Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 in books

I read 51 books in 2014 and ranked them from the worst to the best, in my opinion.


51. Olive Kitteridge- Elizabeth Strout Truly agonizing. The main character was a grump and entire book was a bore.

50. Rant- Chuck Palahniuk Chuck is very hit or miss for me and this is the worst book I've read by him so far. I feel like it was written primarily for shock value and nothing else. It's a gross narrative about a serial killer, which sounds kind of interesting, but it's mostly disgusting.

49. It- Alexa Chung Save yourself $18 and search "Alexa Chung" in Tumblr. You will probably find every image and unoriginal quote in this book for free.

48. Beautiful Ruins- Jess Walter Another snooze and spanned too many time periods. Plot lines and characters got confusing and I didn't care about either.

47. Absurdistan- Gary Shteyngart I loved Super Sad True Love Story, but this was nothing like it. The main character is an appalling, overweight and self-absorbed brat who only cared about eating gluttonously and sex.

46. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey- Jill Bolte Taylor Great if you read on a 3rd grade reading level. There were a few interesting narratives about Dr. Taylor's memories of having a stroke, but told in such a juvenile manner, I think I finished this book in a few hours.

45. Catch-22- Joseph Heller I remember so little from this book except that it took place during the war. Oops.

44. The Orphan Master's Son- Adam Johnson Difficult to follow and mostly depressing.

43. Sharp Objects- Gillian Flynn After reading Gone Girl I was stoked to read another Gillian Flynn, but this one was wildly underwhelming. It was predictable and unbelievable, in the not realistic sense, not amazing sense.

42. The Light Between the Oceans- M.L. Stedman I heard so many great things about this book but was very disappointed upon completion. This read like a bad young adult romance tailored to a 13 year old girl.

41. Under the Banner of Heaven- John Krakauer Interesting read but lots of inaccuracies.

40. When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management- Roger Lowenstein This was my attempt at understanding hedge funds and the facts behind "Wolf of Wall Street." I was still confused after finishing this book, but it has great reviews and probably makes sense if you are legitimately interested in finance.

39. Not That Kind of Girl- Lena Dunham Lena Dunham is a conundrum to me because I think she's wildly intelligent but does stupid things and is sometimes an infuriating human being. She's a great writer but there's nothing in this book that hasn't already been said in some other white girl's memoir or shown in an episode of GIRLS. Definitely entertaining though and probably an enjoyable one if you're a big GIRLS and/or Lena.

38. The Time Traveler's Wife- Audrey Niffenegger Very easy read. Smooth writing and read like a better Nicholas Sparks.

37. The Edible Woman- Margaret Atwood I feel like I only got a small fraction of the feminist analogies of this one, but I thought it was interesting and definitely unique.

36. Yes Please- Amy Poehler So technically I listened to this book, which is what I would recommend. I think it would be a little boring if you just read it and Amy is a great narrator. Kind of like Lena Dunham's book, this didn't have anything that hasn't already been said in some other witty girl's memoir, but there were a lot of parts that made me laugh out loud and I love anything Amy does.

35. White Noise- Don Delillo An interesting read because there were passages that were so perfectly written and thought-provoking, but then I would read 50 pages and wonder why I should care what Don Delillo was trying to say. The characters in this book are very annoying and the plot is anticlimactic, but there are snippets of great writing.

34. Pastoralia- George Saunders A series of pretty funny short stories, but once you read one, you read them all. Lots of satire on society and government.

33. On Beauty- Zadie Smith Oh my gosh how I hated the family in this book. They were all so annoying and obsessed with themselves. But the setting is a collegiate Boston town and descriptions and some dialogue made me want to keep reading.

32. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto- Michael Pollan No, not my memoir. Ha. Ha. Michael Pollan is an excellent food/health writer. I read The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2013 and loved it. There's lots of great tips in this book that are realistic and you learn a lot about the food you consume on a daily basis. Sadly I have yet to read a book that truly alters my mediocre eating habits.

31. Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis I figured I needed to read some nonfiction from the most quoted by General Authorities non-Mormon. Lots of passages I've come across in religion classes and great insight on Christianity as a whole.

30. Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism- Temple Grandin Learning about autism, especially its origins, was one of my favorite parts in my undergrad speech classes. Temple Grandin is an incredible human being and revolutionized modern-day farming despite her struggles with her disorder.

29. S.- J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst Definitely the most original book I've read this year. There's a lot going on in this book- letters that fall out, random postcards and a journal passed between 2 different writers. The story itself is nothing too wild or unbelievable, but the concept is why I enjoyed this book.

28. Orange is the New Black- Piper Kerman Must-read if you're a fan of the show because you can pick out the inspiration behind certain characters and events. This was a really moving memoir and gave me a different perspective on the criminal justice system in the United States, especially among nonviolent offenders.

27. The Confessions of Max Tivoli- Andrew Shaun Greer This is the Benjamin Button story (but apparently neither author knew of the other) but I loved this because of the beautiful and sometimes heart-wrenching lines and passages. I like to feel feelings and this book does that to you.

26. The Hot Zone- Richard Preston Terrifying read. I chose to start it amidst the ebola outbreaks in Dallas which was a great and terrible idea. Fascinating and horrifying.

25. The Know-It-All- AJ Jacobs The second AJ Jacobs book I've read and another great experiment turned story. This time he takes on the task of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A-Z. All of his books are entertaining and laugh out loud funny. You also learn a bunch of random facts from this one.

24. Ariel- Sylvia Plath I read the most poetry I've ever read since high school this year. As someone who enjoys dabbling in the #dark arts, I liked The Bell Jar so I thought I'd give her poems a try. This is a great collection of darkly witty, tumultuous and bitingly sarcastic poems. My favorite was The Rival.

23. Crush- Richard Siken This poet uses vivid, raw imagery to illustrate desperation and obsession. Lots of feelings and the line: You feel your heart taking root in your body, like you've discovered something you don't even have a name for depicted my feelings after finishing this book.

22. The Story of a Marriage- Andrew Shaun Greer More feelings. More heart-wrenching. This book put into words a lot of what I feel and think about relationships and love.

21. The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver I had a hard time getting into this book, but when I did I couldn't put it down. It's about a white southern family who moves to Africa to become missionaries. Told in the different perspectives of each family member which kept the story interesting and fresh.

20. The Year of Living Biblically- AJ Jacobs Probably my favorite AJ Jacobs because this one lets the reader see how his experiments affect his family, particularly his wife. In this one he commits a year of his life to following the teachings of the Bible as exactly and literally as possible.

19. The Captain's Verses- Pablo Neruda Poems about the best and worst aspects of a relationship. Poems to mourn the absence of a relationship and revel in the joys of being in one. So basically everyone can read these verses and feel something.

18. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants- Malcolm Gladwell One of my favorite nonfiction authors and another great collection of unique circumstances and studies dealing with the advantages of being an underdog.

17. Nothing to Envy- Barbara Demick Fascinating and unbelievable read about the lives of North Koreans and the journeys they take to leave their country. I learned so much about North Korea and was amazed at how completely frozen in time the nation is. A timely read in lieu of the recent release of a certain James Franco/Seth Rogen film...

16. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East- Sandy Tolan I am always eager to learn more about the Middle East and better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this is a great historical account of the conflict told through the eyes of an Arab boy and Jewish girl.

15. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage- Haruki Murakami There is something about Murakami that makes me want to read all of his books, despite their blatant similarities to one another. This book was very much like Norwegian Wood- brooding young Japanese man, beautiful mentally disturbed Japanese woman, reoccurring ballad from the 60s, mysterious occurrence from the past that brings all the characters together. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it's one of the most beautiful book covers I've ever seen.

14. Norwegian Wood- Haruki Murakami This is one of 2 books I re-read this year, but I think it still counts as a book. Basically all the same thoughts as above^ but this one was a little bit more heartbreaking/wrenching so I liked it more.

13. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement- David Brooks Really interesting read about the role of the human subconscious in everyday life decisions. It's told through a fictional narrative but has real studies interspersed with the imaginary characters and setting. It was like I was reviewing my favorite topics from AP Psych plus a lot of new facts and studies.

12. Marching Powder- Rusty Young Maybe the craziest story I read this year. There is a prison in Bolivia where you can take tours and stay overnight and try cocaine while you're there. The San Pedro prison in Bolivia has a more stable economy than the country of Bolivia itself. This is the story of a reporter who stayed for months in the prison and got to know Thomas McFadden, the most famous prison tour guide.

11. Where'd You Go Bernadette?- Maria Semple Fun, easy read about a woman who goes missing in a WASPy Seattle suburb. The writing is witty and laugh out loud good and the characters are complex and interesting. Don't let the cute cover and Oprah stamp of approval fool you- it's actually a great read with smart humor and memorable characters.

10. In My Country- Abraham Verghese After reading Cutting for Stone I still wasn't over Abraham Verghese. This is his memoir about being an infectious diseases specialist in Johnson City, Tennessee. He primarily worked with AIDS patients in a time when the disease was hardly seen on the east coast or south and when the negative AIDS/HIV stigma was still highly prevalent in the United States. He talks about the relationships and experiences he has with patients and I felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and admiration for his work.

9. The Art of Fielding- Chad Harbach So much more than baseball (thank goodness). A story about the fleeting nature of talent and the lives and struggles of the members of a close knit collegiate community on the shores of Lake Michigan. Think Friday Night Lights but baseball.

8. This is Water- David Foster Wallace: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life DFW's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College. This should be mandatory reading for everyone with a 5th grade reading level but particularly for anyone ages 16-30. Thoughts on how to live your life and stop being so damn obsessed with yourself.

7. Super Sad True Love Story- Gary Shteyngart Loved this book! Such an interesting concept and funny satire on our iPhone obsessed generation. It takes place in the future United States and the main characters communicate strictly on mobile devices. It pokes fun at our need to know everything about everyone and constantly compare ourselves to one another. Funny, sad and eerily prophetic.

6. The New Kings of Nonfiction- Ira Glass This is actually a collection of essays and short stories from some of the greatest minds in nonfiction. I learned so much from this book and every story was well-done, articulate and entertaining. It's like "This American Life" greatest hits in book form.

5. Lonesome Dove- Larry McMurtry I subjected myself to quite a few lengthy epics this year, but this one was worth the time. If you read one book about Texas, let it be this one. The characters are true cowboys and it's the Wild West. Great dialogue and lovable characters whose lives are memorable and complex despite their simple upbringings and homes.

4. Infinite Jest- David Foster Wallace I jumped right into DFW with this one and let me tell you, it was a rough few months. This is the most difficult work of fiction I've ever encountered because it is wildly complex. There are footnotes within footnotes and it's a staggering 1079 pages. However, its difficulty did not shield the genius of the work itself. I fully plan on revisiting this one in a year or 3, but for now I recognize it for what it is- a completely original, often hilarious, sometimes horrifying and always brilliant work of fiction.

3. Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov This is the second book I re-read this year and honestly one of my favorite books of all time. I know it's very cliche #dark girl of me to love Lolita, but it's hard not to marvel at Nabokov's ability to make the words of a villain/monster and quite frankly, child molester, into hauntingly romantic and flattering prose. I found so much humor in Humbert Humbert's self-deprecation and sarcastic wit, and didn't find it so unbelievable that Lolita fell for his charm. This is a classic that has stood the test of time and I think will continue to be read and discussed in literary circles for many years to come.

2. The Goldfinch- Donna Tartt This was the last book I read in 2014 and the second best. Another lengthy read, I was sad to be done with this one. It tells the story of Theo Decker, a young boy in New York who survives a bombing at the Met but loses his mother. He ends up taking a famous painting from the museum and carrying it with him for the majority of his life. The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo's life from teen to adulthood and his travels across the country and the people he meets who change his life forever. There's a lot of minute details in this one, but I kind of loved it for that because it made the imagery more vivid for me. Beautifully written and worthy of the 2014 Pulitzer for fiction.

1. Cutting for Stone- Abraham Verghese I wish I could unread my favorite books and experience the magic. This is definitely the case for Cutting for Stone. This book left me in so much awe and wonder at the world of medicine and for humanity in general. It starts with the birth of twin boys to a world famous surgeon and Ethiopian nun. The boys grow up in Ethiopia and pursue careers as physicians but their lives take them to different countries, but somehow events from their past and the unseen bond of twins join them together again. Beautiful prose that left me in tears upon completion. Read if you are in the medical field, are interested in medicine at all and/or enjoy a good love story or cry. My favorite book of 2014 and of all-time. And that is a big statement.

Thank you for reading with me. Hopefully you got some good suggestions from this list. I wish you all a great 2015 filled with wonderful, life-changing literature. I am always open to suggestions of any genre and you can bet I will post my favorites from this upcoming year on here.

2 comments:

  1. What a great list of books! I loved this list and really appreciated the suggestions. I definitely agree with you about Cutting for Stone- I loved that book so much! Also, I'm glad to read a book list by a blogger and not see Rainbow Rowell or John Green on there.
    I have a few suggestions if you're interested. Two of my favorite books of all time are The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I also loved The Secret History History by Donna Tartt, and since you liked The Goldfinch you might also like that one.
    As for nonfiction, I couldn't put down The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and The Red Circle by Brandon Webb. I also thought Random Family was really really fascinating.
    Keep updating with what you're currently reading because I'm really interested in good books.

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    1. thank you so much for these suggestions i will check them out! and i appreciate your sweet comments :)

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