Below is a list of five favourite books from 2014. Only one was published in 2014, and I realise that I read many books which were objectively better written than some of these; however, these were the five books that I most enjoyed reading in the past year–not including the odd reread. An honorable mention to Pride and Prejudice, which I reread this year and enjoyed far more than when I was a teenager–but it’s technically still not new to me, so I didn’t include it.
5) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
I know, I know, but I never finished the Harry Potter series when they were new releases, for a series of complicated personal reasons that can be boiled down to a) my overly-obedient teenage personality and b) a father with a tendency towards melodrama. I reread the first four at the start of the year, and then more recently acquired Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. Although I enjoyed both, I share the general concern about Order of the Phoenix being written almost exclusively in ALL CAPS (admittedly, my thoughts were also written in ALL CAPS when I was 15, but there are other ways to convey Angsty Teenage Boy). Half-Blood Prince edged into my favourites because everybody in it spoke at a normal pitch most of the time. Also, the scene with Dumbledore and Harry and the island. Just lovely.
(Think I will do a series review when I’ve finished Deathly Hallows, as I have a lot of thoughts).
4) Bossypants by Tina Fey
I’ve only finished this today, but I can tell it’s going to be a long-term favourite. I’ve been on a (completely unintentional) memoirs-by-funny-women kick recently, and this one, which I listened to in its audiobook format (narrated by Fey), is wonderful. I’m hoping to do a wrap-up of this, Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart, and Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand, since they have similarities and I read them all at the same time. For now, I’ll just say that Fey’s book is excellent. No idea how much of that is down to her writing and how much is her delivery of the lines, but I was trying to do clothes shopping earlier today (a task I inevitably find to be excruciating), and instead of wanting to escape and nervously hide in Waterstones/Starbucks, I was laughing out loud in the changing room as I tried to figure out a way to keep my headphones in whilst changing my bra. (Upshot: difficult, but not impossible, though unfortunately there was an extremely large group of teenagers in the communal changing area, and when I emerged from my cubicle after ten minutes of solid giggling, they all looked at me as though I was crazy).
3) Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Even though I read this on a 12-hour coach journey to Glasgow, which turned into a 16-hour journey thanks to a fire on the motorway, and even though the people behind me were increasingly and belligerently drunk, I was completely absorbed in the story the whole time. I think that’s a testament to how gripping and unsettling the narration is. It also left an extremely distinct final image in my brain, which I see whenever I think of the book (quick spoiler): that of the dark night with the flames of Manderley flickering and lighting up the sky in the distance). I don’t tend to “see” books happening in my head like that, so for it to leave a picture that vivid in my head, the writing has to be fantastic.
2) Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe
This has already become one of those books I talk about a lot, and I only read it in August. I’m trying to cure myself of the habit of prefacing my explanations with “I know it’s called Man at the Helm, but really it’s not a romance novel, it’s about young carers and mental illness, and really there’s no romance at all”, because really, who cares if it’s a romance novel? (NB, it’s genuinely not a romance novel; this is basically an irrelevant aside). I must get over the idea that romance novels are flat-out poorly written, because it’s a tiny bit ridiculous of me (I have read any number of terribly-constructed crime novels, for example, and it never stops me from picking them up in shops). In fact, if any of you can recommend any good romance novels (without lots of graphic sex scenes), please let me know in comments–I have to get over my snobbishness.
1) Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
I haven’t reviewed this yet, but it was wonderful. Chilling, gritty, heartwrenching… I think this has to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Greene writes the most extraordinarily complex characters. I don’t want to say too much here, because this deserves a full review, but wow. It’s been a good reading year, but this was the highlight.
In terms of other reflections: this year I read 61 books, of which 30 were written by women, 29 by men, and two by the Nancy Drew ghostwriting team Carolyn Keene, which I have described on my reading spreadsheet as “conglomerate entity [of unspecified gender]”. I’m pretty happy with those numbers. I also spent a happy, geeky hour in Google docs and produced a genre breakdown pie chart. I’ll spare you that, but I was pleased to see my reading was fairly evenly distributed between lots of genres (apparently, I read 16.1% classics, and 10.7% each of YA, historical fiction, and comic fantasy).
I’ve really enjoyed writing keeping this blog for the past year, especially when I get the opportunity to talk to other people who love books as much as I do. Naturally, I have some plans and goals for the new year, so those will be up soon. In the meantime, I hope you all had a merry Christmas, and that you have exciting celebrations/a quiet night in (delete as per preference) planned for New Year’s Eve.