Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Closing Out 2014 - The Year in Books

I'm a few days late, but it's time to close the door on 2014 and start 2015 fresh! Last year was the worst reading year I've had since I've started blogging, clocking in at just 53 books. Let's never have that happen again. What lacked in quantity was made up for by some really quality books, though sadly it wasn't all that great of a year personally either and I really didn't blog much about the books I read. Let's never have that happen again either. Right now I have a LOVELY stack of books on my end table that I'm super excited to read and tell you all about for January, so let's hope the passion stays! January 1st is quite the arbitrary day I've always thought...just another day...but there is something refreshing about a new start symbolically, isn't there? It really can energize you if you let it. So back to 2014...here are some of the books I really loved this past year, in no particular order:

Finding My Voice by Diane Rehm: I love Diane Rehm. I don't know how long I've been listening to her on NPR now, but her show has been one of my favorites for years now because of what she brings to it...compassion, understanding, a desire to educate, a desire to advocate, and a voice that just makes you feel at home. I remember hearing Diane's voice for the first time (a voice I've come to love) and thinking she was much older than she is. I've since learned that she has spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological condition that affects her voice. Her journey through this, her marriage, her childhood, and so much more are the topic of this captivating book that made me love her even more than I already do. She's such a wonderful writer and her story was fascinating, saddening at times and empowering to me.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: Oh I struggled so so much with putting
this book on my best of list for the year. The book is 80% amazing and then fails completely at the end. But it's going on the list because it fails with promise which sounds horrible, but I swear the ending feels like an editor said "hurry up and end it". I was so damn captivated with Oyeyemi's writing throughout the book. More so perhaps than any other book I read this year...and fascinated with the amazing things she did with her characters. This book was pure magic in the most real way. And the ending had so much potential too had she only given it about 100 more pages and done it justice. Sadly, the way it ended felt like a slap in the face. I won't say more for fear of spoilers because I DO still think this is a book that should be read. And I'm so looking forward to reading more of her work. And THAT COVER. Gorgeous!

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I said these books are in no particular order but this is EASILY my favorite book of the year and may just be one of the best books I've ever read. I don't have words for how amazing this book is. I knew nothing about it going into it. I had no clue that it was a book about 9/11 (though it's only partially about that) and I'm glad I didn't know that as I tend to avoid books about manmade violent disasters like 9/11 and the Columbine shootings. I don't like that side of humanity and tend to avoid reading about it. But OMG this book. I don't think I've ever cried so much while reading a book. Yes, it's horribly sad at times, but also so hopeful, so loving, so full of innocence, so full of the loss of that innocence. This whole book is one beautiful quote. This one was really a gift.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan - I adore Shaun Tan's work!! His books are works of art. I could look
at his artwork for days, but with his books he gives us amazing stories to go with those works of art. Rules of Summer is one of my favorite books of his to date. It's dark, it's quirky, it's endlessly explorable. I think I stayed on each page for about 5 minutes at least just soaking it all in. Every page turn was like a present. Get this one!

Once by Morris Gleitzman - Oh Morris Gleitzman, you sure do know how to crush my heart. I knew this already from reading books like Two Weeks With The Queen. So I should've known damn well what I was getting into when I picked up a Gleitzman book about the Holocaust :/ I fell so hard for the characters in this book, a group of children so innocent that they literally cannot fathom what's before their eyes. It was a view of the Holocaust that I hadn't experienced before and an expertly written tale that left me angry and sad and wanting to pick up the next book in the series verrrrry hesitantly.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer - This might be the first time an
author's ever had two books on my end of the year list! I'm not a vegetarian, but when I do eat meat, I try to eat it consciously. Even more so after reading this book. This is not a book just for vegetarians, it's a book that everyone should read. It's important to know where your food comes from, not just for sanitary reasons (and trust me, you will do your research as to where your meat comes from after reading this book), but also out of respect for the living beings that die to sustain us. I'm thankful to Foer for the time and effort he put in to giving us this manifesto on the lives of animals and how they become our food. He's become a favorite author after this year.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - SO good! The less you know about this one going into it, the better and I kind of want to read this one all over again now that I'm thinking back on it. A group of well to do teens meet together every summer and share a secret....elements of mystery, thriller, love story...One that you just can't put down. Loved it.

Morning Glories (Vols. 1-7) by Nick Spencer - THANK YOU DEBI!!! This
is a graphic novel series that I never would've picked up had it not been for Debi telling me to! But damn am I ever happy that I did. It's my favorite series that I'm reading right now. This series will fuck with your mind. There's no other way of putting it. I still have no clue what the hell is going on in this series but I'm having a really fun time waiting to find out. A group of kids are picked to go to a boarding school and right off the bat you know that things are a little bit off....and then they're a lot off...and then it just keeps getting worse. I cannot wait for volume 8 to come out in February.

Stuck in the Middle With You by Jennifer Finney Boylan - I really did not expect to love this one as much as I did but damn was it ever good. It's Jennifer's story of transitioning as a parent from a father to a mother as she came out as a trans woman. This is not the story of her transition itself physically, but rather her transition as a parent. And it was so beautiful. I cried, I laughed, I sighed. And it made me so happy for her.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham - Oh this one has gotten some I mostly agree with what Roxanne Gay had to say about #Lenagate. I really liked this book. I thought it was an important book and I think that Dunham can be blunt to a fault at times, but it's part of what makes the book what it is...she's not perfect and doesn't pretend to be. She says "I fuck up and that's ok". She explores the gray areas with this book which is perhaps the MOST important thing about this book. There are plenty of books that talk about the black and the white, but not many that dare go into the gray. Thank you Lena for doing that.
flack...and I could write a lot about that flack. I'll just say that

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero - Holy CRAP this book!!! Thank you Kristen for making me read this one! I haven't read anything else like this. It's part journal, part video transcript, part tape transcript, and 100% horror and it just steamrolls with the storyline getting better and better and better with each page turn until your heart is beating out of your chest at the end. And then you say "holy shit" and it's over. Who doesn't want to read THAT?

Constable & Toop by Gareth Jones - Another thank you to Kristen for
making me read this one too! I hunted EVERYWHERE to find this book and finally found a copy at a branch of my library. This has to be one of the most charming ghost stories that I've ever read. And I mean charming in that it feels timeless and Victorian and wonderful and I want to read 100 more books set in this universe. Oh I really would be so happy if there were more Constable & Toop books though I don't know how likely that is >_>

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel Vols. 1&2 by Neil Gaiman - This is getting really long so I'll just say that I may have enjoyed these even more than the novel itself, the art was amazing, and I cried my eyes out. Nuff said.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler - I love Amy Poehler. And I am going to be so
sad when Parks and Recreation ends this year :( :( :( Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook version of this book. It is so damn good and Poehler deserves a grammy for it.

And now if you're still reading, CONGRATULATIONS! You've made it this far :p How about some stats?

Total books read this year: 53
Total pages read this year: 11,285
Comics/Graphic Novels Read: 24
Nonfiction: 9 (this needs to go up! Surprised by this number)
Short Story Collections/Essays/Anthologies: 1 :(
Poetry: 1 :( :(
LGBT Themed books: 5 really???
Written by Women: 14 :( (Though interesting to note, 6 of the 14 books by women I read are in my top 14 of the year of the year listed above...READ MORE BOOKS BY WOMEN CHRIS!!)
Written by Men: 39
Chunksters (450+ pgs): 2
Average pages per book: 213 pgs.

Plans for this year, read more books by women...a LOT more books by women....definitely more poetry and short story/essay collections...and more nonfiction. This really was just an awful year for me. The worst I've had overall as far as quantity and I'm just really unhappy with my stats too. I think I'm going to stray from holding myself to themed reading and challenges this year, but I may go on some poetry/nonfic/essay binges here and there. Hope everyone has a wonderful 2015 in between the pages!!


Amanda said...

Hi Chris! Funny - I also read 53 books this year, but view it as one of my best years since blogging despite it being by far my lowest number, because I didn't let myself read anything just for the sake of reading this year. I loved almost every one of those books and found some new favorites (Stiefvater's Raven Cycle is killing me!). The Supernatural Enhancements was fantastic. One of the most creative things I've ever read!

I need to read more LGBTQ books this year though. Especially in the T and Q areas, which I haven't read much of over the years.

Cath said...

To be honest I think 53 books is not all that bad. I made it to 100 for the first time ever and am wondering if I read too quickly and could've done with slowing up a bit and considering the books more.

I thought Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was an amazing book too. Heart-breaking in places. I wasn't that keen on the 9/11 theme going into it but am so glad I ignored that and gave the book a chance.

Can I leave a book rec? One of my favourite books this year was Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett. Fantasy/Crime with the start of a m/m relationship that continues through the 'Astreiant' series. Loved it.

Happy New Year, Chris!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Interesting that you're surprised by your low number of non-fiction this year: I was too! Aarti even commented on my post saying that we usually think we read more non-fiction than we usually do - I wonder why that it. Is it that the few we do read have such an impact they seem to grow bigger in our memories?

Vasilly said...

I definitely agree with you on Boy Snow Bird. I think the author was trying to do too much. It's almost as if she's trying to set up a second book by leaving readers wondering what happens next.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is such an incredible book.

Beth F said...

What an amazing list of books! Of the ones I haven't read yet, many are already on my list.

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

I've got The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi that I got from a library sale a couple of years ago, that I keep meaning to get to at some point.

And you are totally right about the Morning Glories series. Brilliant, but total mind-fuck!

Kailana said...

2014 was kind of crappy here, too, so I am hoping 2015 will go better for both of us. I must check out a few of your favourite books! Happy reading in 2015!

Jeane said...

How did I miss these the first time around- so many great-looking books I have to add to my list now. Especially the Shaun Tan- it's one I haven't seen before.

Amy said...

53 is much better than my 33 or whatever!! And I agree re: The supernatural enhancements...so much fun!

Chris Howard said...

Amanda, More people read The Supernatural Enhancements than I realized this year! Hate that I've been so out of the loop. Glad you enjoyed it too :) I can't WAIT to read The Raven Cycle...I've heard so many awesome things about that series. Really looking forward to it this year!! Oooh...if you want a good trans book, read Stuck in the Middle with You!! LOVED it! So much. Have you read Middlesex? I listened to the audio of that a couple of years ago and really loved it.

Cath, I've yet to make it to 100 books!! One of these years I will :p Thank you so much for the recommendation!!! That book sounds right up my alley :) I downloaded the sample of it onto my nook. Was Extremely Loud amazing? Gah, that book.

Alex, That's a really good point...I think they do have a big impact on us. I also usually read a lot more nonfiction than I did this year so I think that's why I was so surprised too this year. Here's to more nonfic this year!!

Vasilly, I really wish so much that she would've expanded on the ending more :( I often wonder if she has regrets about the way she ended the book. Also, I REALLY wish Foer would publish more books!!

Beth, Thanks :) Hope you found something new!

Darren, You would LOVE Oyeyemi...I can't wait to read more of her stuff. I have The Icarus Girl too. Cannot WAIT for more Morning Glories!

Kells, Hey!! I missed you my dear! I really hope that we both have better 2015s too and that it's fantastic year for the both of us!! Hope you've been good lately!!

Jeanne, Well I didn't review most of these :p So that's why you missed them, lol. I really fell off of the radar this year, but I'm hoping to keep up with reviews better this year!! So glad I could give you some new recommendations though :)

Amy, Wasn't that book awesome?? I need to remember that the numbers really aren't all that important. When I look at this list of books that I really loved that I read this year, I really have no complaints!

DesLily said...

well you read more than I did so there! lol The deal is, and always has been.. not the numbers but the enjoyment of what we read. I think we have all gotten caught up on the numbers. if we all only read one book a month, but seriously enjoyed all 12 books.. would that be a bad thing? I don't think so.. I will still do yearly stats but as long as I have a good book in my hand and another waiting in the wings, I am ok with it!

Considering many of us seemed to have had "not our best year" healthwise or otherwise..we are all still here and all still enjoying our books!

love you baby boy!xoxo

Kristen M. said...

I have to get some more blog posts up so that I can convince you about some new stellar reads for 2015! ;) I think this is the perfect example of why I blog and why I love the community of bloggers. You got me to read one of my favorites of the year too! I do find it quite interesting that we intersect in both books and music. I think that's a somewhat rare thing to find!