In 2014, apart from all my reading for school, I read 80 new books by 48 authors, about 25,270 pages in all. If you count a reread as another book read, then I read 91 books in 2014! You can see the whole shebang (except for reread books) on my shiny new Goodreads account, but here I’m just going to highlight some of the more memorable and/or significant books and authors of 2014 and compare them. (Because as you may have discovered in my Mistborn review, I like comparing stuff.)
Top Three Authors by Books Read
1. Lemony Snicket (12 books) – his books are very clever, very funny, and very plentiful. I love their strange, playful, gloomy narration, their symbolism, their atmosphere, and the mysteries that permeate his stories. My favorite Snicket book from 2014 is probably The Penultimate Peril for its powerful emotional clout, but The Unauthorized Autobiography is a close second – I love how it uses all sorts of papers and documents to tell stories, and how it tells so much just by implying connections.
2. Brandon Sanderson (7 books, or 13 if you count rereads!) – Brandon Sanderson may not be the most skillful writer I’ve ever seen, or the most deep, or the most clever, but somehow in every book he manages to tell a wonderful story that really clicks with me. His writing also has a tangible warmth and excitement to it that I really enjoy. Mistborn: The Final Empire is my favorite Sanderson novel of the year, but Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, the fourth volume of the Alcatraz series, is a very, very, very close second…and I have to at least mention Elantris, which is less polished but still lovely.
3. Terry Pratchett (4 books) – I wrote somewhere else that I love everything by Terry Pratchett that I can understand. The fact is that his books often lose me because they’re just so rich and clever. But when I can follow the richness and the cleverness, I enjoy his writing tremendously. The Discworld novels that I read this year are intensely funny and wonderfully strange without sacrificing thoughtfulness, and that’s just the kind of thing I love in a novel. My favorite of this year is The Light Fantastic, mostly because I love the character of Rincewind.
This list is the same as my “top three favorite authors of the year” list would be if you just switched Lemony Snicket and Brandon Sanderson, so I’m not going to make a separate list of favorite authors.
Now, there’s a big difference between saying that a book is good and saying that you liked the book. I read lots of terrific literature that I don’t particularly enjoy, and I read lots of so-so literature that I do really enjoy. So here I’m going to distinguish between favorite (and least favorite) and best (and worst).
1. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – I need to reread it before I can say anything coherent about it, so let me say something incoherent: Brilliant! Hilarious! Twisty! Deep! Symbolism out of nowhere that worked so perfectly! Wild! Joyful! Intense! I actually stayed up late to finish it and I have NEVER done that before! Yes, BRILLIANT!! This is the kind of book that makes me desperately want to write because I want to write something that incredible, but that also discourages me from writing because the world has already arrived, the perfect book has already been written, we can all just stop trying now.
2. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – I had quite a few problems with this book once I had thought about it for a while, but immediately after finishing, it was just brilliant as far as I was concerned. And I’ve had tons of fun watching my sister experience it, reading Sanderson’s annotations for it, talking at great length with said sister about it, getting my friend to read it and then getting excited emails from her late at night about it, etc. Really, it’s a favorite of this year not so much because it was a great book as because it was a great experience.
3. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – This book has three things I really enjoy in stories: 1) heroes falling into evil (for some reason this plot really moves me), 2) a quirky narrator, 3) lots of symbolism. Said symbolism is pretty heavy and sometimes intrudes into the plot…but I enjoyed it anyways. After all, sometimes I want to read a book with a lot of symbolism without having to really tease it out like I might with better-written and more subtle books. Anyways, listening to the audiobook of this novel was an incredible experience and was definitely the culmination of my read of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I don’t hate this book – I just never really connected with any of the characters or cared about them much. The whole time I was reading I felt like it was taking itself extremely seriously while I didn’t really care. But I suppose I was doomed to dislike it, seeing as I don’t often care for young-adult books, violent books, romantic books, humorless books, or extremely popular books. Though I’m glad I at least gave it a chance!
2. The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood – This is the fourth book of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. I enjoyed the first three books, finding them sweet and funny, but this one…Well, it was still sweet and funny, but while reading I realized that I had been hoping for more development in the story – particularly deeper characters – and that it just wasn’t there and probably never would be. This book also has some plot twists so implausible and so annoying that I wasn’t willing to let them slide like I usually would with silly books like these. So I guess you could say that I’ve gotten disillusioned with this series. I’ll still finish it, but at the moment it has a bad taste in my mouth that would take a lot of brilliance to get rid of.
3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – I guess I just didn’t get this book. I thought I would like it because of its oddness and humor, but then I just never connected with it, and that was disappointing.
This list was a lot harder to make than the list of favorites! Though I am trying to judge objectively how good these books are, my personal opinion and bias will obviously still color my decisions, so don’t murder me if I get it wrong. Also, I’m going to list five books because for the life of me I can’t choose just three.
1. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – Again, I’m not sure exactly what I think about this book yet, but I know that it is very, very good.
2. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Patton – I read this for school, technically, but I loved it so much that I felt the need to claim it for my own. This book is beautifully written and very moving. I think it does a wonderful job of portraying many different sides to a situation, and I love the author’s technique of telling small, self-contained stories and fragments of stories to describe things like the shanty towns and the different attitudes of whites towards Africans. Lovely, lovely book.
3. The Chosen by Chaim Potok – Another school book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel; the language and the plot are deceptively simple. But in the end I found it to be a deep, moving character study that also gave me a lot of insight into modern Judaism.
4. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin – This was actually the last book I finished in 2014, so I haven’t had that much time to let it settle…but I think it’s very good. The language is beautiful, and the story works perfectly both as a metaphor and as just a story – something very hard to pull off! The central characters are also astonishingly deep for such a short book. In the end, I felt like this book had given me a lovely, eloquent portrait of a certain worldview in amazingly few words.
5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – And another book for school. Rich, dark, intense. I loved it.
As it turns out, I don’t think I read any really bad books this year, even if a few of them were rather lacking. So I’m going to make up for listing 5 best books above and only list the one worst book I read this year…which is unfortunately…
1. The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood – The incredibly convenient plot twist with Simon. Seriously? I thought he was joking at first. However, again, I think that pretty much all the books I read this year are okay, so this novel is the worst compared to a bunch of pretty good books…or in other words, it’s still decent. I did like how Lady Constance acted in this book, for instance.
Most likely to reread: The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – Again. Because I can’t talk coherently about it and I need to be able to.
Least likely to reread: The Dove in the Eagle’s Nest by Charlotte Mary Yonge – It really is a decent story, but it just didn’t click with me. Most of the other books I disliked I think may still reread someday because I might enjoy them more later, or I might end up reading them to somebody else who would enjoy them. But I doubt that my feelings on this book will ever change, and I doubt that I’ll ever read it aloud to somebody, either. (It is rather long, after all.)
Other Comparisons of Interest (at least to me)
Now the fun stuff!
Longest book: Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – My edition has 760 pages of actual story – 760 of tiny print with no breaks between lines of dialog. Ugh. It’s an awesome book, though.
Shortest book: The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket – I listened to this with my family in the car and it was a lot of fun.
Book that took me the longest to read: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dosteyevsky – I’m definitely going to have to read this book multiple times to appreciate it or even understand it decently. This first read-through took a lot of effort and was sometimes frustrating, but I did really enjoy some parts and now subsequent reads will be easier and more fruitful.
Most serious book: Tie between A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell – The former is one of the most depressing, cynical, serious, humorless books I’ve read for a while (I’m amazed I managed to get through it, now that I think about it), even though it is very well written and I did like it, particularly the picture it presented of Russia. The latter book is full of attempts to probe the deepest mysteries of the universe and the self (which may or may not be the same thing) by analyzing myths and dreams. It’s brilliant and full of provocative ideas (even if I don’t agree with most of them), but it can sometimes feel a little odd when Campbell treats the sillier dreams and stories just as seriously as all the rest. We’ve got the truth of human spirituality at stake here, after all!
Least serious book: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson – That was easy. What other book tries to get the reader to stand on his or her head and juggle seventeen live trout with his or her feet while singing? (It does have its serious moments, though. In fact, it’s the most serious of the whole series. Wait, now I’ve probably scared you off. Scratch that.)
Most unique book: This was a hard decision, especially because the fourth Alcatraz book was a contender and it’s really hard to deny an accolade to an Alcatraz book, but I think that The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket wins. (The Man Who Was Thursday…yes, sorry, that book again…came close, and so did Don Quixote.) What other book is simply an eclectic, disorganized, and obscure collection of documents, ranging from pop songs about the author’s childhood to letters that may or may not be from the person they say they’re from to the author’s obituary (published when he was still alive) to blurry photographs to the most brilliant index ever written? Not to mention a reference to a movie called Vampires in the Retirement Community. Yes, it’s a very strange and very unique book, and I loved it. (It’s incomprehensible if you haven’t read A Series of Unfortunate Events, though.)Least unique book: Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman – Guess what this one is about! But never mind if it wasn’t unique – it was a good book and it did its job. If I have to choose a least unique piece of fiction, it would probably be Black Star, Bright Dawn by Scott O’Dell (a straightforward piece of historical fiction) or Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (an intelligent-teenager-with-issues-trapped-in-American-high-school story). Both are very good books, though, especially Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. Honestly, I feel horrible giving that novel a Least Unique of 2014 label because it was so good. Best title: A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois – An intriguing, unique, and pretty title that also fits the book. However, a big silver medal to Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket. Who other than Lemony Snicket would name a book that? Worst title: Popular by Alissa Grosso – This novel is actually quite good, complex and unique, but the title makes it sound like it’s just yet another book about high school cliques. Best cover: This is kind of tricky to judge, so I read so many of these books on my e-ink Kindle and thus I don’t even know what many of their covers look like. But in the end I think Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains wins – that’s the only cover among the contenders that makes me want to keep looking at it and studying it. The art inside, not to mention the typography, is beautiful too. Worst cover: Since I’m not counting the generic cover of The Hidden Hand, the winner is definitely Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson. Actually, I think the Alcatraz book would win even if I was including the cover of The Hidden Hand. Because what on earth is Alcatraz swinging? And where did the pictured scene come from? And why did they need to use that image for a back cover when it’s so strange and embarrassing to have on a book you’re carrying around? Funniest: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson – Also a definite winner. There are several jokes in this novel that had me laughing every time I thought of them for days. Saddest: If you’re talking about a depressing sadness, then 1984 by George Orwell, and if you’re talking about more just sad sadness, then The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket. I may have read books that were more tragic this year, but these ones affected me the most. Their endings were especially memorable. In theory most suitable for me (as in, the book that I, as a teenage American girl, am most “supposed” to like): The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins In theory least suitable for me (as in, the book that I, as a teenage American girl, am least “supposed” to like): Probably The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Parts of it were definitely over my head, but I think that I still got a lot out of it. Most mind-sucking: Let me define “mind-sucking” first: when applied to a book, it means that the book tends to take over your mind so that you’re thinking about it all the time. (This word originally came from an online review of a book from A Series of Unfortunate Events; my sister and I found it amusing and then started using it.) The winner this year is Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, because while I was reading it it was hard to think about anything else, whether I was visiting friends, shopping, going to the dentist, talking with my family…I even woke up thinking about it, for heaven’s sake. My sister experienced the same phenomena when she read it, and she also had trouble working on any of her stories while she had The Final Empire on the brain. I also found The Man Who Was Thursday and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World quite mind-sucking, but for different reasons. Mistborn was mind-sucking because of its world and characters and plot; the others were mind-sucking because of all the interesting ideas in them. Book my mom was most interested in (excluding school books, since she kind of has to be interested in my school books, seeing as she’s my teacher): The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket – My sister and I listened to an audiobook of this novel, mostly while during chores, and my mom was often there while we were listening. She got pretty involved in the story and wanted to know what happened during all the times she wasn’t there. Book I most want to read to my kids, assuming that I have kids someday: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – Really, I want to read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events to my hypothetical children, because they’re great stories that are also full of big questions that I would love to discuss with my kids. And if I read the books to them I could warn them that there won’t be any happy endings. It would also be great fun to read them P. W. Catanese’s Books of Umber, though.
Other Books I Want to Highlight But Haven’t Yet
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – So funny, so clever, such a blast to read! I’m definitely going to investigate Willis’s other works.
The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier – I wish more people wrote historical fiction like Maier does! He bases his stories very heavily on history, and even when he does make up details, he puts a lot of research into making them as plausible as possible. Yet the resulting novels are amazing stories full of surprising connections to the Bible and to other sources I’m familiar with.
The Books of Umber by P. W. Catanese – Fun, creative children’s fantasy with great worldbuilding and some awesome characters. Again, these were just really fun and also refreshing to read.
The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling – My sister and I have been listening to audiobooks of these, and we’re really enjoying their creativity and humor. Unfortunately, we’re also really enjoying the audiobook reader’s peculiar renditions of certain lines. “Noooo, don’t do thaaaaat…”