I read too many good books this year to decide on a Top 10 list like I did last year. So, instead, I’m looking back on my favourite books of the year, month by month. (That way I can mention as many books as I want!)
If you want to check out my first year of blogging survey that I posted in November, it’s here. It contains only the Canadian content of my blog for the year, minus December.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Leo Gursky is worth getting to know.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl , and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis – This is a dark book about alcoholism. Not for everyone, but so well done.
She was always five minutes away from being the person she wanted to be.
Want Not by Jonathan Miles – I loved all the diverse characters in this book, and the writing will pull you right in.
How much easier it would be, he thought, if people were merely good or bad, as in comic books and television dramas, instead of suspended in the hoary in-between, goodbad creatures swerving from acts of valiant decency to craven negligence in the very same day/hour/minute.
Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis – Another dark and disturbing book, but I couldn’t pull myself away.
You keep your secrets to yourself and you keep your weaknesses a secret and your hurts a secret and your dreams you bury double deep.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride – A surprisingly entertaining book about the adventures of the famous abolitionist, John Brown.
The Good Lord Bird don’t run in a flock. He flies alone. You know why? He’s searching. Looking for the right tree. And when he sees that tree, that dead tree that’s taking all the nutrition and good things from the forest floor. He goes out and he gnaws at it till that thing gets tired and falls down. And the dirt from it raises the other trees. It gives them good things to eat. It makes ‘em strong. Gives ‘em life. And the circle goes ’round.
Swarm by Lauren Carter – A smart and scary look at a near future that is way too possible.
I knew I was cornered, but I was convincing myself I could make that corner comfortable: wallpaper it, drag in a comfy chair, feed the fire, have friends over. Like I still had choices.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway – A glimpse of life in a city under siege, and a beautiful tribute to the people of Sarajevo.
If this city is to die, it won’t be because of the men on the hills, it will be because of the people in the valley. When they’re content to live with death, to become what the men on the hills want them to be, then Sarajevo will die.
George and Rue by George Elliott Clarke – A close look at two men in 1949 who didn’t really have a chance. Would they fare any better today?
The boys were not hanged; they were felled./ They were not conquered; they were quelled./ Their deaths will last as long as life itself.
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris – Chani has no idea what is going to happen on her wedding night. Worse still, neither does the groom. A look inside the world of an Orthodox Jewish community in London, through several central characters who are at major turning points in their lives.
… to love is to give even when the giving feels like a burden.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – Two sisters; one who wants to die, and one who wants her to live. What does it really mean to love someone? An intimate look at mental illness.
It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.
Wake by Anna Hope – Three women with three different stories in the aftermath of WWI.
Bearing witness. This is what they are doing. They are witnessing one another, all of them. This is why they are here.
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – A romp around the globe with a cast of quirky characters and a search for identity.
People kept their books, she though, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past – the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one’s intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – A woman fights to hold onto her memories as she tries to puzzle out what happened to her friend.
I suppose she must be right. I have no recollection of Saturday, but I have no recollection of not recalling it either. The thought makes me breathe in sharply. These blanks are worrying. More than worrying. How can I not remember last Saturday? I feel the familiar skipping of my heartbeat, the flush of embarrassment, fear.
Euphoria by Lily King – A compelling love triangle between Anthropologists, set in the Territory of New Guinea.
Nell and Fen had chased away my thoughts of suicide. But what had they left me with? Fierce desires, a great tide of feeling of which I could make little sense, and ache that seemed to have no name but want. I want. Intransitive. No object. It was the opposite of wanting to die. But it was scarcely more bearable.
The Confabulist by Steven Galloway – Things are not always as they seem, especially in the world of Harry Houdini. This is truly a book that anyone would enjoy.
How is it we can be so sure that we’ve seen, heard, or experienced what we think we have? In a magic trick, the things you don’t see or think you see have a culmination, because at the end of the trick there’s an effect. But if life works the same way, and I believe it does, then a percentage of our lives is a fiction. There’s no way to know whether anything we have seen or experienced is real or imagined.
Sweetland by Michael Crummey – The government is trying to move a community off an isolated island in Newfoundland, but Moses Sweetland doesn’t want to budge. You have to read this book just to experience Moses Sweetland, one of my favourite characters of 2014.
He found himself enjoying it almost, to be the one knot they couldn’t untangle. Holding on like grim death and halfways invigorated by the effort. Twisted, Ruthie used to say of him, and Sweetland couldn’t argue her assessment. Or change his way in the world.
Life Drawing by Robin Black – Owen is dead, but why and how? Quietly suspenseful, but also an insightful look at a marriage of many years.
There are often two conversations going on in a marriage. The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese – A big book to get lost in, set mostly in Ethiopia, and spanning 3 decades. Read my review for all the reasons I love this book.
We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot.
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – A collection of 9 tales. Smart as a whip, as ever.
It’s a lifelong failing: she has never been prepared. But how can you have a sense of wonder if you’re prepared for everything?
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This is everywhere right now, for good reason. If you are looking for something apocalyptic, choose this book!
Because survival is insufficient.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – The subtleties of family relationships is where this book stands out.
You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing.
Malarky by Anakana Schofield – Read this book if you’re looking for something “off the wall”. I loved the absurdity of it.
It’s beautiful when it all makes sense, so it is. Occasionally it makes sense, just for a moment.
Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles – The best book I have read so far about infidelity. Definitely worth a read.
This, with all the lies that keep it together, is more truth than you have ever known.
Deafening by Frances Itani – A quiet, but powerful novel that is set in small town Ontario in the years before and during WWI.
If only he did not have to look at the hands. In death they told more than the face; he knew that now. It was the hands that revealed the final argument: clenched in anger, relaxed in acquiescence, seized in a posture of surprise or forgiveness, or taken unawares. Clawing at a chest, or raised unnaturally in a pleading attitude. “How can this be? My life pulling away?
Black Snow: A Story of Love and Destruction by Jon Tattrie – A fast-paced love story set during the time of WWI and the Halifax Explosion. Devastating.
Those who have lost a little wail and cry; those who have lost everything are silent.
I’m hoping with this one last effort, I can convince someone to read one of these books. If you had to read one, which one would you choose?
If I had to narrow it down to 5 books: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, The Confabulist, Sweetland, Station Eleven, and Cutting For Stone.
What were your favourite books of 2014?
Happy Holidays Everyone!