Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 Reading

I scarcely posted at all this year, and there's no point apologizing for that. I did book-Tweet a fair bit when I was reading Jeannette Winterson's and Quentin Crisp's memoirs, and I thought about recovering those Tweets to include here as commentary, but if I wait to do that, we'll be in 2016!
So here's my list of books read in 2014, with a very few links to the fragmentary posts I managed. I've used this colour to highlight my standouts for the year and this colour to mark out the next tier, but really, that only applies to the new-to-me literary novels, memoirs, and travel memoirs of the year. There are some other wonderful books here that I haven't bothered to rank. The mysteries, for example, but also the poetry (I mean, how could I? How might I dare?!  -- But wow! step into Winnipeg with Meira Cook and frolic a bit, or bravely witness with Dionne Brand). Anything by Thomas King I'd recommend. Gallant's short stories don't need my recommendations. Most of the mysteries here are worth sinking into . . . and so on. If you see a title you wonder about, ask me in the comments and I'll see if I can remember what I thought of it.

1. Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act
2. Thomas King, Medicine River (re-read for teaching)
3. Meira Cook, Walker in the City (poetry, re-read for teaching)
4. Ian Rankin. Saints of the Shadow Bible
5. Marvin Francis, City Treaty (Poetry -- for Teaching)
6. Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (re-read for teaching)
7. Thomas King, An Inconvenient Indian
8. Thomas King, The Red Power Murders (re-read for teaching)
9. Thomas King, A Short History of Indians in Canada (reread for teaching)
10. Chris Harrison, Head Over Heel (a memoir of a young Australian journalist moving to Puglia, Italy after meeting and falling in love with an Italian woman in an Irish pub -- many adventures ensue in a captivating, often enfuriating, part of the world).
11. Adrianne Harun, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain. Stunning book, one I'll be rereading, and probably teaching at some point. Weaves a path between contemporary events, particularly the many (primarily First Nations) women who have disappeared on BC's "Highway of Tears," and another reality fused out of foktale and magic. . . .A gifted and compellingly vulnerable adolescent narrator, with a cast of friends who look out for one another, living on the margins of dominant white culture, socially, economically, and geographically. Can't recommend this one enough.
12. Sheila Watson, The Double Hook,  reread for teaching
13. Natalee Caple, Calamity's Wake, reread for teaching
14. Michael Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, reread for teaching
15. Dionne Brand, Inventory (poetry, reread for teaching)
16. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch.
17. Hart Massey, The Leaky Iron Boat, travel memoir of a Canadian couple in their 60s/70s traveling by barge through Europe, mostly France, in late 70s, 80s.  Read aloud to my husband while he cooks
18. Anna Quindlen, Still Life with Bread Crumbs
19. Lee Child, Never Go Back
20. Mavis Gallant. Paris Stories
21. Laurence Cossé, Au Bon Roman
22. Janice MacLeod, The Paris Letters
23. Gianrico Carofiglio, The Silence of the Wave
24. Conor Fitzgerald, The Dogs of Rome
25. Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant
26. Jeannette Winterson, Why Be Happy when You Could Be Normal?
27. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
28. Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children
29. Peggy Blair, The Beggar's Opera
30. Tim Parks, Italian Ways another one read aloud to my husband as he cooked dinner
31. Zoe Sharp. Killer Instinct
32. Jonathan Deaver. The Skin Collector
33. Elizabeth Renzetti, Based on a True Story
34. Angie Abdou. The Canterbury Trail
35. Sharon Bolton. Now You See Me
36. Kent Haruf. Plainsong
37. Deborah Harkness. The Book of Life.
38. C.S. Lewis. The Magician's Nephew (read aloud to my granddaughter -- what a joy! Might be the 4th, maybe 5th time I've read this aloud to a child)
39. Sue Hubbell, A Country Year, read aloud to my husband as he cooks, a wonderfully rich memoir of a beekeeper's year, a woman living alone in the Ozarks, remarkably attuned to the natural history around her and with a parallel marvelous attention to community and anecdote.
40. Peter Robinson. Children of the Revolution
41. Donna Leon. About Face
42. Joanna Trollope. Other People's Children
43. Richard Wagamese, Medicine Walk
44. Lee Child, Personal
45. Tara French. Secret Place.
46. Karyn L. Freedman. One Hour in Paris gripping, painful, insightful account of how one young woman's life was transformed by a horrifying rape on her first trip to Paris. A philosophy professor, Freedman brings her thoughtful scholarship to bear on this retrospective exploration of her personal experience and of its wider implications in understanding trauma as well as understanding the violence so many women experience in so many cultures and circumstances. Very moving.
47. Lauren Owen, The Quick
48. Richard Wagamese. Dream Wheels (reread for teaching)
49. Orhan Pamuk. Snow. Still pondering this one, trying to sit with the layers it's revealed to me about place and culture and religion and community, love and loyalty. . . my reading list seems so provincial when I bump into something like this, really. . .
50. Donna Leon. Death at La Fenice.
51. Nicholas Carr. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains (reread for teaching)
52. Nancy Huston. Black Dance 
53. Sophie Loubière. Stone Boy 
54. Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See
55. Sarah Waters. Paying Guests, Honestly, this one disappointed me. I was looking forward to something as juicy and gripping and intricately wrought as I found Fingersmith several years ago, but this seemed badly in need of an editor. Yes, there was tension, but it was too drawn out and too obvious, generally, where it was likely to end. Many disagree with me, however, according to the reviews. I simply found the characters rather dull. Now. if the focus had been on Christine and Stevie, I might have felt differently. . .
56. Eimear McBride. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing #readswellwith
57. Heather O'Neill. The Girl Who was Saturday Night
58. Miriam Toews. All my Puny Sorrows. Somehow, I almost left this off my list, having read it much earlier in the year -- it's a standout, a classic Toewsian mixture of sorrow -- tragic sorrow, really-- and beauty and wry, wry, wry. Wry and Poignant and Suicide and Music and Sorority and Motherhood. Survival, I suppose, in the end. Or just Showing Up and Carrying On and Managing to laugh along the way. 
59. Clair Messud. The Woman Upstairs. Chilling, this one. Chilling but mesmerizing, and with those wonderful descriptions of craft that can be so compelling. I went on after this to read Messud's The Emperor's Children, but this is the novel that stayed with me, even though I almost missed adding it to this list.


  1. Happy New Year, Frances! Thank you so much for reading, recommending and teaching _Walker_. It's such a great kindness and warms my heart. I love reading Materfamilias -- you lead such a gentle, rich life. I relish the idea of you reading to your husband as he cooks dinner. Our family has begun a reading-aloud project, too -- an informal book club with the children. Our first book is _To Kill a Mockingbird_. We've progressed nicely these holidays and I'm hoping we can keep a momentum going when school starts again.

    Warm wishes,

  2. I always love seeing what others are reading! We had very little overlap, although I did read Goldfinch (not a fan, as it went on far too long, IMO), Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and Paying Guests. I loved the writing in Paying Guests, especially at first, but as the story went on, I liked the book less and less.

  3. Happy New Year!

    Many of your books are still on my too read list -- you are far ahead of me as I have somehow slacked off and wandered far afield in my reading habits. Your list encourages me, and I will happily wait for any notes on reading that may eventually wend their way here.

  4. Happy New Year to you as well, Meira! I've got your novel on my 2015 Books-To-Read list. Thanks for the kind words (my life doesn't always feel gentle, but I love seeing it read that way) -- I also love your idea of an informal book club with your children. It's such a gift, the enjoyment of reading.
    Tricia, I agree that it's all fun to see what others read -- and maybe pick up some inspiration. Still Life was pleasant enough and I loved some of the outdoor scenes she drew. Goldfinch is actually one I'd reread, despite its length. And if you liked Waters' writing in Paying Guests, you might like Fingersmith, which I think is much better.
    Happy New Year! I detect that same tendency in what you say here that I often feel -- of seeing reading as an obligation. I think "wandering far afield" is good for us! Have you read Alan Jacobs' Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction? He's all about reading for/on Whim . . .

  5. Wonderful reading list. Sadly my reading time has diminished in direct proportion to my knitting time. Elizabeth George is one of my absolute favorites. I am going to check out some of the other books on your list.

  6. It's true -- knitting cuts into reading time. When I was younger, I could comfortably read a library-broken-in hardcover and knit at the same time (a paperback was too hard to keep open if hands were busy knitting). These days, I tend to watch something on Netflix while knitting, so I have to set aside time for reading. Perhaps it's a good thing that my shoulders and wrists can only take so much knitting. . .