Book Soup, Part 1: My Top Ten Reads of 2014

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.

Pip meets the convict Abel Magwitch in David Lean's 1946 film of Great Expectations. (image from

Pip meets the convict Abel Magwitch in David Lean’s 1946 film of Great Expectations. (image from

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.

A slim volume, not a word wasted. (image from

A slim volume, not a word wasted. (image from

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.

Helena Bonham Carter nailed it in the 1985 film "A Room with a View" but it's still worth reading the book. (image from reel

Helena Bonham Carter nailed it in the 1985 film “A Room with a View” but it’s still worth reading the book. (image from reel

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.

Author Adam Johnson (image from

Author Adam Johnson (image from

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…



About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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7 Responses to Book Soup, Part 1: My Top Ten Reads of 2014

  1. Katherine says:

    Ahhh… For Whom the Bell Tolls. Top ten (maybe top five) best books ever if I made a list.

    Books are good for swatting away lemons. Stay with hardback though.

    • polloplayer says:

      The CE and I read (re-read) FWTBT simultaneously during our pilgramage to Key West and we each had a week-long Hemingway hangover from it. Such a proud, spare, authentic read. I had gone through a period of dismissing Hemingway, the man, but I am now a wholehearted acolyte of Hemingway, the author. I’m so glad you feel the same way about FWTBT because i know how discerning a reader you are.

  2. Jessica says:

    I’m also very interested to also hear your “terrible” books! I formed a book club up here in Alaska; we just read The Red Tent, our next one is All The Light We Cannot See. Would love your recommendation for a future pick for us; we are a rather light-hearted social group so nothing too dense…

    Hello to you, the CE, and all the furry/feathered companions!!

    • polloplayer says:

      Hi Jessica! So nice to hear from you! The obvious recommendation would be “The Snow Child” but you all may have already read it. If others in your group are musically inclined like you, “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank” might be an option. It was popular with my book club. “The Cello Suites” is also lovely. I’ll have some other recommendations in next Saturday’s post.

  3. Jessica says:

    “The Snow Child” looks perfect and I will recommend it for our next one. Thank you!!

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