It is time, dear readers, for a wrap-up on my reading list progress from 2014. I did pretty well in 2014, reading 33 books is no joke, but, I wish I could’ve read more, as usual. As I’ve discussed in previous posts about books, I feel that there are seasons of reading and that when I think of a year I usually think of one or two particular books first. For me, 2014 was definitely the year of Moby Dick, Aldo Leopold, and Herland. Because I didn’t manage to blog as I read, I don’t have previous posts with reviews to link to, I just have the original list I made. Instead, I will endeavor to do some super-duper short capsule reviews for each book below with an extra sentence or two for the books I feel really stuck with me.
- A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
This book was profoundly special for me. Leopold’s vision, wisdom, and accessible prose were a delight. This should be required reading for every conservation class. There were so many quotable passages that I have pages copied out in my reader’s journal. I hope to put these quotable quotes up on my blog later this year. Even though I haven’t been much of a gardener, his essays in here really felt like a call to spades and have inspired me to try to turn our own little plot of land into more of an oasis of native plants, even if it will be a tiny one.
- Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss
Witty, charming, and educational this book is a must-read for everyone who loves language and clear communication.
- Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Another enchanting entry in their canon of fairy tale anthologies, I love this collection of gas lamp fantasy.
- Orison by Daniel Swenson
The adventure of a young thief named Story who is trying to survive in the city of Calushain after her brother gets them in a bind, while simultaneously avoiding the notice of the Dragon gods, is a page-turning piece of sharply crafted narrative that left me wanting more. The pacing is perfect, the characters feel real, and the world clearly has deep roots that you can feel supporting every page. I can hardly wait for the sequel.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
This was the longest book I read in 2014, the densest, and it took me the longest to read, From the beginning of May to the end of August Moby Dick consumed most of my reading energy, a whale of a summer indeed. Moby Dick was very rewarding to read. Melville’s prose is beautiful, his attention to detail is acute, most of the book does not involve whale hunting per se, but rather talks about every detail surrounding the work of whale hunting including the whales themselves. I was as engrossed as Ishmael by the enormity and wonder of the sperm whale by the end. Also, considering the incredibly long climb of rising action, the final crisis and conclusion of the novel seems so abrupt, so quick, with such closely paced final chapters, that I found my heart quickened during the chase, visualizing every moment. I finally found myself blinking in confusion and thinking “It’s already over?” at the end, so long had I been reading the book. I was also surprised at how many passages were laugh-out-loud funny on purpose, even after 100+ years. If that isn’t good writing, I don’t know what is. I understand why this is an essential American novel now and I will re-read it someday to better discuss it with my kids.
- Deerskin by Robin McKinley
I tried reading this book once before years ago, before I knew about the Perrault story, Donkeyskin, and I was just getting really into McKinley as a writer. When I reached the crisis point of the first section of the novel I was horrified and put the book down like a hot rock. Sexual violence is a tough thing for me to face in a book or movie, especially when I am not expecting anything of the kind. But this book haunted me. I learned more about the Donkeyskin story type and read more McKinley novels. I felt like a wuss for putting this book aside and I am not a wuss. In 2014 I picked it up again and I am so glad I did. Yes, the material is challenging but it is supposed to be. The point is that with love and friendship, in this case between a girl and a dog, any wound, any trauma, can be overcome and life can continue. It is a beautiful story that is so much more than a romance or a fairy tale and I am really glad that I finished reading it.
- That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
The end of the Space Trilogy, this book makes sense and Lewis makes some compelling arguments about the nature of evil, he always does, and while I still find his Victorian sexual/gender politics wearying, the ending at least makes sense for the characters.
- Aristopia by Costello Holford
An interesting vision of an alternate history/utopia, I found this to be a great thought experiment to ponder even though the protagonist is an annoying twerp and it is a sausage-fest of racists.
- Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
This is splendid, page-turning, bibliophile fun. I am so excited to read the rest of the series, particularly because I loved how Hines chose to end this book for the characters because it was unconventional, brave, and true to the characters he developed.
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is a charming romance that actually made me laugh aloud, highly recommend it for some quality fun reading.
- Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Splendid read that makes me want to grab a pen and get busy writing something Datlow and Windling would want to publish someday.
- The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
I was disappointed in this book. It was uneven, Carter couldn’t decide if she wanted her tale to be gritty & realistic or magical & enchanting so she succeeded at neither. I thought it wound up being an odd combination of the ugly and the lyrical with singularly unappealing characters.
- The Iron Heel by Jack London
At first, I did not particularly like this book. It is singularly depressing as one might expect from a dystopian novel but the unremitting grim atmosphere was wearing. But, the transformation of the narrator Avis Everhard from mild-mannered housewife into international woman of intrigue is absolutely fascinating. Spoiler alert though: the ending is abrupt, almost Python-esq, and it left me laughing for reasons that I’m pretty sure weren’t intended.
- Beastly by Alex Finn
This was better than I thought it would be and left me pondering the entire Beauty and the Beast fairy tale type. I hope to write a more extensive post on this train of thought sometime this year.
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
I have long loved this novel but re-reading it in light of having read Beastly, and having re-evaluated my thoughts on the fairy tale as a whole, left me with mixed emotions. I hope to write more later this year on this topic.
- From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
It is entertaining to read Verne’s picture of Americans and our priorities with his dry humor while poignant to read the results of the voyage the protagonists take.
- Round the Moon by Jules Verne
Ditto above, really it is hard to think of the books as separate works.
- Skin Game by Jim Butcher
I really like this book. It is a great entry in the Dresden series that continues Harry’s adventure as the Winter Knight in a logical way that still had me gripping my nook with white knuckles, reading as fast as I possibly could. I look forward to the sequel.
- Od Magic by Patricia McKillip
Fantastic book, this one meant a lot to me because I felt that it not only had a lot of craft but that it also had something real to say about power and intellectual freedom. It feels like one I will definitely re-read.
- The Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
I liked this sequel. I like the world Card creates with “the Piggies,” and the colonists as well as the portrait of the adult Ender. The ending is beautiful.
- Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
This book is beautiful in many ways with a lot of creative ideas, particularly the concept of “philotes,” but I feel like Card was trying to do too much at once and dropped a lot of narrative balls in the process as a result. I found the story of the “god-spoken” and their world more compelling than the primary plot line in the end, I think because it was more focused. I will read the sequels eventually but this book did sap some of my momentum to do so.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
- Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Let me just condense my thoughts on the Hunger Games trilogy as a whole. It was splendid. I loved the character Katniss. I liked that Collins wasn’t afraid to engage tough issues of political authority, freedom, surveillance, public performance, allocation of resources, and ultimately the consequences of the environmental and political choices made by the people. Collins covers all of these issues with approachable characters that feel real and I applaud that. I also applaud that she wasn’t afraid to let characters die or afraid to have a bittersweet ending that I thought made sense in the context of the world.
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This book is still very relevant today even though in many ways our society has integrated genders and reached more equality than Gilman could probably have ever expected. It is well-writen too with some quotable and many thought provoking passages. The eugenics in the story with its emphasis on quality Aryan characteristics left me cold, even though I know that was the progressive/intellectual attitude of the day. I’m glad the eugenics left me cold, there are some things in stories that ought to make you feel uncomfortable or you need to seriously re-think your values. Of all the Utopian novels I read in autumn 2014, this was my favorite and it is the one I am most likely to read again someday.
- The Big Four by Agatha Christie
Jolly good fun with a delicious over-the-top, un-ironic conspiracy of n’er do wells that Poirot handily defeats. I love it.
- Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
I love stories where Poirot actually does nothing but talk to people and think but the addition of Ariadne Oliver makes this book extra fabulous.
- Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
An old favorite, I had fun re-reading this Poirot adventure adapted from a play.
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Another old favorite that I have not indulged in re-reading for years, this read was beautiful. I appreciate the way this book extorts benevolence and charity without demanding a dimming of delight while also not losing sight of the Christian nature of the Christmas holiday.
- The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris
This book was a disappointment. The plotting was all over the place, like a mad-libs game for fairy tales. Morris uses female archetypes rather than characters and the journey of the protagonist from no-nothing to wise king makes zero sense. Also, a lot of threads were left dangling. Considering how much I adored The Well at the World’s End with its complex characters (yay! Ursula!) and tightly plotted story, this book was a deep disappointment.
- Furry Fantastic edited by Jean Rabe
This was a delightful read with some very entertaining stories I will probably re-read when I need a palette cleanser.
- Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James
The language James uses is superb for capturing the time period with such a wonderful vocabulary, I was beside myself with word nerd joy. The story is told from Mr. Darcy’s point of view and followed Lizzie very little with hardly any conversation between the Darcys and no witty repartee to speak of, that was the only disappointment for me. The mystery was fine but there was no suspense to speak of either, it was all very restrained and mannered as one might perhaps expect. Mostly I enjoyed the way P.D. James imagined a post Pride and Prejudice life unfolding and I appreciated the way James seems to delight in picking at the uncomfortable realities of Regency England societal ethics when it comes to paying off blackguards.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
This was a fun book with which to end 2014. The world is very film noir with that great grittiness only a future written during the ’80s has. So many terms we take for granted now appear in the book like “matrix” and “cyberspace.” I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more Gibson.
While I did not put these capsules into any particular order, I realized as I went through my reader’s journals for 2014 that there were certain patterns. As the title implies, I spent the spring inspired by Aldo Leopold, then the summer was consumed with reading Moby Dick, then the autumn reading a lot of Utopian fiction, and the winter reading more fantasy stories and anthologies before ending the year in a cyberpunk adventure. It was a great year of books. I hope this year to read 40 books and I am planning to post my revised reading list soon. What about you, dear readers, did you read anything special in 2014 that has stuck with you? Are you reading anything splendid in 2015? Please, comment below and thanks again for joining me here at the pond.