For the past few years I’ve done the goodreads 50 book challenge. This year I baaaaaarely squeezed by and counted many plays and 2 tiny children’s books as part of my 50 reads. But, guess what? I completed the challenge and now here I am to tell you about my top 10 books of 2014 (although none of them were actually written in 2014) And it’s a countdown to my favorite so stay tuned until the end – or skip ahead or whatever.
10. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
What it is : A nonfiction book describing the interconnected lives of the residents of a present-day slum near the Mumbai airport.
Why I loved it: It gave an eye-opening picture of humans in tough situations that was strictly narrative, without the author adding in her opinions or placing judgement on the characters. She simply tells it as it happens and the result is something special. Most people want to be good, they want to be happy, and they want to be kind. But ultimately, they will go to extreme lengths in extreme circumstances.
Any downfalls? Reality hurts. Don’t read this for a pick me up.
Memorable quote: “…much of what was said did not matter, and much of what mattered could not be said.”
9. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
What it is: A fiction novel about a core group of, mostly heroin addicted,Scottish mates in 1980’s Edinburgh told through their various perspectives in a series of short stories.
Why I loved it: Every voice is distinctive and every story is good. It’s funny and rebellious and still builds naturally to a serious place in talking about addiction, abuse, and illness. It’s dark. It’s gritty. And it feels totally authentic. Also, after reading the book DEFINITELY watch the movie. It’s my favorite book-to-movie adaptation I have seen.
Any downfalls: It’s written in Scots speak. Good luck understanding what they’re saying for the first third to half of the book.
Memorable quote: “Sometimes ah think that people become junkies just because they subconsciously crave a wee bit ay silence.”
8. New Selected Poems by Edwin Morgan
What it is: A poetry book of selected poems by the first Scottish national poet: Edwin Morgan.
Why I love it: I was required to read a few poems from this book for my Scottish literature class when I was abroad but once I realized that I was in love with Edwin Morgan’s poetry I started from page one and read this from start to finish like a novel. Some poems are laugh-out-loud hilarious, some make you pause and think, some tell a story, others paint a beautiful picture. Each is original and entertaining.
Any downfalls? There is a series of Scotland Sonnets that has many place and history references. I was not familiar enough with these references to understand a good portion of the poems in that section.
Memorable quote: “There were never strawberries like the ones we had that sultry afternoon sitting on the step of the open french window facing each other…”
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
What it is: A dystopian novel, that doesn’t feel like one, told in flashback by a young woman looking back at her life growing up at a mysterious boarding school.
Why I loved it: Ishiguro wrote another one of my favorite books, The Remains of the Day, which is also told from the perspective of someone looking back at moments in their life. Because the narrators and their worlds are completely different the books are very different but there’s something about these characters looking back on memories that they can’t change, or moments they wish they could hold forever, or parts of their lives that they still don’t quite understand that makes for both an incredible story-telling technique and an empowering message about the importance of treasuring our lives moment to moment.
Any downfalls? When you discover the answer to the “mystery” it’s a little anti-climactic. You’ll have to try appreciate the characters and their lives more than figuring out the answer to the puzzle.
Memorable quote: “Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”
6. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
What it is: This science-fiction book is an indirect sequel to the famous Ender’s Game in which Ender, now 35, travels to a planet after a dramatic incident threatening human-to-alien peace to fulfill his new job as Speaker for the Dead.
Why I love it: Ender’s Game feels like a simple prelude to this, in many ways, much better book. From the heart-wrenching beginning to the amazingly complex characters, including many that are not human and yet are extremely relateable, to the wonderfully vivid depiction of a different planet and a different future, I believe that even people who really didn’t like Ender’s Game would enjoy this book. Oh yeah, and even though it’s definitely science fiction the morals can totally be applied to right here, right now, our planet, and our people. Definitely a plus.
Any downfalls? You will want to know what happens next. And the next book is not as good.
Memorable quote: “This is how humans are: We question all our beliefs, except for the ones that we really believe in, and those we never think to question.”
5. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
What it is: A fantasy novel about a man who returns to his childhood home and remembers the wild events that happened there when he was a kid.
Why I loved it: Every year I try to read both adult books and children books and this book does a spectacular job telling what is seemingly a children’s story to adults. It makes you feel like a kid again, totally nostalgic for your youth, and like anything is possible. Because anything is possible when you’re a kid, right? And yet, it relates all of this back to adulthood and to the idea that we never have to lose our youthful play and we don’t ever have to know who we are, even as “grown-ups”.
Any downfalls: In some parts it was almost TOO absurd. But in the absurdity, I found joy so it totally depends on the reader.
Memorable quotes: “I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled”
4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
What it is: A memoir recounting the author and her siblings’ unconventional childhood at the hands of their sometimes quirky, other times very dysfunctional parents.
Why I loved it: This book wins best narrator of my year. I fell in love with Jeannette. She perfectly brought me into the world of a child who through horrible circumstances kept her wits, humor, and positivity. Plus, there was never a dull moment in the entire novel. Equal parts sad and funny, the story of her life sticks with you because you can feel her need to write it lifting through the pages. Plus, she’s kind to the characters, which are members of her family. Even when they’re making the wrong choices, you don’t hate them because you can tell Jeannette doesn’t. She chooses love and it spills into you as the reader.
Any downfalls? At times I wanted to hear the other characters’ versions of the same story, but alas there is only one narrator, because it’s a memoir.
Memorable quote: “I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.”
3. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
What it is: A collection of semi-autobiographical short stores about a platoon of American soldiers during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Why I loved it: Tim O’Brien is simply a brilliant writer. I wanted to reread passages just for their sheer beauty of language. Throughout the whole book you question what are things the author actually experienced and what is fiction. However what is true is this: through the writing you feel fear, hate, confusion, love, destruction, and violence so realistically that you begin to ask yourself what is the job of a story? To tell you true things or to make you feel true things? It’s an absolutely heartbreaking and completely irresistible read.
Any downfalls? War sucks. So, sometimes, it also sucks to read about it.
Memorable quotes: “The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you…”
2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
What it is: It’s 1945 in Barcelona when a boy finds and falls in love with a book only to discover that a mysterious person has been systematically destroying every other thing the author has written.
Why I loved it: I lost myself in it. It’s a mystery. It’s an adventure. It breathes poetry on every page and doesn’t let go of you. I got to a certain section, very near the beginning, when I read a chapter and felt a literal shiver go down my spine. It was then I realized that I would not be putting this book down. It feels amazing to lose yourself in a book. I fell in love with this book in the same way that the main character falls in love with a book. It makes you believe in the importance of stories and believe that some things are totally worth fighting for.
Any downfalls? NO!
Memorable quotes: “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
What it is: The circus arrives without warning. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night.
Why I loved it: Sometimes a book comes along that grabs your heart so tight that you don’t know what to say about it except: read this book and maybe if we’re similar you’ll understand. It’s my favorite fantasy novel since Harry Potter and I don’t want to say too much, or anything at all, because I fear I’ll ruin even one bit of your enjoyment of it and I don’t want to! The characters are special, the writing is brilliant, and the story is phenomenal. Sometimes I would open the book and just cry as I read – and it’s NOT THAT SAD. I was just so invested and the imagined world was so stunning. The more I love a book the harder for me it is to talk about it, so just read it.
Any downfalls? NO! And I won’t let anybody convince me otherwise!
Memorable quotes: “The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”
I re-read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which is my favorite book EVER. I didn’t put it on this list because it was a re-read but it would have been at #1 because it’s my favorite. Over the summer, I read a lot of Shakespeare plays in preparation for my senior year. I’d have to say my favorite was Julius Caesar, because I hadn’t read it before and it’s brilliant. It didn’t make my list because I enjoy seeing plays about a million times more than reading them, despite recognizing their brilliance while reading. Finally, the longest book I read this year was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett which was a whopping 973 pages and totally took me on a journey. In the end, it wasn’t as memorable as the books listed above but I hope to read more long books this year because it was a rewarding reading experience as a whole.
Reading goal this year: At the end of the year I want it to be hard to make a “Top 10” list because I will have read so many AMAZING books.
If there’s anything I MUST READ, let me know. However, my to-read pile is actually 2 piles and both of them reach my ceiling so I think I have plenty. (But that won’t stop me from buying more so if you have suggestions don’t hold back.)
Happy new year and happy reading!!
See all the books I read this year on my goodreads account: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/3631157-kaysy?read_at=2014&view=covers