Friday, January 2, 2015

Brittany's Top Books of 2014

Compared to last year (when I was blogging by my lonesome at My Year In Books), I read....1 more book! However, the books I read this year were much less serious due to the fact that I'm done with grad school and not teaching any new classes that require me to brush up on my reading. 2014 was a binge on the candy cornucopia of Young Adult Lit. 

By The Numbers
37 complete books read (12 young adult, 7 non-fiction, 5 "classics," 3 plays [in one book], 2 graphic novels, 1 classic poem, 1 choreopoem)
30 authors (repeats included: Veronica Roth, Marissa Meyer, Ransom Riggs, Gillian Flynn)
11 female authors, 19 male authors
26 living authors, 4 dead authors
7 nationalities (American, French, Canadian, Egyptian, British, Nigerian, Russian)
1 book was read because I had a super major crush on a man and he said he loved it (just like last year)

My Top Books
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: If a person is looking to read a book about race, right now this is my number one recommendation. The perspective of African immigrants in America and Britain is one that is incredibly interesting. When people say things that make it obvious they don't understand race and racism, I find myself using examples from this book to try to make the world make sense to them. (Like when a family member mentioned how people would be so offended if there were a White magazine, but Jet magazine is okay - I pulled an anecdote from the novel of this EXACT argument between a black woman and her white boyfriend. The woman takes her boyfriend to a grocery store and shows him how none of the magazines have black women on the cover [fun fact: British Vogue is doing a solo black cover model for the first time in 12 years], very few black women as models, and how the hair, makeup, and fashion tips are completely irrelevant for many black women (this web magazine article about how 'nude' heels will make legs appear longer features 4 white women and 16 pairs of shoes that would only match the skin tone of white women - I have seen this fashion tip in various magazines and they never feature shoes for non-beige women to match their skin tone to).

2. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: The writing of this book is so beautiful and the scope of the novel is so ambitious. It was an absolute pleasure read, but one that was deeply satisfying the way that 'great'  novels satisfy. For anyone interesting in France, World War II, or romance, this novel is lovely. The only reason to not read this text is because of the unfinished nature of it.

3. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: Absolute pleasure read. I have no idea who I would recommend this book to - it's a mystery, history, romance, fantasy novel that covers generations of stories interwoven. I vividly remember reading the last chapter by headlamp while camping. I finished and tears were streaming down my face. (My top 3 are all these long ambitious interconnected stories. I wish that were its own section in the bookstore as I would immediately go there every time).

4. The Martian by Andy Weir: I know I'm a little late to this game, but this was the most satisfying sci-fi book I have read in years. I didn't have a chance to review this, but if you are at all into sci-fi you must read this book. The novel opens with a man who was thought-to-be-dead and left behind on America's third manned mission to Mars. The first couple of chapters are his typed logs as he tries to survive alone on Mars. It then switches to the perspective of the people on Earth who think they have just lost one of the men on the mission. By the end of the book I was incredibly taken with the main character and regularly laughing out loud.

He is ridiculous when his life is in danger: “The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

He also puts science jargon into words anyone can understand: "Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won't stay inside anymore.” 

5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Flynn is the only author to appear on both last year's list and this year's list. Her more well-known novel is Gone Girl, but I actually liked this book better. Her choices in using point of view and time are really interesting and effective. I love how Flynn builds suspense and creates characters who are absolutely unlikeable and yet...I still care what happens to them. The shifting perspectives of Libby Day in the present trying to find the truth while the audience is also in the past getting closer to finding the truth was really really compelling. I can't wait to see what Flynn does next.

6. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: My climbing partner is incredibly into Mt. Everest, so this book has been on my radar for a long time. This book details the events of the 1997 Everest disaster where 8 people died which was - I believe - the most deadly day on Everest until the 2014 avalanche that killed 16 sherpa guides. Although I'm not an Everest fiend, I am a climber, so my interest is definitely due to the fact that I have wondered if I would ever get into ice climbing (answer: no. I was recently out in 40* weather and my Las-Vegas-born body refused to function well enough to climb). My hands were sweating and my heart was pounding through almost the entire book - but I don't know that I would recommend it for anyone who isn't into climbing. I am definitely not going to climb Mt. Everest (not because the accidents in the book scared me, but because altitude sickness just sounds terrible. Also, the cold).

7. Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: Everyone who is interested in women's issues should read this novel at some point in their reading life. I put this on my list of Outside Reading options for my English 101 class because my students are very interested in feminism, sex work, and sex education, and every student who picked it flew through it and enjoyed it. (Fun fact: sex ed is now the second topic that is banned from my class. This has been a hot topic in my district this year, and out of 30 students, I had 3 who were focused on sex ed for the whole first semester over multiple assignments (synthesis paper, research paper, argument paper, and speech), so it is now banned. The Handmaid's Tale was a perfect present for them before I banned the topic.)

8. Three Plays by Rajiv Joseph: I still love Rajiv Joseph and am very happy that he's still writing (The North Pool, The Monster at the Door, The Lake Effect all came after his first three plays. In 2015 he's debuting two new plays, Mr. Wolf and Guards at the Taj.) I will read and see everything he does.

Honorable Mention: Divergent series and Cinder series: 7 of the 12 young adult novels I read this year were from these two series, and especially in comparison to the other YA, these were stand out awesomes. Both have female protagonists in interesting situations, and both are a sharp turn away from what has been the trend in romantically focused plots in YA. I don't feel like they can quite get onto my top list because they're candy books, but I do want to put them out into the universe as solid reads. 


Christopher said...

The Weir book sounds pretty funny.

R.M. Fiedler said...

Umm...Winter's Tale didn't even get an honorable mention?

Christopher said...

I think you should be more worried about that mysterious man crush.

billy said...

This is great. I want to read several of these now. Please remember to read my mind next time I am trying to pick which book to read next and remind me to check this list. kthx!

Brent Waggoner said...

I'm adding Americanah to my wishlist. And Into Thin Air is so great. Burned through it in a couple days--couldn't put it down.