I always thought that being an elementary school librarian would be awesome because of the delightful new books that you would have to read as part of your job. But then I remembered that you'd also have to interact with young kids. So much for that idea.
Consider this trip down memory lane an introduction to my annual Books in Review blog post. For those of you who are new to Freakin' Angels, at the end of the year I like to share my thoughts on the books, movies and sometimes television shows that caught my attention over the past 12 months. While the movies I review are generally from the current year, I must note that the books I've read rarely are new releases. It's too hard to find copies at the library and I'm too cheap to buy them.
Now, without further ado, here are my top 10 reads of 2014.
1. Middlemarch by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans). Like I said, 904 pages. I've been at it for four months, and because I'm reading it digitally, it feels like I'm making no progress whatsoever. I compare it to a big bowl of spaghetti that you swear you've been eating for an hour, and yet the bowl seems just as full as when you started. So what's keeping me going on this 1870's classic? Simply put: It's brilliant, especially considering when it was written. George Eliot's humorous and insightful look at society--particularly a woman's place in it--is priceless. And somehow she manages to continue advancing the story with every page. Then there's the magical way she puts words together. For example:
Brilliant!For my part, I am very sorry for him. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self.
2. American Rust by Philipp Meyer. One of two books that received 5-star ratings from me in 2014, and a most interesting writing style. Written from the perspectives of six different characters, mostly in streams of consciousness, the reader is the only one who knows everything that's happening. The writing reflects the characters' state of mind, moving from coherent, full sentences, to disconnected phrases with no punctuation. It felt so real, presenting such an accurate picture of life in a dying steel town, and human nature: good, bad, right, wrong, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral. Like I said, I loved it, but it wasn't popular with everyone. One of my Freakin' Angel friends abandoned it. You know who you are.
3. Absolutist by John Boyne. My second 5-star book this year. Nothing as stylistically unique in the writing, just a really strong and moving story with the historical elements that I particularly enjoy in my novels. Highly recommended.
4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you're one of the 20 people in America who haven't read this book, you'll want to. An amazingly true story that convinces me we'd all learn so much more about history if it was taught through the stories of those who lived it.
5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you're one of the 15 people in America who haven't read this yet, you should--even though chances are good that you'll hate it. Or at least hate the ending. Personally, I thought it was a wickedly fun read and the ending was perfect given what we were working with! I don't think I've ever read a more uniquely twisted story. And I thought the movie was really well done.
6. Naked by David Sedaris. This is the year I discovered David Sedaris. What a pity it took me so long! There's something about self-deprecating humor and naked honesty (pun intended) that I greatly appreciate and enjoy (and relate to). I have only one recommendation when it comes to Mr. Sedaris: Don't listen to him on audio when you have children in the car (he's a solid PG-13; or R-rated, depending on how protective you are).
7. Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum. This was the 2012-2013 One Book Villanova selection and I definitely recommend it. It's a great novel with painful parts nicely balanced with a good deal of humor. It deals with the lives of youth with developmental disabilities living in so-called care centers and homes. The only challenge in reading it (aside from the painful parts) is in keeping the characters straight (each chapter is told from a different perspective).
8. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. Read by my neighborhood book club and well-suited for generating discussion. Presents a great moral and ethical dilemma: Would you keep a baby that isn't yours if you wanted one more than anything and couldn't have your own?
9. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. As described on Goodreads.com: With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. Different than the books I typically read, I recommend it!
10. Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Haven't read a book so quickly in a very long time. It's the kind of page-turner that you grab at a traffic light. It's not 5-star quality (I'm a tough critic), but if you're looking to be entertained with a fast-paced story, this will do the trick.
Since I didn't read an overwhelming number of books this year, here's a list of the remaining titles and the ratings I gave them on Goodreads.com:
- The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Definitely not my typical read. Four stars.
- Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (the singer-songwriter). An angel speaks to the main character. Through his horse. Four stars.
- An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. A sweet read about a widower finding love again. Three stars.
- All You Could Ask For by Mark Greenberg (the ESPN talk show host). The sports guy talks about the relationship between three women at difficult points in their lives. Meh. Three stars.
- Love at Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks. It started out strong with quirky characters, an interesting premise (can science predict/find love), and a good deal of humor, but it ended up reading like a predictable cheesy romance novel. Two stars.
- The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. Villanova's One Book 2013-2014. Interesting. Three stars.
So that's it for me. Would love to hear what memorable books you read this year!