The Books of 2014
“You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” - Marvin Minsky
How personal our literary choices feel. My books. Even the words sound tender, and as vital as skin pressed to skin. So when I speak of the books I've read this year, perhaps lovingly, perhaps with an impatient distaste, know that I am doing so from a deeply personal place, and that if any of your darlings fall under my sword, that it is I, and not the book, that is being exposed. I am simply reporting how I felt while I inhabited them, carrying with me, always, that particular perspective which is all my own, and which reflects, alters, and warps all things. The more we try to define something, the further away from it's essence we often move. If this year had a theme, that would be it.
I did not break any records this year. 39 total books read, the lowest in years. 28 works of fiction, and 11 nonfiction. I didn't focus on any themes this year, and frankly, it shows, as I was all over the place. My low numbers stem from two sources; one being reading the novels Portnoy's Complaint, and Pillar's of the Earth early in the year and in close succession. Both are long, and neither impressed me with what they were trying to do. Two time holes that brought little resonance. But, in retrospect, important reads in their own right. My other low number catalyst is the philosophy and religion books I read. You'll see them there in the nonfiction list below. Slow thoughtful reads that don't look like much to someone not interested in those topics, but deep and powerful experiences that shaped my meditations for the year quite heavily.
I fear I am becoming a bit of a sentimentalist, as I couldn't bring myself to rank my reads straight through as I have done in years past. I choose top fives for Fiction and Nonfiction, but the remaining lists are in loose descending order. There is a fluidity to my feelings about the list that I like.
The energy this year feels good to me. Four Foxes will go to print this year. Many adventures, and much love, will unfold. Here's to another year of great books!
1. All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
I dislike synopsis in book reviews (though I've done my fair share of them), but there is a character in this novel, the Father, who carves wooden boxes for his blind daughter. These boxes are intricate, elegant, beautiful, and each contains a secret chamber which only careful study will reveal. And this book is just such a box. I had to get more than 300 pages in before I realized what I had on my hands; the dreamy, lugubrious prose had lulled me into a trance, when I suddenly began to see, by moving in ever widening arcs away from the details, pulling up from the individual stories, just what an impressive work of art Doerr created. It is a beautiful book, with sentences like gems plucked form the sea.
2. Nude in a Tub: Stories of Quillifarkeag Maine, G. K. Wuori
This was a random book I picked up at the library just based on the looks of it. This collection of short stories is wildly it's own animal. Words like raw and assault come to mind. But they fail to express what wandering the trailers, fields, and woods of Wuori's little fictional northern Maine town feels like. For anyone that has ever felt like they've been abandoned at the ends of the earth in some little isolated corner of Maine, this book will tap that vein, and hard. Insanity. That's another word that comes to mind.
3. House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
I keep a reading journal and my entries around this book were just ridiculously sad and romantic, and can be wrapped up in this little gem, "She is beautiful, and men love her, and it ruins her." Beautiful portrait of despair and futile suffering. Razor sharp assessment of a woman's worth at that time in that society. Like all Wharton I've read, pitch perfect and always exceeding expectations.
4. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
Talking cats, transgender librarians, metaphysical journeys, sex with a ghost, much talk of preparing simple yet delicious sounding food, this is Murakami at his finest. I loved this novel. Goal for 2015 is to finish the Murakami canon. Probably not going to happen, considering his most recent weighty tome, but I am at least going to catch up on his older works.
5. Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata
Remarkably sad and beautiful. Stark, elegant, exposing the faulty hearts of us all. A great read for winter. I read it in summer and it was like diving down into cold dark waters. In the best possible sense.
NW, Zadie Smith
MaddAddam Trilogy (3 books), Margaret Atwood
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Just had to note that I started reading Joe Hill last year and that this novel rates so high for me in part because it is, in my mind, the book where he looked his Dad in the eye and said, there, I can do it too. It is an entirely Steve book. And it is my favorite of his so far. And I have a crush on him.
Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
Everything is Illuminated, Johnathon Safron Foer
Crampton Hodnot, Barbara Pym
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
Great quote from this raucous book, "People who want their love easy don't really want love."
Heartshaped Box, Joe Hill
Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym
Silent House, Orhan Pamuk
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet
We're all in this Together, Owen King
Pandora, Anne Rice
Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
When She was Good, Philip Roth
Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
I do not like Philip Roth.
1. The Soul's Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual way of Life, Thomas Moore
I'm not going to try to talk anyone into this one. if the quotes below mean anything to you please check this book out, it's the best I've read on religion.
"All things have an accompaniment of magic. If the facts seem plain and thoroughly known to thee, tis plain thou knowest nothing about it."
"A sense of self appears when you no longer have a need to be somebody. Transcendence arrives when you embrace the life that is given."
"The deep soul tends to be soft, and receptive. While the transcending spirit has a sometimes wounding point."
2. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann
Just a really fabulously researched and written book looking at the amazon forest and those who, "...were sometimes swallowed up by the mystery that their hearts were so persistently set on unveiling."
3. Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature, Stephen Harrod Buhner
A foundation in some basics of neurobiology and other related sciences to help you understand the basis for how direct perception or depth mode cognition works, a good explanation of nonlinear thinking/perception and how this relates to the nonlinear nature of the universe and living things, then helpful tips on how the experience tends to unfold. Pretty heavy, but very accessible.
4. Cultivating Compassion: A Buddhist Perspective, Jeffrey Hopkins
This book is written by a gentleman who traveled extensively and studied with the Dalai Lama. The book is basically a deconstruction of the type of meditations that Buddhist monks use to, you guessed it, cultivate compassion. I have a meditation practice, so this book gave me a lifetime of ideas to ponder.
5. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, Michael Singer
In the same groove as "The New Earth" it's a book about perception and consciousness. And there is a picture of a unicorn running free on a beach on the cover, so, home-run.
Drink: The Intimate relationship Between Women and Alcohol, Ann Dowsett Johnston
One Man's Meat, E. B. White
A taste of the master, "There is furthermore slight chance of my becoming provincial this summer as I am raising a baby seagull, and there isn't time. A young gull eats twice it's weight in food every ten minutes, and if he doesn't get it, he screams."
Poet's Guide to Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ulrich Baer
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn
A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, Byron Katie
Add More -ing to your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, Gabrielle Bernstein