In 2014, I read more books than I ever have in the period of one year. Probably by at least double.
Before I get into why that is, which will be another day, I want to take some time to acknowledge the books that have most affected me in the last year. Theses are not necessarily my top ranked reads in terms of how many stars I awarded them immediately after closing the back cover. These are the works that keep popping into my brain out of the blue, or haunt me in their subject matter’s daring candidness to acknowledge a very real issue that exists (or existed in years gone by) somewhere in this world.
People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (2013)
I . Can’t. Even. This book is insane.
This novel is written in the form of a journaled memoir/letter addressed to the personal friend of said letter’s writer, a young doctor/anthropologist. It is inspired by all the ways that the tribe discovered in Papau, New Guinea a few years back was compromised and otherwise messed up by the intervention of “civilized” humanity.
Beautifully written, a page-turner even. Which is crazy since it totally reads as a biographical memoir, with sprinklings of color commentary by the narrator/personal friend—not typically page-turning material right?
This one was named one of the best books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly.
AND She has a new book coming out in March 2015!! Can you tell I am excited??
The main thing that I think about in relation to this book is the all too common treatment of children 150 years ago (and how it assuredly still occurs all over the place in secret in the wealthy countries and not so hidden in the second and third world countries).
I also had the amazing privilege to sit in on two separate readings that Emma did while attending the Vancouver Writer’s Festival. One reading was of the most heartbreaking scene of the entire book (in my opinion) and the other was vividly brought to life in a hilariously pseudo-erotic scene set in a San Francisco courtesan house.
The reviews on this one were very mixed from the wider public, but I thought it was beautiful and terrifying. Read it.
Just to be clear, I read this one way back in January 2014, before it was widely known that this book was going to become a film starring one of my favourite actresses.
I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I celebrated right along with Cheryl Strayed. I wondered how in the world she is still alive to write this stuff down. And I appreciated intensely the fact that she overcame such a terrible downward spiral by taking on a mammoth journey that ultimately improved her outlook on life and strength of character.
So many of us need stories like this to inspire us to get off our butts, quit feeling sorry for ourselves and do something about the circumstances we do have control over. I am one of them.
An emotional journey-and-a-half. You may be beginning to pick up on the type of book that draws me in hard.
This is the journey of a wife and mother who has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease (which is a devastating illness that takes over your brain from the inside-out) and who does not want to be a burden on her family when she can no longer take care of herself.
We get a devastating look at the progression of Huntington’s and the in’s and out’s of its symptoms. Oh I cried. And then cried some more. So if you like that kind of thing, by all means pick this one up.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)
Most hilarious book I have read in all of my life. I own this one, but I also decided to listen to the audio version (read mostly by Amy herself) and it just made the experience even better.
A few years ago I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and I left it thinking, “that was pretty funny. But somehow I wanted more.” Well, Amy Poehler went there. I can’t quite explain it, but she did. If Tina Fey left you wanting— I challenge you. I was in complete stitches. In public even, as I read parts of it during my train commute.
Yes Please and thank you.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (2014)
This one is a really awesome genre bender! Part thriller, part murder mystery, part literary drama. Because you have several points of view, the mystery unfolds from several angles– such that it is not so much of a mystery as a fascinatingly dark and twisted psychological drama, with family dynamics and art culture thrown in.
This one sticks with my as a sort of reminder. I kind of snubbed this book at first. I heard about it before it was released but it didn’t pique my interest. Mostly because I didn’t give it the chance. But after a few months of regular mentions from various sources, I decided to give it a try. And man, did I feel ridiculous. Lauren Beukes—I added the rest of your stuff to my TBR!
This one is so unique. I have never read anything quite like it before. The scope of the story is epic, the language is entrancing (especially by audiobook), and the emotions expressed are definitely stirring.
It is also a bit weird, leaving you scratching your head going, “why would she do that?!! Who does that?! This can’t be for real! “
The story itself though, and the way it is told, is unforgettable.
This was a third reading for me. I have never read any other book three times. That should tell you all you need to know.
The first time I read Room, I was so wound up with the first half, that I did not get as much from the second half as was deserved. So, I read it again. And once more in audio format.
I found in reading Claire Cameron’s The Bear that the child narrator drove me a bit bonkers, but when I heard it read by Claire herself, as it was originally intended, I was able to gain a much greater understanding of the rhythm and cadence.
So, I decided to try this audio tactic with Room. And it was awesome. Especially in terms of the second half, which was brought much more vividly to life for me. Not to mention that the story is extremely compelling and emotional to (probably anyone, but) any parent who ever lived.
I read this book and then watched the movie. And in my opinion, this was an awesome movie/book combination. The two were practically mutually exclusive. The book tells the story of Anthony Lee, the son that was stolen from his mother in mid-twentieth century Ireland. The movie is Philomena Lee’s search for the baby that once brought her so much joy.
Several passages from the book as well as scenes from the film are etched in my mind. And on a grander scale, I am flooded with sadness that families like this one were (and sometimes are still) torn apart under the banner of the Christian or Catholic church.
We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (2014)
This book spans an entire lifetime. And Matthew Thomas succeeds as telling a compelling story of it. What more do you need!
I also got to meet the author and hear him read a couple of different passages, which was wonderful. I love it when I go to readings for books I have actually read!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
This story is so incredibly fascinating. Anytime people talk about cancer, I start retelling facts and anecdotes from this book (or the next one on this list)!
There are so many amazing things about this book. The magnitude and scope of the reporting, the completely insane way Henrietta and her descendants and family are treated by the medical community as well as the health care system, and the story of the immortal cells themselves are just a few of the ideas that have stuck with me.
Cancer affects all of us. Learn about it.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
And if the journalistic reporting on the subject of cancer doesn’t quite float your boat, go ahead and pick up this history of the most devastating disease ever.
This book is a clinical biography that incorporates some narrative stories, but it is mainly comprised of incredibly compelling recaps of the history and evolution of what we know about cancer—how it was discovered, how it works, how it mutates, how it multiplies, how the drugs work, etc. etc– so intensely fascinating in my humble opinion.
Probably my favourite book of all time.
It is not perfect, as I feel like the ending didn’t quite deliver the way I hoped it would (not in terms of closure, but the struggle that was portrayed didn’t articulate as succinctly as the earlier writing), but the first 5/6 of the story was the most beautifully haunting masterpiece I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
Not only does the story stay with me, but the way Roxane Gay weaves her words together to portray such powerful images, emotions and scenes is most definitely enviable. To probably every single person who ever lived. If they aren’t envious, they should be. A. Ma. Zing.
There you have it. The (13) most memorable books that I read in the crazy year that was 2014.
Some interesting things I noticed about this list:
- Seven of these titles are published in 2014, and the oldest book is from early 2010. Apparently I relate well to modern material.
- Five of these titles are Non Fiction! Even since I intentionally decided to read more (awesome) fiction, the real life stuff still totally sticks with me.
- Three of these titles were nominated for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize in 2014. This might be a good list for me (and you) to get your fabulous fiction fixes from in the future.
- Two of these titles I had the opportunity to hear live from the mouth of their creator. I live in an awesome city that makes this kind of thing possible. But seriously, Roxane Gay, get your butt up to Vancouver.