EDITED: to include Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH. Below I mention the risk of not recording what I’ve read through the year. This year, Tartt’s book divided readers, quite violently. Some people were in critic James Wood’s camp – surly haters all – but there were others who loved it, including me. I read it twice. The first time, just took it in at a gulp. I think it was during last summer holidays. Then I started to see the snark about it, including on twitter locally here. People saying it was terrible, badly edited (or not edited), ‘ridden with cliche.’ I couldn’t believe we had read the same book. So I re-read it and my ears grew a little warm, it’s true. How had I missed those cliches? (Not riddled, I don’t think, but yes, they are there.) But it didn’t matter to me because in my opinion the reading experience outweighed anything a picky reader could throw at it. I googled around and found a couple of articles on the value of cliches, one in particular defending The Goldfinch. And so, satisfied, I was able to move on. Oh this reading caper, how it can make us think it’s the most important thing in any given moment.
It’s been a good year, in terms of reading and while I haven’t written much in the way of New Words, my writing thing is going well. The reading I can talk about here and the writing news will have to wait until the new year it seems.
Next year, I’m going to keep a written record of what I read. I’ve never logged my reading other than when I kept a journal from the age of 17 to 32. I would note whatever I was reading, but it was buried in the sprawling boring droning words about my boring life. But next year, I’m going to start a little book, a little notebook, and write down the titles. I think I meant to do that this year, because I’m always impressed when people can recall on their blogs what they’ve read, and make those lists.
So this is not a list. It’s just what I dashed off last night onto a piece of paper.
Best read for 2014
A tie between The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber and How To Be Both by Ali Smith
Worst read for 2014
Hands down The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Sorry Joel.
Most surprising read for 2014
Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (because I did not know she could write like that) tied with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (because it was such a fabulous reading experience, having to learn how to read the prose. Magic.)
Most challenging book for 2014
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. For a sense of how challenging it was, read this.
Best new discovery of 2014
Joan London. I read and adored The Golden Age so much that the next day I raced through Gilgamesh. I pressed the first book on my mother, and was thrilled that she loved it too. Said it made her cry in a couple of places. She then read Gilgamesh back-to-back as well, and is now re-reading. Back to back. I have a sense about The Golden Age in terms of awards next year. Brilliant stuff.
Most unexpectedly delightful and exciting read 2014
Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, because it’s a book I wouldn’t usually read and so it was so great to not miss out on this one. In this book Jane has created a world and now that world is lodged firmly in my brain. It has become a part of my life. Sounds simple but it’s not.
The book that made me feel the stupidest in 2014
The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw. Reading this book, for me, is like looking through a window, into a room, where people are talking and something very interesting is clearly going on, but I can’t hear them, I can’t lip read. I just can’t get it and it’s my fault, not the people’s. Am going to reread and try to work out.
Other books I loved in 2014
Sarah Drummond’s Salt Story; This House of Grief by Helen Garner; The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton; The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner; East of Time by Jacob Rosenberg; Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (I may have read this last year. This is why I need the little notebook!); The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr; This Book Will Change Your Life by AM Homes and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
Book likely to make a retrospective list as a great book started in 2014
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Stuggle. Am halfway through the first volume. It’s as compelling as everyone says it is. He writes so well.
Books I am really looking forward to reading in 2015
The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher
Ned Kelly, A Short Life by Ian Jones
More Karl Ove
Charlotte Wood’s new novel
Krissy Kneen’s new novel
more Ali Smith
Rebecca Starford’s forthcoming memoir Bad Behaviour
Best TV for 2014 (because I like to read but I also like to watch)
Well, it’s been the usual suspects this year – Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Orphan Black was a new discovery (good stuff). Orange is the New Black we watched too. And GIRLS. But the best new thing for me this year, TV-wise, is SHAMELESS. Just started watching it a few days ago on my daughter’s insistence. She has watched and wanted to re-watch with me. There is apparently a UK version but we are watching the US remake. It is quite simply amazing. If I could recommend one show, it would be this one. Am loving it.
9 thoughts on “Goodbye 2014, you’ve been pretty amazing”
Jenny, you’d probably also love Joan London’s last novel (2008, I think), The Good Parents. And yes, I’ll be surprised if The Golden Age isn’t on every list going next year!
I am definitely going to read that one, Amanda, it’s been recommended. What a writer she is. So happy to have finally read her this year, and yes, looking forward to seeing the shortlists next year.
Though I loved Gilgamesh when it first came out, and recently read and loved The Golden Age (as did my mum, like yours; I bought it for her for Christmas) – I really disliked The Good Parents, as did my entire book club. Perhaps it is a generational thing. It didn’t ring true for me.
Thanks for this Jenny – happy to hear I’m lodged in your brain. I loved Gilgamesh too, and can’t wait to read the Golden Age. I so want to read How to Be Both too…
Thanks Jane, isn’t it so wonderful that we can all share our reading love? I dunno. It’s one of the best things about the internet. (The others are being able to pay bills online and do all travel research ahead of time.)
Lovely list Jenny. I see some favourites of mine there – like A girl is a half-formed thing. And, I adore Gilgamesh. I liked, though didn’t adore, The good parents. I have still to get to The golden age. I plan to read The wrong turn just as soon as I can this year – but first, Crime and punishment is staring me in the face.
Hi Sue, good luck with Crime and Punishment, that’s on my long-term list. I look forward to reading The Good Parents, I have heard mixed responses but not in a critical sense, just in a ‘response sense’ if that makes… er… sense. Maybe it’s the subject matter that doesn’t resonate or ‘do it’ for some readers. Or does it cut close to the bone? I have no idea what it’s about really but imagine something a little dark for some reason.
Will start Crime and punishment on Monday I think, giving me two weeks. Will I manage it?
As for Good parents, I don’t think it was the darkness, such as there was, that didn’t fully grab me. I liked a lot of it but I think the overall plot to do with the daughter didn’t somehow come off for me.
I haven’t read either of your two favourite books of the year, although both are on my TBR. I recently read This Book Will Change Your Life and loved it. It’s the feature of our next 6 degrees of separation post so you should join in!
Re: TV, I have never heard of Shameless – will have to look that one up. You already know my thoughts on Girls…