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2014 Book List with Commentary

January 4, 2015

For the past six years, I have attempted to read 52 books a year, or roughly a book a week (graphic novels included). Various years have been successes, others have been incredibly challenging. In 2011, I only read 16 books, in 2013 I read 55. This year, I only read 45 books, although I read considerably fewer graphic novels than I usually do. This year, I spent less time traveling, but spent a whole lot more time dating. I dated 12 different people throughout the year, and was in and out of relationships for about half of the year. I also spent a lot more time writing in my journal. I made it about 2/3 through a brand new journal in just a year, which I think the most I’ve ever written about myself. I also took up running as a hobby, completing both a 5k and a 10k this year. I also started playing a lot more boardgames this year, which I think is a very pleasant way to spend an evening. So, I diversified my interests, and how I spent my time. When I think about my reading that way, I’m a little surprised at just how much I did actually read. Of course, my reading ambitions are always bigger than I can seem to manage.

Kate and Charlotte were big cheerleaders for my reading habits this year, and both have read many, many more books than I have this year. Although Kate works for a bookstore and Charlotte can read much faster than I can. One of the things Kate and Charlotte inspired me to do was create a spreadsheet of books. which has revealed some interesting things about my reading habits. I have read 14 Graphic Novels, only 5 non-fiction books, 6 fantasy and sci-fi books, 3 young adult books, and 17 books of fiction. I only read 10 women this year, accounting for 11 books. I was worse for people of color: just 3 appear in my reading. I read 18 books by Americans and 19 by British folks.

This year, I am again putting all of the graphic novels together as a series because I tend to think of those books together.

1. Paris I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down, Rosecrans Baldwin

In the beginning of 2014, I thought I was going to spend my New Year’s Day with the girl I spent New Year’s Eve with. I planned a special breakfast, I reupped my coffee and tea supply, and was looking forward to a drowsy, happy day. She went home around 1:00am. The first morning of 2014 I made breakfast alone, and settled in with this book, which I had started earlier in the week.

Rosecrans Baldwin moved to Paris with his wife to work for an ad agency. In this quick non-fiction account of his time, we learn about being an American in Paris, and how living in a city where no one speaks your language can be incredibly isolating. Rosecrans spends most of this lunch hours writing and editing a book, and during his evenings goes out dancing a ton with his wife, hosts a lot of dinners because they’re cheaper than going out. You get the insight of an ex-pat life very well, and I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating spending a lot of time abroad. This book had been sitting on my to-read list for years, and kicked off a year of attempting to check off books from that list, which you’ll see more of below.

2. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

You never know if a book is going to be one of your favorites, or one of the worst books you’ve ever read. I’ve read Pulitzer Prize winners that I’ve loved like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve also read Pulitzer Prize winners I am entirely ambivalent about: Gilead by Marilynn Robinson and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The Orphan Master’s Son had won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tournament of Books in 2013. I thought I would give this weird novel about a fictional North Korea a go.

I was glad I did, because I absolutely loved this book. I pressed this book into the hands of my friends Peter and Kate. I would like more people to read this book, especially in the wake of The Interview debacle. North Korea is an oppressive dictatorship like no where else on earth. The control of information, the control of the government is near absolute. Adam Johnson fictionalizes a version of North Korea seen through Jun Do’s eyes. A theoretically normal John Doe, we explore the many facets of North Korea through his unique perspective: from their version of Hollywood to prison camps, their military hierarchy to kidnapping of Japanese citizens. It is both sad and funny, absurd and cutting in a satirical take on accounts of living in North Korea. It’s an amazing book, and one of my favorites I read this year.

3. Poem Strip, by Dino Buzzati

There’s no question that I’m a big fan of the New York Review of Books classics imprint. They’ve revived a number of books I’m incredibly happy to have read like The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy or The Book of Ebenezer LaPage by G.B. Edwards. Other books from their catalog have been challenging, but always different and worthwhile from other things I’ve read. This early graphic novel by Italian Surrealist Dino Buzzati was my first disappointment from them. I found the book in a used bookstore while searching for Conan the Barbarian stories for our short lived Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club (see below). Initially, I was excited NYRB had published a graphic novel but this erotically charged re-telling of Orpheus and Eurydice was bland, meandering, and unfocused. I recognize that this may have been groundbreaking at one point, but there are much better graphic novels out there now challenging the form and telling new stories.

4. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The first e-book I ever read was The Hunger Games in 2011, and I waited three years before finishing the series, inspired to catch up by the much celebrated movie release of this book. I actually stole this book from the complimentary shelf of a hotel in Bellingham while on a work trip, needing something to read on my train ride back. I meant to mail this book back to them, but this hardback edition still sits on my shelf.

The Hunger Games trilogy does advance and deepen the universe in satisfying ways. I found the deepened theme of literal hunger compelling, as the supposed win in the arena is actually more of a Sword of Damocles situation for Katniss and her family. She struggles and struggles to find a way to live with herself, but she’s haunted by the trauma of the arena. Her willful rebellion against the Capitol also brings her more harm as she’s forced back to arena eventually. There’s much more happening in this novel around Katniss, and the novel is better for it.

5. Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

Another pull from the shelves of the NYRB Classics Imprint, another book I had been meaning to read for years. Kingsley Amis has been described as one of the great comic authors of the 21st century, and this book his funniest. Yet I find him incredibly dull. There is some comedy in Lucky Jim, a tale about an beleaguered Associate Professor at a provincial college in England attempting to either earn himself some respect, as well as do as little work as possible. I did not find Jim himself to be terribly sympathetic as a character. I wanted to root for him, but he kept spurning any likability with his boorish approach to teaching, his loathing of students, his failed relationships, his fledgling alcoholism. Perhaps this would be better translated to screen than text. This book did challenge me with an unlikeable main character, but in particular Amis’s treatment of women in the novel I found pretty abhorrent. I was very glad the first wave of feminism broke out not long after this novel was written. The weird thing is that this novel is funny, so I was conflicted that I hated many of the characters, but still found myself laughing at many of the jokes and situations. Anyone else ever had this happen to them?

6. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

This novel bewitched me. I’ve experimented with reading thrillers in the past, and Charlotte recommended this book to me because it made the Tournament of Books Long list. My friend Maddo has long suggested Pessl’s first book Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I wound up loving this book. Pessl experiments with formal elements like including blog post in website format and clipped news photos. She also writes a tense, puzzle-like thriller that resists easy answers, encouraging you to ask what’s real and what’s not real.

The plot, very shortly, is: disgraced journalist Scott McGrath investigates the death of Ashley Cordova, the brilliant but troubled daughter of legendary filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, like if Kubrick had made cult films on the level of Cannibal Holocaust while maintaining the media presence of Thomas Pyncheon. Mysteries abound, and they are delightfully weird. This book is much like it’s own fictional tagline: soverign, deadly, perfect (a phrase I used to describe a friend’s art project just a few short weeks later after reading this).

7. Dune, by Frank Herbert

Except for a few comics, this was my only re-read of the year, as I attempted to tackle books that had been lingering on my to-read list for years. Re-visiting Dune was strange. The first portion of this novel, when Paul is basically a child, takes up way more pages than I remembered. I did like that the quotes from The Princess Irulan that begin many of the chapters make much more sense and give you some nice foreshadowing if you know what’s coming. We read this book for the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction Book Club, as many of my friends had never read this book. We attempted to watch the Sci-Fi mini-series but the cheap scotch took hold and we lost patience and attention spans. We determined that this book was probably too high brow for us, and we needed something pulpier.

8. The Book of Gin, by Richard Barnett

My friend Nick put this book into my hands because he is an enormous cocktail nerd. I was expecting a lightweight take on gin, maybe talking about TV and American cocktail culture, but there was a surprising depth and thoroughness to this non-fiction tackling of gin. A sociologist by trade, Richard Barnett explores the complicated history of how consuming gin and stronger spirits in general was viewed truly as an act of sin by many in Britain. I was surprised by how close gin nearly came to being outlawed multiple times. I recommend this book to those looking to explore a little more about the history of alcohol.

9. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I remember when I was a senior in high school, looking through the University of Puget Sound’s promotional materials, they pushed the Ben and Jerry’s Literature House, which combined the wacky ice cream flavors with a book club. The first one my Freshman Year was Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I wound up becoming friends with people in the house, but never got involved with the book clubs.

Ender’s Game stuck around in my life. It was recommended to me many times, and Jake and Wali’s drunken conversation about this movie spawned the idea for the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club. I was reminded of my desire to read this book when The Stranger writer Anna Minard wrote about picking up a used copy of the book at the new Twice Told Tales/Bauhaus location in Ballard. While on the hunt for another book, I picked up a copy which has one of the most intimate inscriptions I’ve ever seen in a book.

Ender’s Game has a kind of trick ending, which I knew was coming, but it still took me a little by surprise, because the twist still snuck up on me, happening earlier than I expected in the book. I was surprised at how much was hinted at in this book. Card does well to build a universe in which much is assumed, and how in some ways this book comes across more like YA before that was even a proper thing.

I am sort of interested in continuing more into the Ender series, although I hear things get weirder.

10. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The next selection of the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club. I started this book on Jake’s Nook, when a surprise Kindle came my way from Wali, after he was disappointed with the user interface. This book is the epitome of pulpy goodness. I derived a kind of joy from Locke Lamora that sent me straight back to being 13, staying up late in the summer nights eating cherries and cheese, reading fantasy books. Scott Lynch creates a well-built universe, engaging characters, pulpy dialogue, and a plot that speeds along with plenty of gut punching twists and turns. This is exactly what I wanted out of the Pulpy Fiction book club, exposure to books like this that were pulpy and silly, but also good. A few more of my friends plunged into the rest of the series.

By waiting to get the next few books, I arguably was very forward thinking, as this book helped drum up a conversation online which led to a date, which has lead to a relationship over the past two months. So, this has worked pretty well for me! Go Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club!

11. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

The Kindle that Wali gave me had some other books on it, which included this book by Neil Gaiman, which I had been meaning to read, having read every single other Neil Gaiman offering for adults. Phoebe had raved about it when it first came out, and even gone to get it signed at a reading. I loved reading Neil Gaiman when I was younger, it helped bridge my love of fantasy with books with more literary aspirations. Yet, I didn’t like this book very much at all. It felt like a re-tread of some of his other work: Coraline, The Sandman, and even American Gods. Gaiman has a few things that he consistently returns to: powerful beings living out normal-ish lives, observant children, and cats bridging the gaps between different kinds of worlds. All of those appear in Ocean, but none of them seem fresh at all. I was disappointed by this novel a lot.

12. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy is compulsively readable, which I think is something Suzanne Collins really has going for her. After devouring Catching Fire in one night, I worked to get my hands on a copy of Mockingjay. The library was able to accommodate my needs, and I chewed through this. At first, I didn’t like where Collins decided to take Katniss and some of the other characters, but as I talked through my feelings with Charlotte, I gained a new appreciation for their journey. I think Collins put a lot of work into giving Katniss some very real PTSD syndromes that were more subtle than I gave them credit for. Once I got this perspective on the characters, just how damaged and dark things had gotten, I was better able to understand the stakes. I wound up really liking the last part of this, though it was very different from where we began in The Hunger Games.

13. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

Real Book Club continued apace alongside Drunk book club, though I skimped out on a couple of the novels (see below). Phoebe’s offerings of satires led us to Lamb, which was my first Christopher Moore book. Maddo had recommended them to me for some light and funny reading.

I was surprised, because Real Book Club had just read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan the month before this, which was really good, and one of the books I wished that I had finished, but I had difficulty getting a copy. Moore, who wrote his book nearly 10 years before Aslan, had arrived at many of the same general conclusions about the life of Jesus, so it was interesting to see how well this book mirrored the historical perspectives on Jesus while also introducing a very American Jewish comedy angle. Moore’s Jokes, specifically for Biff, felt steeped in American comedy history, which has a strong Jewish influence and tone. I laughed and smiled a lot through his book, and would definitely recommend it to people. Reading the afterward for this book gave me a lot of respect for Moore and the amount of research he poured into this book.

14. A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, by Rachel Cantor

I read this book right around Easter, and the note I have next to this book on my spreadsheet that keeps track of every book I attempt to read was “Weird and not what I was expecting. Why do I keep on choosing books about Jewish mysticism?!” After ZealotLamb, and Dune, I was surprised this book was not a satirical take on service culture in a vein like the beginning of Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, but instead wound up directly addressing Jewish identity and elements of Jewish mysticism. I originally plucked this book off The Millions 2014 Preview of the year, trusting Melville House Books, who published the odd but enjoyable Aurorarama. 

I did not care for this book, and would not recommend this book at all, however it has forced me to change some of my thinking about Jewishness. When I was a kid, I had approximately one Jewish friend, but films and literature penned by Jewish folks portrayed the neurotic, hairy, nebbish, and bespectacled portrayals of Jews as normal (See: Seinfeld and many Coen Bros movies). Perhaps this is one of the effects of 90s sitcoms and movies being very focused on NYC, which is the cultural capital of Jews in America. Never mind that this portrayal of Jews are in many ways broad caricatures of male Jewishness, but I internalized these portrayals as normal, something to aspire to and model my own behavior off of. I had minimized many of the true serious differences about Jewish culture. My assumptions about these  difference do no justice to the beliefs of the oldest of the monotheistic religions. I have very little understanding of the Torah or its teachings, and so while I may feel like I understand some of the cultural aspects of being Jewish, I was confronted with my ignorance about the deeper aspects of Jewish culture through this book, as well as others in the past: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. This is one of the few books I have read that portrays Jewishness as a true other, rather than striving to integrate and assimilate. I may have hated this story, and found the writing to be absurdist in the way that I don’t like, as well as nearly childish, but I did learn a few things from the book.

15. Stoner, by John Williams

Another one from the NYRB Classics imprint. One of the first things I found a little weird about this book is that on the back, there is a blurb from Tom Hanks. I don’t think of Tom Hanks as being a blurb kind of guy, so that caught my attention. Hanks accurately sums up the book this way: “It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things you’ve ever come across.” The plot is simple: a life is lived. A boy goes to college and stays, becoming a professor. While Lucky Jim attempted to skewer the academic life, I felt that Williams truly dresses down the good and bad parts of the academic life in equal measure. There is a joy in helping people discover knowledge, but the stakes and potatoes in a university can be so small yet so many people can fight over them.

I loved this book. It is one of the best things I read all year. I’m not much of a quote person, but I stopped reading to note the following passage:

“In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.”

The writing is gorgeous, and Williams crafts Stoner as a creature of empathy. He also turns out to be one heck of an English professor. I surely would have failed one of the exams they describe in the book. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

16. Sabriel, by Garth Nix

The last selection of Drunk Book Club. I read the Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix when I was a kid, and I remember the Sabriel series being a big deal then. Reading it now, I appreciated some of the twists and turns the plot took, but the ending felt completely abrupt. This is one of the books I read, unlike the Hunger Games, that felt directed at children. It also had a big sense of flight, as in running from things, rather than battling them, which I didn’t really like. I guess I just want more challenges.

17. Robopocalypse, by Daniel Wilson

I did not like this book. Robopocalypse was chosen for Serious Book Club, and tells the story of a battle between humans and AI in a series of vignettes that tell the story from multiple point of view characters. Many people compared this to World War Z, which covers much of the same territories for zombies. I liked some of the characters, but not many of them, and the author’s reliance on happenstance, coincidence, and other chance encounters were not believable. It’s a little funny that I read this on an e-reader though.

18. Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley

This is one of my surprise favorites for the year. I plucked this novel from The Millions 2014 Preview, and then promptly forgot why I put it there. My digital hold came through, and good lord this novel just enchanted me. The story Clever Girl tells is a tough one, about Stella growing up in working class 1960’s England, and progressing through middle age. She has a very tough childhood, sleeping in the bed while her mom sleeps on the couch, dad long gone. She succeeds in school, but struggles at home as she wishes her mom and especially her eventual step-dad made different choices. Her life begins a different path, but she shows determination, grit, humor, and subtlety. Tessa Hadley weaves together episodes in Stella’s life that begin to mirror one another, yet also contrast in significant ways. She’ll jump years in a sentence, but languor in a small encounter. I tried pushing this book on Charlotte, but alas, it came and went from her house unread (like so many books).

19. Mink River, by Brian Doyle

Kate recommended this book to me some three years ago. I only made it about 20 pages before I closed the cover up, never picked it up again, and then returned it to the library. I’m glad I gave this a second shot, because again, I loved this book. Brian Doyle is not even a full time author, he works for the University of Portland, and wrote this sort of mystery about a fictional town on the Oregon Coast. But Doyle brings his town to life, incorporating the local Native American stories about the Oregon wilderness, the opera loving cop, the ne’er-do-well Irish family, the sculptors, the school teachers, and the fabulous lists that appear in this book. Sometimes this book feels almost like a categorization of life in Oregon and a small town. Spiritual, magical, real, and sad, this book is one I would definitely recommend to someone who wanted to deepen their love of the Northwest. Arguably, this is one of the most diverse books I read this year because of the heavy Native American influence.

20. Saga, Vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan

Jake picked this up for me in Portland because I owned Volume 1 and 2. This was a great introduction to the next stage in the story, and I’ve just spied for my research in writing this enormous review that Vol. 4 is out there. I may have to pick that up. The books are pretty lightweight though, as they don’t stick in my head that well. I think a re-read may be necessary.

21. Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente

I stalled out on this book. I almost gave up. Catherynne Valente has been on my to-read list for a few years now, after Lev Grossman gave her a plug in one of his columns as someone writing genre fiction extremely well, taking it new places. Valente writes about Koschei the Deathless, a devil-like figure in Russian folklore, and how he enchants Marya Morevna, and how she also bewitches him. This fantastic take on Russian history, and how folklore changes with the country seems like it’s coming to an obvious conclusion before it takes a left turn about 2/3 of the way through the novle and goes somewhere more interesting. I’m glad I persisted in this book, and had a little faith.

22. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

I remember how the world celebrated The Kite Runner. It was all the rage at bookstores, on talk shows. A movie was made, and the American people discovered more reasons to feel terrible about the war in Afghanistan. Hosseini’s novels were recommended to me, but I was afraid of them, because I knew they would be sad, heartbreaking, when how could I afford my heartbreak when I was already distraught about what was happening to Afghanistan?

Serious book club chose this book, and having not read the previous book, I felt obligated to finish this one, and read this entire novel in one day. I was afraid of heartbreak, and to be sure, this book has sad parts, but it also covers the many stories of life, of vitality and middle class existence that exists in Afghanistan. In typical American fashion, we never really thought of countries like Afghanistan as being more than just a few villages. But in fact the throbbing, beating heart of Afghanistan can be found in it’s myriad cities, far from the villages that do exist. Hosseini brings a while country to life, and I was very glad to have read this book. In particular, the passage about a driver who becomes more of a caretaker for an old man was one of my favorite things I read all year. So was the indictment of an American-Afghan and his cultural tourism of his own country.

23. Cassandra, by Christa Wolf

Another selection from Serious Book Club, another challenging tale. Christa Wolf is an East German author with a lot of thoughts about how stories and perspectives become perpetuated. The novel (novella?) of the Trojan War from Cassandra’s perspective takes up only the first 120 pages of a 400 page book, the rest are essays from the author about how and why she wrote the book. She takes an academic perspective about her own writing, but the novel itself is rooted in emotion and passion. Cassandra struggles with her family, her own femininity, and the Trojan political machine as she attempts to navigate the Trojan War. The Greeks are portrayed as the other, these hairy warlike people. Many of the supposed supernatural elements are entirely dismissed and even Cassandra’s second sight is addressed perhaps as canny observation rather than divine observation. This is a very political novel, and one of gender politics. Cassandra was one of the more perplexing but interesting novels I read this year.

24. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton

Another book that I pulled from The Millions 2014 Preview. I was expecting something that would instruct me on how to become a better traveler, and that is kind of what I got, but not quite. British/French essayist Alain de Botton writes about his travels over the past few years, using the lens of previous famous writers who have been there before him: Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Coleridge. He also explores the idea of travel through the ages. I didn’t love parts of this book, although I will always be indebted to de Botton for one chapter about this book that put into words something I had been experiencing: The Sublime. That feeling, where you are overwhelmed, enveloped, surrounded by natural beauty that grants you just a semblance of perspective? That is the sublime, and what the word was meant to describe: the religious experiences provoked by nature. I have experienced these things just a few times. Once on Mt. Rainier, once in Scotland, some smaller ones in Arizona and the Olympic Peninsula. But it is a feeling I chase, and a reason to travel, to experience the sublime, the feeling of greater than myself.

25. Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg

Without a doubt, one of the most challenging books I read this year. I put this one my “to-read” list several years ago on the recommendation of Nicole Cliffe, back when she was with The Hairpin before starting the phenom that is The Toast. Hoeg’s  writing is simple, and story is also relatively straight forward: three students believe that something is afoot at their Danish boarding school in the mid-1970s. Yet the devil is in the details, because our narrator is an adult relating his childhood as a victim of frustrating bureaucracy that put him in and out of foster homes and orphanages. He was bullied, fought, and discovered more insidious survival techniques which come to play as he attempts to navigate his new school.

The reality of their situation is slowly revealed, but the novel functions as a kind of philosophical treatise on time, and the nature of time in our lives and our need to categorize time. Hoeg approaches these topics in such a straight forward way he brings to question things I had long assumed were just “the ways things were.” The story takes a pretty unpleasant turn, but I felt like I really got something out of this book, and I struggled to find even a major reviewer who was willing to engage with the odd and fantastic things Hoeg wrote here.

26. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

After Borderliners, I took a bit of a break from reading, though not intentionally. I wound up with this book, which I do not remember how it wound up in my pile. Perhaps The Millions, perhaps some other odd source.. I think I read this book in a day? Maybe two. It is very lightweight and easy to read. This book is also totally aimed at people who read a lot. This book covers the life of A.J. Fikry, an Indian-American man who happens to own a bookstore on an island off the coast of Maine (or is it Massachusetts). Anyway, this book describes the ways that so many books touch the lives of the island residents, and how AJ stubbornly resists building a life and then begins to build a life. This is definitely a crowd pleaser aimed at people who love their local bookstore.

27. The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go

This novel. Ugh. It was long listed for the Man Booker Prize, and seemed like the only one I thought would be interesting. Half of this book (which takes place before, during, and slightly after WWI) is good and well written. The other part, written in the modern day was terrible. I hated our narrator and his boring quest, his stubborn refusal to make good choices. The novel is tonally discordant, and there is nothing compelling about our main character. A debut novel, which makes me slightly interested where Justin Go may write in the future, if it’s more like the WWI chapters and less like the modern stuff.

28. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

I am a little afraid of Dave Eggers because I really enjoyed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or at least the first 120 pages about his parent’s deaths, which would slightly mirror my own experience. I have been hesitant to engage his other work, but was forced by Serious Book Club, and actually quite enjoyed myself. Zeitoun is a work of non-fiction that covers the Hurricane Katrina disaster from the point of view of a local family. It gives a very separate account of what happened there, and what the true response was like. It lays bear just how ill-equipped law enforcement, the government, and other agencies were to provide necessary aid, while at the same time incredible prepared to jail and punish people. I went to New Orleans in 2013, and portions of the city certainly have not recovered from what happened to them.

There’s a certain life this book has taken on after it was published because Zeitoun and his wife Kathy’s story did not end well, and they were not as forthcoming about their marital troubles. Soon after the book was released, issues of domestic abuse surfaced, ending in a divorce and protection order. These ordeals created an interesting conversation about whether or not these facts change any of the story they provided, or if it shows how the treatment of Zeitoun at the hands of government broke him, rather than the Hurricane?

29. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

I devoured this book in one long day of traveling to my Grandma Jackson’s scattering. This book is about a weird quirk where Ursula keeps living her own life, getting subconscious suggestions about when to try and steer clear from a situation that may have ended her life previously. It was actually kind of comforting to read about a life that continued over and over and over again on my way to a funeral. Atkinson does an excellent job weaving details, recreating situations over and over again from different perspectives, and creating different potential futures. The narrative is chopped up over different possibilities, and I was glad that I had voted for this book at the Tournament of Books, setting it up as the Runner Up in a tumultuous year.

30. Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

I had a much longer break in reading following Life After Life. I attempted books, my interest petered out, things got returned to the library, I struggled to finish. I was in a funk. Then I started dating Staehli, based on our mutual appreciation of Scott Lynch. She is an enormous fan of the series and loaned me her signed copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies. This continues the story of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, but this time they are pirates, or rather conscripted to become pirates. These books are silly fun, although I liked this one a little less, if only because these parts of the world didn’t seem as sketched out. Locke and Jean weren’t as integral parts of their environment as they had been in Camor. I did like the sleights of hand, the shifting allegiances, but the pirate thing seemed like not necessarily a good choice. I’m interested in seeing what else happens in the series, as Staehli loaned me the next book.

31. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

One of my favorite books from last year was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. A few months later, a copy was for sale cheap at Elliot Bay Books, so I picked it up. In the interest of checking books off my list, I finally went and read Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel’s follow up in the life of Thomas Cromwell. I felt like this book began with a bit of retreading before settling back into Mantel’s gorgeous prose. This book didn’t capture me as much as Wolf Hall did, but it did do something that other readers describe as “good company.” Spending time with Mantel and Cromwell is good company, and I was always happy to pick up with Thomas, and all of his schemes, those that work and those that do not. Heavy lies the responsibility on the man that aids the crown.

32. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Some time ago when I was creating a possible list for Book Club, I was playing with one entirely about travel and travel fiction. I had heard good things about Wild, and my ex-girlfriend Bonnie had been reading it, and gave it her seal of approval. I was interested in reading it. I am glad I did, because over the past few years, especially as I have gone out running more, I have felt a deeper connection with nature. Reading Cheryl Strayed’s personal journey, struggling with a parent’s death, struggling with her personal life, love life, addiction, and so much more, I fell a little bit more in love with the Pacific Northwest and our deep connection to nature. I wasn’t able to go camping or on as many hikes as I would like, but one of my goals in the New Year is to do more in nature.

33. & 34. Scary Go Round: Ahoy Hoy and Peloton, by John Allison.

Scary Go Round is one of my favorite web comics. I think it’s just well written, and has engaging stories. I wanted to buy the graphic novels for a long time, but never did. Then they went on sale, so I snatched them up. They are just volumes 5-8, but I love them all the same. John Allison is great at making up fantastical things, but then bringing them down to a human level. I connect with his bizarre notions of faeries, the underworld, and the Easter Bunny. I also appreciated reading these because I’m can get a bigger picture on where the story was going, rather than get mired in some of the day-to-day reading frustrations that angered or confused me.

35. – 45. Transmetropolitan, by Garth Ennis

 My friend Aaron loaned me the entire run of Transmetropolitan, which is basically like the continued adventures of Hunter S. Thompson, now Spider Jerusalem. Spider continues to tackle politics, culture, cities, people, and many other topics with the vitriol usually reserved for hate manifestos. For those who have no experience with Hunter S. Thompson, this graphic novel series could have been groundbreaking. But for me, a person who has read much Hunter S. Thompson, I found it all quite familiar. Although, it was nice to see Thompson again, and imagine what he might have had to say about our current policies. I miss some of those unique voices.

So! That was 2014 in reading. Books I did not finish: Zealot by Reza Aslan (ran out of time, but enjoyed a lot of what I read), You Are One of Them by Eliot Holt (not what I thought it was), Search Sweet Country by Kojo Laing (my own book club pick that garnered the dubious honor that not one person finished the book), Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (good, but ran out of time at the Library!), A re-read of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (for book club. Much better time with the book now that I knew what it was. Better writing than I remember), The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (oh god, I loathed this and I wanted nothing but bad things to happen to the philandering main character who was so obviously a stand-in for the author), The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (a book club pick that I just gave up on because I got bored), Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (good lord did I hate this book. I loathed this book. I hated the main character so much that I basically rage quit the book halfway through).

In the next year, I’d like to read more women, in part because I think I found many of their books more challenging. On my to-read list: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, Artful by Ali Smith, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, and for other books: The Big Roads by Earl Swift, Joan Didion, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and Nick Harkaway.

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