Life has recently been throwing lemons my way like a ball machine shoots out tennis balls. Thwack! Boom! Ouch! Every time I turn around, it seems, there’s another big juicy lemon headed straight for me.
Do I make lemonade? Nah. I hunker down and make book soup. Less sugar. More reading.
I tallied 68 books read in 2014. Some were stellar; a few were just terrible. Let’s start with the best of the best.
The Top Ten
Hard to rank my favorite reads so let’s just say all ten of these are special:
1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, 504 pages. Gets the top spot because it is a classic and a really good read. Considered by many to be Dickens’ best work. tags: England, iconic characters, classic.
2. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway 507 pages. Damn, he’s good. This is a sad, fine, haunting, extraordinary book. tags: Spain, Spanish Civil War, iconic characters
3. Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien, 839 pages. You’ve probably not heard of this novel that traces the tribulations of a Croatian boy after World War II when his land is overtaken by Communist rule. Not perfect, but very good. If it had been better edited, it might have become a classic. Quote: “Social engineering is the opiate of romantic intellectuals.” tags: Croatia, Bosnia, spirituality, The Odyssey
4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 544 pages. I kind of hate it when I join the herd and heap more praise on a book everyone else already loves, but this is a beautifully and almost flawlessly written novel. Quote: “But God is only a white cold eye, a quarter-moon poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking, as the city is gradually pounded to dust.” tags: WWII, France, Germany, entropy, radio.
5. Tinkers by Paul Harding, 191 pages. This spare, exquisite novel flew under my radar screen even though it won the Pulitzer in 2010. It is a fast read but you will want to savor every sentence. tags: horology, New England, epilepsy, the work of dying.
6. Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner, 304 pages. I am a huge fan of Faulkner, and I breezed through the stream of consciousness of The Sound and the Fury but I struggled with this book. Really struggled. It is an important work and worth the effort but will probably require a re-read for me to truly appreciate it. tags: iconic characters, American South, family, crushing disappointment, human frailty, the sins of the father.
7. A Room with a View by E. M Forster, 196 pages. Yes, we all saw the movie, but you know the book is always better. A period piece, a novel of manners, but best of all, a tour of Italy. Quote: “Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practise.” tags: Italy, Edwardian society, romance, priggishness.
8. Lila by Marilynne Robinson, 272 pages. Truth be told, this is not my favorite of Robinson’s Iowan trilogy. Gilead and Home touched me more deeply, but I suppose the bleak Lila had to be written and Robinson is incapable of producing anything but superb prose. Quote: “I got shame like a habit, the only thing I feel except when I’m alone.” A fever dream of a book. tags: Iowa, life, Dust Bowl, spirituality, redemption.
9. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, 443 pages. Raw and original, this fictionalized but well-researched tale of life in North Korea is brilliantly constructed and told. You may not enjoy it, but you will remember it. tags: North Korea, totalitarianism.
10. The Sea Wolf by Jack London, 244 pages. This is a fine book right up until the ending, which, for me, was terribly flawed. But the character of Wolf Larsen is so powerfully limned that this sea adventure squeaks into my top ten list. tags: iconic characters, Materialism (the philosophy, not the contemporary societal affliction), human nature, manhood, seal hunting, morality.
Next week: the other 58; the remainder of my 2014 reads…