Whoosh. Did you feel that? Another year zooms on down the road leaving some of us wondering what the heck just happened. Am I richer? Thinner? Fitter? Or perhaps a combination of thinner and fitter which I will call "thitter." Do I see a more peaceful world? A cleaner one? Have I been kinder, or have I at least tried? I suppose it's inevitable that at the close of each year one can't resist the urge to take inventory and tally up the balance sheets of life. I don't particularly like the exercise and generally avoid it...with one exception! The books I've read.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, is not only the best book of fiction I read in 2014, it is the best book I've read this year. No, that's too limited. It is the best book I've read in many years. I would not be surprised if I learn someone plans to make a "major motion picture" based on it. Just, please, whoever you are...please do it justice.
Last October I had a bunch of coupons for Barnes and Noble for 20% off that were set to expire. Since I also have a membership, I get an additional discount plus free shipping when I order books on-line. The rationale I use is thus: with a coupon and extra discounts, one is not spending money one is saving money. Using this rationale, I had a great time saving tons of money by clicking, and entering coupon codes, and applying discounts. When the books began arriving it was actually better than Christmas surprises. You might know that feeling: "Oh, I forgot I ordered that. How wonderful."
One of those books turned out to be the best book of non-fiction I read in 2014. In The Heart Of The Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is based on the 1820 voyage of the whaling ship Essex out of Nantucket, which was rammed by a sperm whale (apparently in a deliberate attack...an event unheard of at the time) and sunk near the Equator in the South Pacific Ocean. Twenty survivors packed into three small boats with little food, water or navigational equipment. Only a handful made it home. I was half-way through the book when I noticed for the first time that it was not only a New York Times Bestseller (something I don't follow) but the cover also announced that it is "soon to be a Major Motion Picture." After a little checking, I see it is due to be released in a few months. As a side-bar, if you didn't already know that the whaling industry had terrible consequences for the survival of the species, that and other acts of environmental malfeasance will probably make you sad and angry. Nevertheless, this is a whopping good story.
I read several excellent mysteries this year. I especially loved The Tiger In The Smoke, an oldie by Margery Allingham, which had me turning pages like crazy. It was all you hope a murder mystery will be. But, I'll have to give the award to The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. Not gripping, not spine-tingling, but well-written and my sentimental favorite since I find Flavia de Luce to be the most refreshing and precocious chemist/sleuth of all time. Besides, this is the volume in which her long-lost mother, Harriet, comes home. I had heard it was supposedly the last, but I'm delighted that number 7 will be out next week. Have I pre-ordered As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust? You bet.
Although it was not published in 2014, I only got around to reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel this year and it gets the award for best historical fiction. My only criticism of it was I wish it had been longer. I wasn't prepared to reach the end. It was that good.
Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer is a collection of essays and articles written in his brilliant, witty, and insightful style. Known mainly for his political commentary, Krauthammer is also a psychiatrist which I think gives him a special gravitas in his analysis of people and why they do the things they do. There is some politics, but he writes so well on a number of subjects: baseball, dogs, speed chess. Even if you do not agree with him ideologically, I will bet you will like the guy after reading this book.
I can't remember how I learned about I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. The cover art is awful, so I know it isn't what grabbed me. I'm happy something did. The story line, the tight writing, the contemporary subject matter all worked together to create a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. I was going to loan it to a friend, but am too afraid it won't come back to me. I don't want to part with it. I can see a movie on the horizon for this one and would bet money someone has already bought the rights.
The most delightfully fun read was Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. I wanted fearlessly quirky, highly intelligent, but somewhat blundering Bernadette Fox to be my friend. This was an audio book for me and the narrator's voice was perfect. The wrong voice will ruin it every time.
I read one YA book this year (something I rarely do) but had heard so much about The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier that I figured, "Why not?" Now that I've read it, if I was twelve or thirteen again, I would check under the bed every night and sleep with the light on, and dead leaves blowing about the house would make me run in a panic.
There were so many good books this year, I hate to pick favorites. But these really did stand out and I can recommend each and every one of them.
So bring on 2015. I can hardly wait.