrie Moore) Strange, bizarre story about a girl during one specific year. The story is sort of dull with some alarming plot twists, and the narration is over-indulgent but lovely, like overgrown azaleas. It was alright, but Recommend? NO.
19. Stones Under the Sky. (auth: VLE) I read it three times last year, ripping it to shreds from the get-go. It’s working it’s way, God love it. Recommend? YES, please! When it’s finally done.
20. The Old Man and the Sea (auth: Ernest Hemingway) Tucked this one in the last week of 2014 to make it to 20. First time I’ve ever read it, which is frankly embarrassing. It was a stunning piece of work. Like No Country for Old Men, the simplicity, the bare-bones narration, makes the images even more harrowing, the intensity of the scenes even sharper. I felt thankful for this classic work, reminding me the basic rules of the writing life.
I love fiction – I think I’m going to stop trying to read a balanced variety of writing and just read what I love. You really have to be a reader if you want to be a writer. However, anyone can be a reader! Anyone at all. So let’s read good literature this year, and share. Please, comment with book recommendations for ME for 2015.