It is a good bet to say that I love books. Why else would I put myself through an English Literature degree unless I loved books. English Lit is not sexy, profitable, or high status. But I love to read, I love to figure out all the intricacies of what the author is trying to convey. But most of all I love great characters and very descriptive landscapes.
This year I have counted twenty-four books read; twenty-five if I complete what I’m reading right now by the end of the year. It is a fairly eclectic list; classic fiction, new fiction, comfort books, and for the first time several in the thriller/mystery genre. Before I go into the list, to say a book is a comfort book, for me, means a book that I have read numerous times, but that always draws me back whether by the story, the characters, or the genre. I have read, or more accurately, reread four books this year that fall into the comfort category; five if I finish this current book.
I started off 2014 with a fairly ambitious goal of reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. I realize that I’ve come a little late to this party, so I’ll just say that I thoroughly enjoyed these books. The characters were all very complex, and the twists and turns of the stories kept me guessing the entire time.
I followed those three with The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I had read it back in high school, but I wanted to revisit this story of pride and perseverance. It really should be something everyone has read.
Next, came another classic, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. I sheepishly have to admit that until this year I had not read this very important tome. So many times while reading I cried, and so many places I have bookmarked in this tale. Mr. Steinbeck’s ability to draw vast landscapes with words is extraordinary. Another must have for any bookworm.
In the spring I delved into Fauxpocalypse, an indie collection of short stories. I was very impressed by the talent displayed in all the stories, some of which were written by our fellow bloggers (hey, Matt!)
After all these great books, I retreated to a comfort book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A dystopian, apocalyptic story might not seem like comfort to some, but the characters in this novella are so real to me and I can relate to the main character, Montag and the young girl who befriends him, Clarisse, so well.
I decided to the detective/mystery/thriller genre when I picked up The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I was completely smitten with this style of writing and with the time period. The characters were so flamboyant yet tragic. I began ordering from the library more from this period and genre.
But before I headed back to the 1930’s and 1940’s, I read Down To A Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck. He is a wonderful author in his own right and has the same gentle picture drawing with words as his father.
I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a book more that The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. I stumbled right along with Nick and Nora as they drank (and continued to drink) their way through a murder mystery. It was obvious that even though the law of the land stated that alcohol was illegal, that didn’t mean much for the vast majority of the citizenry.
Of course, if you read Dashiell Hammett, the next logical step would be to read Raymond Chandler. I next picked up The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. Mr. Chandler is another maestro of the detective novel. The characters were all so broken yet sympathetic I couldn’t help but be drawn in.
After watching the movie, Lawless, I got the novel it was based on, The Wettest County In The World, by Matt Bondurant. It is a story based on true events and people; his ancestors. These were some very colorful people living in a very difficult but colorful time.
I came back closer to the present when I began reading Sherman Alexi’s, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. While this is marketed at a young adult novel, it pulls no punches in telling the story of Junior Spirit. It is autobiographical in nature in that it is the story of Mr. Alexi. I have read many of his short stories and I was not disappointed in this novel. Once I started it, I did not put it down until I was finished.
I whiplashed my reading by going back to the classics with Oscar Wilde’s’ The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was a very interesting examination into the human psyche and what people perceive is good and evil.
Another classic I had not yet read was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I think I had some very scary and high expectations when I started this novel that still seem to be unmet because I had already seen Apocalypse Now. I will definitely return to this story because I think there was more to it than I at first experienced.
Probably my favorite genre is post-apocalypse/dystopia. With that in mind, I picked up Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was written back in 1949, and while it wasn’t everything I had hoped it was a message of hope.
Another young adult book I chose to read this year was The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne. A story of a young German boy who is relocated with his military family to a strange place and the friendship he begins with another little boy in strange stripped clothing on the other side of a fence is heartbreaking in its finality. It brings a completely different viewpoint to a period which it seems current humanity has learned nothing.
I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay is a collection of short stories about life in Tennessee. I was enthralled by the characters in each of the stories and the landscape in which they lived and died.
One of my all time favorite books and one I have read at least a dozen times is 1984 by George Orwell. Each time I come to this novel I see more and more what he wrote about in 1949 is coming to pass in so many ways today. But I won’t say more since Big Brother is surely watching.
I came back again to the present when I opened Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. A thriller that takes place in Detroit, Ms Beukes taps into the pathos of a city that is struggling and its inhabitants who make their way through the rubble of a once vibrant community.
As an English Lit major, I wouldn’t be worth my salt if I didn’t own a copy of Beowulf. In fact I own two. For me the best translation is by Seamus Heaney who mirrors the old english version on one page with the modern translation on the other. While reading about the battles with monsters and dragons is fun, the examination of Northern European society is very fascinating.
I couldn’t let another year go by with me not completing a very important classic novel that I had purchased three years ago. So at the beginning of December I opened for the third time The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner. I am still sitting and pondering all the the details and human relationships that this story told. I do fear that I have found a book that is vastly above my pay grade.
After Faulkner and with only a couple weeks left, I ran back to my comfort books. William Gibson’s books were introduced to me almost fifteen years ago. I truly enjoy the cyberpunk genre and its pretty amazing how many things these authors have written about have come to pass. Neuromancer is a book that I have always been able to pick up at any time and just lose myself in. And if I can put my nose to the grindstone I can finish All Tomorrow’s Parties by the time the ball drops on Wednesday night.
So there it is. The books I’ve read this year. It’s not a large amount but I feel its a pretty fair amount given the responsibilities and chores a body has to do and the fact that there’s no television in this house; just internet which is distraction enough. I’m not sure what’s on tap for 2015, but if you have any suggestions I will gladly look them up.