Books I Read in 2014

Here’s the new (to me) fiction I read this year. As always, I like seeing other people’s lists, so I figure I ought to contribute my own. Archived lists back to 2009 are also available.

  • Aw, Tash. Five Star Billionaire (2013). Did less for me than I’d hoped, but I think I just faulted it for failing to be the sweeping social drama I wanted it to be.
  • Braak, Chris. The Translated Man (2007). Pretty fun steampunk piece. Can’t remember how I found it – a blog somewhere, I think.
  • Catton, Eleanor. The Luminaries (2013). Really well done, but (just?) an entertainment.
  • Hustvedt, Siri. The Blazing World (2014). For stories of women and art, I preferred Messud.
  • Lepucki, Edan. California (2014). Read this right after The Bone Clocks for maximum depression value. Should have been 30 pages shorter or 100 pages longer — the ending doesn’t quite work.
  • Marcus, Ben. The Age of Wire and String (1995). The lone full-on experimental text on the list. Didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to, because I’m a hypocrite.
  • Martin, Valerie. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste (2014).
  • Mengestu, Dinaw. All Our Names (2014). Disappointing. Guess I wanted more and tighter politics, less domestic drama.
  • Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs (2013). Enjoyed this a lot, probably more than anything else on the year.
  • Mitchell, David. The Bone Clocks (2014). I love Mitchell, who’s almost good enough to pull off the book’s bizarre mashup of Black Swan Green, the innermost novella of Cloud Atlas, and interdimensional Manichaean sci-fi. Almost.
  • Murakami, Haruki. 1Q84 (2011). I also like Murakami, but 1,000 pages of close to literally nothing happening is a lot to ask.
  • Offill, Jenny. Dept. of Speculation (2014). Good, narratively interesting, but ultimately underdrawn in substance.
  • Osborne, John. Look Back in Anger (1956). A quick glance at Osborne, whom I’d never read.
  • Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch (2013). More disaster/suffering porn. Didn’t like it.
  • Waldman, Adelle. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (2013).
  • Weir, Andy. The Martian (2011). Picked up in an airport book rack for a flight with a dead Kindle. Fun to read, sociologically and symptomatically interesting.
  • Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings (2013). Not really. (Ooh, sick burn!)

Also picked up and put down … let’s see … Hotel World by Ali Smith, Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, and a couple of others.

Sixteen books and one play in sum, a little better than usual. Helps to be on leave. But not a year full of great reads. Was briefly enamored of Offill’s book, but its genuinely cool schtick got a little flat over just 100 pages. The Woman Upstairs was probably my favorite, and even that one wasn’t something I fell in love with. Nothing on the list that I’d especially want to teach or that struck me as something I should spend more time thinking about.

On the whole, it seemed as though I’d read a lot of these things before; well-executed, straight-ahead fiction. Which I suppose is mostly a defect in me, picking things from the pages of the New Yorker and the LRB and the Times and such. I know their deal; it’s not like those outlets went unexpectedly conservative this year. I read a lot of things out of vague professional obligation. The books I had the most fun with — Dept. of Speculation, The Translated Man, The Martian — were either experimental or genre fiction. Maybe there’s a lesson here. Maybe I should learn it.

So, here’s to a better 2015. Leading off (in the absence of the aforementioned lesson) with maybe Lily King’s Euphoria or Hilary Mantel’s Assassination of Margaret Thatcher or Marlon James’s Brief History of Seven Killings or Phil Klay’s Redeployment. Or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, if I want to continue the apocalyptic theme from Mitchell and Lepucki …

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