It’s been a decent enough year for reading. A lot of traveling has left me with quite a bit of in-air, on train, between stations, time in which to plough through my paperbacks. I’ve managed 97 books this year and while that’s no personal best, there were a few enormous beasts of books included, (Murakami’s 1Q84, The Goldfinch and a couple of other big hitters), slowing me down. I have to say it’s been one of those years when old friends disappointed me a little. A number of authors whom I’ve habitually adored produced awful, self-indulgent, dull novels which simply weren’t up to standard. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch was definitely the most disappointing read of the year and due to the fact that I read it in hardback, also gave me a wrist strain for my trouble. After the sheer reading pleasure of Tartt’s first two novels, I found The Goldfinch, bloated, meandering and a bit pointless. I was also disappointed with Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour and I couldn’t even finish Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.
Aside from this however, I have to commend some excellent short story collections by Claire Keegan, Colin Barrett, Aimee Bender and the truly wonderful George Saunders which I read as part of my February Shorts, (shortest month so I only read short stories). Also Breece DJ Pancakes shorts which I discovered this year, thanks to a recommendation from Hugh Odling-Smee. It may well have been the year of the short stories though there were also some wonderful novels. Eimear McBride’s breakthrough novel, A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing was also an unarguable highlight and being able to interview her at Literary Lunchtime in December was the icing on the cake. I also thoroughly enjoyed Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience, roughly based on her childhood within London’s hasidic Jewish community and felt it sat wonderfully alongside another two favourite novels of the year, Charis Bray’s exploration of grief within the contemporary Mormon community, A Song For Issy Bradley and The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood.
It’s lovely to see some extremely strong female voices making the list this year and while I’m not placing it in my Top Ten, as I’m not sure how it’ll stand the test of time, Marina Keegan’s posthumous collection of essays and short stories, The Opposite of Loneliness deserves mention for it energy and exuberance and the concise manner in which she’s managed to capture the American zeitgeist. Though I’m a little late to the party I’m also placing my lovely friend, Bernie McGill’s The Butterfly Cabinet on my best of 2014 list. It’s a long time since I read a piece of Northern Irish fiction so captivating and beautifully written. It was a treat from start to finish as are Bernie’s short stories, collected in Sleepwalkers. Novel of the year would probably go to Colum McCann, (once again). Transatlantic is deftly written and incredible emotive, proving, if there was any doubt, that McCann has an ability and longevity, not just as an Irish writer but as a contemporary writer to rival anyone writing today. Transatlantic is the only book which made me cry this year and I greatly appreciate a good cry.
I also wish to include some great non-fiction reads. Narrowly missing the list is Irvin D. Yalom’s Love’s Executioner, a collection of true stories garnered from his distinguished career as an eminent psychotherapist; a fascinating and surprisingly quick read well worth getting a copy of. I’ve read a number of Dylan biographies as part of my research for the new novel. Some have been good, some have been mediocre but the most memorable by far has been Toby Thompson’s early attempt at a Bob Dylan bio, Positively Main Street. It is perhaps the strangest and most readable piece of Dylan writing I’ve ever come across. Even if you can’t stand Bob, this book is fabulous. My book of the year is also a non-fiction read. I’m choosing Brad Gooch’s Flannery O’Connor biography simply because it’s probably the book which has impacted me most this year. O’Connor is a writer who’s had an enormous impact on both my writing and my faith and this biography felt like an absolute tonic for my soul during a very stressful year.
So, in no particular order, (Flannery O’Connor aside), here are my top ten books of the year. Of course, many of them weren’t published this year. I don’t have enough money to be constantly buying hardbacks but I would throughly recommend tracking down some of these and look forward to dozens of great books in 2015.
Best of 2014:
My favourite book of the year: Brad Gooch “Flannery; A Life of Flannery O’Connor”
1. Aimee Bender “Willful Creatures”
2. Toby Thompson “Positively Main Street; An Unorthodox View of Bob Dylan”
3. Eimear McBride “A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing”
4. Breece D.J. Pancake “The Stories of Breece D.J. Pancake”
5. George Saunders “The Tenth of December”
6. Colin Barrett “Young Skins”
7. Colum McCann “Transatlantic”
8. Claire Keegan “Antarctica”
9. Naomi Alderman “Disobedience”
10. Bernie McGill “The Butterfly Cabinet”
Worst of 2014
I’m not going to be cruel but there were a good few books which bored the back teeth off me this year. Special mention goes to The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window for being overlong, dull and unbelievable in both book and film format. Otherwise, here are my five turkeys of the year in no particular order.
1. Donna Tartt “The Goldfinch”
2. Barbara Kingsolver “Flight Behaviour”
3. John Irving “The Water Method Man”
4. Margaret Atwood “Life Before Man”
5. Jonas Jonasson “The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared”