2014 BOOKS

I’m writing this in March, but I’m not going to post it for a while yet. So hello, future.

I’m going to make a list of all the books I read for the first time in 2014. That clause is important because I tend to reread books A LOT, and if I counted every book I picked up in 2014 we would have a bit of a problem. My goal is to reach or exceed 25.

SO here we go:

1. Madeleine L’Engle: Herself compiled by Carole Chase: Christmas gift from Derek (bless him). The book is all quotes from L’Engle’s work, mostly the nonfiction. You do not have to be a fan of L’Engle’s fiction to love this book; you just have to love reading and writing and figuring out stuff about identity and love. You do have to be a fan of L’Engle’s fiction to experience life to the fullest. No, just kidding. But you really should.

2. Paper Towns by John Green: Christmas gift from Hannah (bless her). John Green’s third novel, also his third novel about a shy awkward nerdy sort of boy who meets a girl who is (a) enigmatic (b) unprecedented (c) just really, really incredible and a bit Hannah-like. I wonder what John Green was like as a teenager. Anyway, Paper Towns is a wild ride with a totally unexpected conclusion and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT.

3. Lysistrata by Aristophanes. As Greek theater goes, this is the least boring thing I’ve ever read. (I was reading it on Project Gutenberg and clicking through the pages so fast that the system asked me to confirm that I was not a robot.) It’s a very sexual play in a funny obscure Greek sort of way and I liked that. It reminded me of what Madeleine L’Engle wrote in A House Like a Lotus: “Shakespeare was bawdy, but never dirty,” and I think the same is true of Aristophanes.

4. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. This is cheating a little bit because I read his short story “Distance” in another anthology years and years ago, and then found it again (published under its other title “Everything Stuck to Him”) in this one. This particular anthology is not what I’d call spectacular. There were two stories which stuck out: “Everything Stuck to Him” and one which I don’t remember the actual title of in which a doctor – chiropractor? cardiologist? – discussed love and his wife mentioned her abusive ex-husband and maintained that he, too, had loved her, just not in a way she could handle. I might have to read that again. Anyway, not a bad read.

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. The first author I would compare Flaubert to is Dickens, because, as in my experience of Dickens, the book begins in a place completely arbitrary to what the book is actually about. I did not particularly dislike this book, but is probably one of the ones that you can read once in your life and then not need to read ever again because you didn’t love it. At least for me.

6. Standing on My Knees by John Olive. I LOVE THIS PLAY. It is basically about a schizophrenic poet whose work suffers if she takes meds for her schizophrenia but whose social life, interactions and general stability take serious hits if she doesn’t take her meds. I don’t profess to be an artist on quite that level. But anyway it is gorgeous. I have four quotes from it in my Notebook of Beautiful Words.

7. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. THIS IS A FREAKING AWESOME BOOK and everyone should read it at least once. I will probably read it a lot, because it is awesome. (Actually, first I have to get a copy.) It’s about three brothers, a murder trial, lots of religious angst and consideration, the actual location and use of three thousand roubles (old Russian currency) and a bit about how women complicate things. And it’s really really good.

8. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. I think I understand why Doug disliked this so much when we talked about it in 2010. It’s kind of really hard to love. And it’s flat. And because I’m antifeminist I don’t see why [SPOILERS] Nora had to leave her family in order to find herself, but I’ve never been in that situation so I should probably shut up. Again, probably a good thing to read at least once in your life, but probably not a book people really love. (I might change my mind about this after I go to see the theater version in April.)

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Hard to get through at one in the morning but VERY VERY GOOD. Similar to A Doll’s House (and Madame Bovary as well) in which an oppressed family woman realizes she hates her life and decides to change it. But I enjoy Edna where I did not enjoy Nora, or Emma Bovary. Not sure why. But Kate Chopin is quite lovely and I have a line from The Awakening in the Notebook of Beautiful Words.

10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Despite not being much about the actual girl with the dragon tattoo, this was a pretty good book. A bit rough going down – scary, even. There are some sick people in the world. But it was a wild ride and I liked it.

11. The Rover and Other Plays by Aphra Behn. At first I got a Shakespearean sort of vibe, but perhaps that’s just theater in seventeenth-century England. The Feigned Courtesans was quite awesome. I feel like Aphra Behn and I could have had a good talk; also – her brand of feminism is the kind I can live with. I’m just old-fashioned. The Lucky Chance was also quite good and does remind me of Shakespeare, but I know (due to my humanities class!) that it isn’t Elizabethan theater: it’s Restoration comedy. There was one more play in this collection, called The Emperor of the Moon, but I didn’t read it because I wanted to move on.

12. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. I liked this book. A lot. “The regrets which no wise man has while the present is still his” – YES. Also “There are moments when, if we stood on a rock together, you’d throw me into the sea.” I can’t explain why I like that line – spoken by Terence to Rachel. As with many books I have loved I finished the last pages in rather a hurry (Brothers Karamazov, A House Like a Lotus, Paper Towns) and am still getting my head around it, but that’s fine. I will be reading more Virginia Woolf when I get past the whole try more new authors thing.

13. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. HOLY COW. This book made me want to do several things, among them READ IT AGAIN, live in the Middle Ages, research time travel, watch Doctor Who again, write a time travel novel of my own, eat a cheeseburger, reread A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and name a daughter Verity. IT IS AWESOME.

14. The Forbidden Rumi. There are several posts on this blog about how amazing Rumi is. My favorite is “The Caravan’s Bells.” Good stuff.

15. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I read the first five within a couple weeks and am now hanging on when the sixth and seventh will come out to tide me over. I LOVE THEM. They are not unlike Lord of the Rings, but they are grittier, obviously, and maybe a bit more real. I do not prefer Martin’s realism to Tolkien’s idealism, however; I think we need both.

16. The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle. One of the few left of hers I haven’t read, I am very happy about having read it. I just finished it. And I am realizing two things: one, that a book does not have to shock you to be excellent, and two, I identify strongly with Vicky Austin.

17. Wife to the Bastard by Hilda Lewis. This was a book about the woman Matilda who married William the Conqueror, the first official king of England. And all I can say is, bittersweet endings. Also, new insight into GRRM’s Jon Snow.

18. Comfort by Carolee Dean. Picked it up for free at a school event because I was bored and felt very Alaska Young-ish. Also, it’s the kind of book I might read if I were Alaska Young – angsty and deep and unfair and very good. And sad.

Three Books Which I Technically Read Before 2014, but Which I Loved Reading Again: A Ring of Endless Light, The Princess Bride, and Certain Women

Why: because they are full of important things like Buttercup’s line “There is a God; I know that. And there is love; I know that too” and Certain Women is just probably my favorite L’Engle book ever (except not because I cannot choose) and Derek read Ring like I asked him to for months and said, you’re right, I needed to read that, and I said YES, I knew it, and then I read it myself and realized it had things to say to me too.

19. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I can’t figure this one out (I read it in bits and pieces – I checked it out over the summer and didn’t get past the first chapter before I went to Sjölunden, then checked it out again from the ISU library, so my piecemeal reading of it may be what complicates my perception). It’s about a doctor in Russia who discovers that a certain gross lawyer has had a very interesting influence on various aspects of his life, and some metaphorical rowanberries and very complicated loves. It’s also about all the political upheaval and revolutiony stuff in Russia in the early parts of the 20th century. After some Googling it appears that Boris Pasternak wrote it as an implicit critique of socialist realism. Aside from politics, I like this book because I have always been fascinated with high, cold, wild Russia and the people who find life there.

20. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Whether by actual improvement of my observations or marked patterns in the writing, I discovered by the end that I knew which clues would be important later. Very Agatha Christie, though I do think she was somewhat better. Still, fun read. I think Holmes only says, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” once. Also, I noted that Doyle almost unfailingly refers to him as Holmes, which reminds me of my surprise at Jill and Eustace calling each other “Pole” and “Scrubb” in The Silver Chair.

21. The Berlin Candy Bomber by Gail S. Halvorsen. This story is absolutely awesome. Halvorsen is a retired Air Force Colonel who is famous for, during the Soviet blockade of Berlin in the late forties, dropped chocolate bars to the children of Berlin who would play next to the airfield. And the fact that he doesn’t come away feeling sanctimonious for having helped them, but rather grateful for what he learned from them, is exemplary for every interaction anyone ever has. I got the chance to hear Col. Halvorsen speak at Volkstrauertag in Salt Lake City in November. Most of what he said was already in the book, but it was worth it.

22. 10 Big Lies About America by Michael Medved. Suffice it to say, Michael Medved is my hero. This is fascinating research and devastating truth. America, f*** yeah, as my generation would say.

23. Will Grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan. So this book is good…but I do not know that I like it. Although there was that awesome line about love and truth that I can’t really remember – and that may not have even been it. Anyway, it’s okay. It’s not my favorite. (I don’t have a favorite, of course.) But anyway, I don’t want to say that I’m above it…but I didn’t learn a lot from it. It’s a great collaboration and also a great idea. But as a book, it is not particularly earth-shattering for me.

24. The Enormous Room by e. e. cummings. The story of his experiences after being sent to a sort of holding camp for people suspected of treason during his time as an ambulance driver in World War I. This book made me appreciate a lot of things, among them clean sheets and cummings’ use of adjectives. Have this wonderful passage (slightly edited):

For he has the territory of harmonicas, the acres of flutes, the meadows of clarinets, the domain of violins. And God says: Why did they put you in prison? What did you do to the people? ‘I made them dance and they put me in prison.’ … And He says: O you who put the jerk into joys, come up hither. There’s a man up here called Christ who likes the violin.

25. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I am in agreement with John Green when he says, “Thanks for writing The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, that was really nice of you.” It was, too. I saw the movie before I’d read the book, but it was nevertheless excellent. The narrator is the greatest narrator I have ever encountered. His habit of saying things in one language and echoing them in another just in case someone needs it translated is rather akin to something I do. Hmm…

26. The Dark Lady by Dawn Chandler. So this book is great. Not a literary earthquake, but a great story. It made me want to be a knight (knightess?). The sex scenes use some awkward-as-hell terminology (“he was too close to the swirling winds of desire to pull free”) but still. Excellent.

27. How to Become an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. Kailyn gave this to me in the joking sense that I might forget how to be American by going abroad next year. (Never fear.) Anyway, this book deals with a Japanese WWII bride who did not see nor contact her family after leaving the country due to some mixups and hurt feelings just before she left. She does not have strong English, her children and husband are difficult, and she herself misses Japan. At the opening of the book she is dying of a heart disease probably intensified by the radiation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that blanketed Japan in the wake of the atomic bombs, and she wants desperately to go to Japan and see her brother one more time (her parents and sister have died), but winds up sending her daughter instead. What struck me most, aside from the fun of trying to dissect every Japanese word I saw, was the incredible dissonance between Shoko’s narrative voice and her speech as depicted in the dialogue. When she speaks aloud to her husband and children (and when they hear her speak aloud, in the part of the book narrated by her daughter), she speaks in the same kind of broken English I have heard from my Japanese professor. When she narrates, her storytelling is flawless, not to mention kicks you right between the eyes.

28. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I read the introduction to my dad’s edition and the writer of the introduction absolutely raved about Hemingway’s writing style. This may have been counterproductive, because I went into the actual narrative expecting to forget that I was reading something someone had written, and could not forget it because I kept thinking about it. I was in adjective analysis mode. But still I understand some of what the introduction’s writer means. Not to compare myself to Hemingway (not by a long shot), but I would say of him what a professor once told me of my writing: he writes with real verve. Or perhaps I mean nerve. I would call it tight, deceptively simple, concise, and always moving forward. I quite liked it. As Devo and I once discussed, sometimes the best books are not good for their plots, but for their characters. I am utterly fascinated by Catherine Barkley.

29. The Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle. Usually I am a skinflint and do my best to not pay for my books (see reading all of ASOIAF on an illicit website) if I can help it. Also, I love libraries anyway. But I went ahead and blew seven or eight bucks to get the Amazon Kindle version of this after reading the preview, and THAT WAS A VERY GOOD DECISION. I needed very much to hear everything it has to say. (I also need me a Ben Walton, but that’s mostly beside the point.) It’s amazing how God and the universe and the Internet always sometimes manage to combine to bring you what you need to hear. Basically, what happens (I always try to summarize L’Engle books and I always fail) is that Elizabeth Jerrold is an apprentice in a summer theater and thinks she is in love with the director, who pays her attention. Except then she realizes that she hardly knows anything about him. This novel was published posthumously in 2008, because Madeleine L’Engle’s agent liked it, but couldn’t find it a publisher, and it gradually got forgotten about because L’Engle wrote so many other things. But I love it.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and, having gone to see the latest Hobbit movie last night and subsequently gotten re-lost in The Fellowship of the Ring, I doubt I am going to read any more new books in the ~11 hours that remain of 2014. So here you go, the new books I read in 2014. I didn’t mention Ben Carson’s One Nation because I’ve forgotten nearly everything that was in it, but technically I did read thirty – and that counts ASOIAF as one book, so very technically I read thirty-five books that were completely new to me in this year. That’s not too bad, if you ask me. I think I’ll keep going.

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