Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014: My Year in Books



I've always read a lot, but 2014 was a banner year.

I read 201 books.

No, I didn't read an extra book just to overachieve. I had merely lost count. I even went out of my way to read a short book on New Year's Eve just to make sure that I met my goal.

It turns out that I just could have partied instead. 

Oh, well.

To be honest, the goal of 200 books in a year was a little ridiculous, and I really didn't think that I would meet it. I'm proud to have done it, but I'll never set my goal that high again. An awareness of the challenge drove me to finish reading books that I didn't like and probably would have abandoned otherwise. I also had to read just a little bit more than I found enjoyable (which, given my  reading threshold, really says something). 

So here's to 2015, a year in which I fall back on an achievable goal of 175 books. 

Without further ado, let's look at the numbers.

2014: My Year in Books

Total number of books read: 201
Total number of pages: 54,350 
Average book length by pages: 270 
Average pages read per day: 149 
Average books read per week: 4 
Longest book of 2014: Gregg Allison's Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (A Companion to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology), 778 pages

Breakdown by Category:

Young Adult Fiction: 52 books

Every year I resolve that I'm going to read less YAF, and then every year I wind up reading even more than the previous year. Although I bear a love-hate relationship with this category, and although it's often a lot of fluff, it's also afforded me some of my most intense reads ever. So I persevere.  

Witness Elizabeth Wein's Black Dove, White Raven, which (as her books generally do) managed to turn my feelings completely inside out. For sheer intensity, Lauren Oliver's Panic couldn't be outdone - I read it in two feverish sittings. Cress, the third installment in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, earns a hat tip for being the type of sheer, frothy fun that I could read all day; it also earns points because each book in the series gets its own individual plot arc. 

Juvenile Fiction: 32 books

Because of the nature of the work I do, I'm reading more JF than ever. I can't say that I've enjoyed all of it (or even most of it), but it has been fun revisiting some of the books I loved when I was young--such as Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, which haven't lost one bit of their charm--as well as stumbling across some new gems. Morris Gleitzman's four-part holocaust series (Once/Now/Then/After) is well worth picking up, and for those who like to be pleasantly creeped out, Holly Black's Doll Bones will raise the hairs on the back of your neck in the most delightful way. I found Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane surprisingly moving and laughed aloud while reading Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder.

Miscellaneous Fiction: 20 books

Sadly, most of the adult fiction that I read this year turned out to be duds. I'm not sure why. Two glaring exceptions would be Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter, which I can't recommend highly enough, and Alan Bradley's latest, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6). It also bears mentioning that since I didn't know what to do with Kerry Netiz's Amish Vampires in Space, I stuck it into this category. This astoundingly ridiculous book bears the distinctions of being both unclassifiable and a breathtaking waste of time. Save yourselves. 

Miscellaneous Nonfiction: 14 books

Despite high expectations regarding some hopelessly-disappointing reads related to the Tesla/Edison feud and the Current Wars, I can really only recommend a few books in this category. Malcolm Gladwell's excellent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is one of them. As well as being both informative and compulsively readable, this book held special insights for me, since I fit into several of the categories under discussion. (I will let you guess which ones.) 2014 was also the year that (for various reasons) I began reading up on prostate cancer. Most books were sadly dry and shockingly unhelpful, with the happy exception of Craig T. Pynn's Navigating the Realities of Prostate Cancer. Make note to save yourself some time: if any of your friends or loved ones receive a diagnosis in the next year, this is the book to pick up.

Scifi/Fantasy: 12 books

I had trouble getting into it at first, but by the third chapter, Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane hooked me. It hooked me hard. I respect Gaiman's ability to tell a complicated and emotionally-textured story through the eyes of a child while simultaneously creeping me out in fine style.  The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (aka Catherine Webb, aka Kate Griffin) is an intricately-plotted, multifaceted, all-consuming juggernaut that sucked me in and kept me guessing until the very last page. If you're into history, conceptual time travel, and/or intellectual thrillers, pick it up. Because I've been looking forward so keenly to the continuation of Robin Hobb's Fitz/Fool arc, I read her massive Fool's Assassin in under twenty-four hours. Taken on its own merits, it's really not that great (the pacing is weird), but I believe that when read in conjunction with the books that are to follow, it'll be worth the time investment. Can't wait for the story to really kick off! 

Theology/Devotional: 11 books

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading Randy Alcorn's Heaven. I like the clear biblical basis for his major points, and I like that when he's speculating, he says so. Best of all, even his speculations are not mere speculations: they're rooted in overarching principles observable in Scripture. In D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry, I found both challenge and comfort. Tim Keller's Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions turned out to be balm for my heart during a week that I sorely needed its message. God always knows. 

Memoir: 11 books

2014 turned out to be quite the year for spiritual memoirs. Far and away, the most memorable have been the ones set in/around Oxford: Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy; Douglas Gresham's In Lenten Lands; and Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford. While reading Weber's book, I also became wholly invested in her personal relationships and was fully prepared to throw my Kindle out the window if she didn't marry the person that I thought she should (which is so not the point of the book, but what can I say? I am who I am). Regarding non-Oxford memoirs, I found Nabeel Qureshi's Seeking Islam, Finding Jesus an enlightening read. 

Classics: 10 books

Most of the classics I read this year were read with my young charges. Podling 1 and I took turns reading LM Montgomery's Emily trilogy aloud (with very different reactions from the Adult Me than I remember the Teenage Me having), while Podling 3 and I tackled Wilson Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows together (Adult Me producing the same reaction this time around as the last). 

Writing: 9 books

Apparently 2014 was the year in which I would read every book of writing advice known to man. Especially fruitful were Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Stephen James's Story Trumps Structure, and John Dufresne's wonderfully-helpful The Lie That Tells a Truth. Much more constructive than I anticipated is Stephen King's On Writing, and though it's not technically a book on writing, per se, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey helped to shore up some of my ideas about method. Overall, the most helpful book on the creative process was Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you are engaged in creative work in any way, this is essential reading.

History: 7 books

In the middle of the year, I had a little "Chairman Mao's the Worst" party after reading in quick succession Mao's Great Famine, by Frank Dikötter, and Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History, by various authors. Then I sat and stared at a wall for two hours after finishing an English translation of Ellen Newbold La Motte's The Backwash of War, a collection of WWI essays. Perhaps in 2015 I will attempt to focus on aspects of history that don't make me want to curl up in a corner and rock back and forth, keening. 

Biography: 6 books

It's not exactly the most well-written biography ever, but my strong interest levels ensured that I enjoyed Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. In contrast, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas is both well-written and gripping. 

Poetry: 6 books

It was an Edna St. Vincent Millay sort of year. I probably read A Few Figs from Thistles four times (although I only counted it as one read). Also in the mix were healthy doses of Frost, TS Eliot, and Dickinson. No new ground covered, however. 

Travel: 5 books

Sadly, no standouts in this category. After all, I've already read the entirety of Peter Hessler, Bill Bryson, and Paul Theroux. Someone please tell me who's next.

Literary Criticism: 3 books

Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World As Stage is an absolute gem, providing the perfect backdrop for Bryson's wit and rage of expression, both of which are on delightful display. (Technically this could also be classified under biography; however, since we know practically nothing about Shakespeare himself, and since I found Bryson's comments on the plays themselves to be especially cogent, here we are.) Also unbelievably good is Michael Ward's Planet Narnia: the Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis. Even though I'm nearly always skeptical of literary critics who find hidden meanings in classic works, by the end of this read, I was pretty well on board with Ward's thesis. Even if I hadn't bought into the thesis, I still would have enjoyed Planet Narnia for the writing alone. Recommended for anyone who enjoys C.S. Lewis, literary criticism, theology, and big words. 

True Crime: 2 books

Both of them highly forgettable, alas. Please publish something new soon, Ann Rule! 

* * * *

So there you have it: the best of the 201 books that I read in 2014.

Incidentally, I love giving book recommendations and reading advice. If you're looking to read more in 2015 and would like to know where to start, feel free to drop me a message via Facebook, email, text, or whatever method you normally use to contact me. I love hooking people up with good books!

Likewise, if you see something that I missed, please drop me some recommendations. I'm always on the prowl for the next good read. 

1 comment:

  1. As for travel books, have you read any William Least Heat-Moon? I need to ready his Prairyearth. I have several of his books waiting for me to read them. Rolf Potts has some how-to books (Vagabonding) that give me itchy feet. I love my husband, but he doesn't share my wanderlust. He'd be quite content to never leave our state, but he generally does once a year for me. I have to be careful reading travel books, because I'm always ready to pack and go when I'm finished reading!

    I'd read Shane by Jack Schaefer long ago. This year, I reread it and was surprised by the adult situations that had gone right over my head when I'd read it as a child! It's a lovely little story with the sort of quiet heroes and heroines I find absent in much fiction written today.

    Have you read any Brandon Sanderson? I'll read anything written by him. I'm currently reading the second book in his Stormlight Archive, and I'm going to experience severe withdrawal pains when I'm done, as the next book isn't due until 2016. He is, however, an extremely prolific writer and has a number of series going at the same time. He is amazingly imaginative. The Rithmatists features mathematicians who operate magically. Legion has a protagonist with multiple personalities who help him solve crimes. Sanderson writes flawed characters who slog through adversities while hoping for better for and of themselves.

    I found all sorts of books to add to my to-read list from this post!

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