Books read, or the medicine cabinet of the mind

I love reading other people’s book lists. As the title of this post suggests, they offer insight into the reader’s psyche, their likes, their interests, their gross infections.

Here, then, are the books I read in 2014, with occasional commentary. Take as recommended.

Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich – Stephen Leacock

Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin Rich, dense, magical pleasure

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

The Circle – Dave Eggers Obvious, heavy-handed satire, a disappointment after A Hologram for the King

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

Hell Going – Lynn Coady Short stories

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

The Broom of the System – David Foster Wallace Hard sledding

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler Wonderfully crafted, very human story

The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster To be re-read

Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine – Teddy Wayne

The Lay of the Land – Richard Ford Frank Bascombe book #3 and maybe my favourite of the trilogy

Assassination Nation – Sarah Vowell Non-fiction about dead presidents. Funny and insightful.

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Back Roads – Tawni O’Dell

Travelling Sprinkler – Nicholson Baker A delight

Best American Short Stories 2012 – Tom Perrotta, ed. At my bedside, ongoing

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Mario Vargas Llosa (unfinished) Too tedious to finish

True Grit – Charles Portis Having never seen either film version, this was a comic treat

A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern Meh…

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper Pleasant enough but felt like a movie-in-waiting, which it was

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – Hillary Mantel More short stories

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki Philosophical without being pretentious. A moving tale.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Col. Chris Hadfield

Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut

Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues: 20 Years of Writing about Film, Music and Books – Nick Hornby

Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth Still shocking and profane after all these years.

What were your favourite reads of 2014?


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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47 Responses to Books read, or the medicine cabinet of the mind

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Thanks to your recommendation, “We are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is one of my favorites of 2014. I look forward to discussing it with my book club in a couple weeks.

    I also read “The Night Circus” and “This is Where I Leave You.” The latter I found so misogynistic, I wanted to upchuck. Luckily, I thought the movie was better (one of those rare instances where that happens).

    I love that you read books written by women as well as men. Not all men will, which is a bit baffling to me.

  2. Paul says:

    I didn’t read nearly as much in 2014 as before – I discovered blogs. I can’t even think of any memorable books that I read this year passed. Sorry, I can feel my literary IQ slowly slipping…

  3. Letizia says:

    I’ve always struggled with Vargas Llosa. His books are spoken of with the greats of South America but I find his style tedious too. Perhaps its the translation. Perhaps its just tedious. I like your list, good mix of contemporary and classics.

  4. I was a bit of a book glutton last year and had as many as two or three going at once–usually one fiction and two other non-fiction.
    My favorites were: To Kill a Mockingbird (so much better as an adult!), Bird by Bird, Gone Girl, Wild, The Night Circus, Roots of my Obsession (gardening book) and just about every Mary Oliver book I could get my hands on. Right now I’m working on Unbroken and American Sniper is next.
    I’m going to print your reading list as I love your taste in literature and need to expand (beyond the blogs) this year. Thank you, Ross!

  5. franhunne4u says:

    My books-read-list is very, very small for last year. I reread some Georgette Heyer (Frederica, Arabella, The Nonesuch, The Convenient Marriage, Detection unlimited – one of her detective stories and in German Cotillion and The reluctant widow) and read my first Jane-Austen-Mystery by an american author “Jane Austen and the twelve days of Christmas”. Finished some books on Life in Georgian England (no, nothing scholarly, popular scientific only). Read Charly and the Chocolate Factory (I finished the Glass Elevator yesterday – both books in one volume). Read Aaronovitch’s volume 4 of his Rivers of London series, Broken Homes. Not much, is it?

    Right now I have started Jane Austen Christmas (a small volume about Christmas traditions before the Victorians), Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (everyday life between 1775 and 1817 (Jane Austen’s lifetime), If Walls Could Talk – how everyday life evolved over history comparable to Bill Bryson’s At Home, more details, less opinion. Add to that Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett and a german chick lit-book (direct translation would be Half-naked construction workers – and yes, it is about sex – but rather about the LACK of it, this does not fall into the category Erotica, sorry) and Bascha Mika’s feminist work on menopause (direct translation: Dare – women and the hellish game about growing old – but I don’t think there IS an english version of this book.) And there are countless others waiting to be read – some more of Pratchett’s older ones I have given a miss up to now, the fifth volume of Aaronovitch (out in german in September), some more Chick lit (for days like today, when my brain shuts down because of fever) … AND some more fantasy literature – for which I lacked the right attitude in the last two years.

  6. cat9984 says:

    Nice list – mine includes EA Poe and Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur, so I won’t bore you with the rest

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s a weird game we play in this medicine cabinet, and that’s comparing and judging others and ourselves. There can be a snob element, unconscious or not, but it’s not my intention. I just like seeing what people are reading. Even in public, I like sneaking a peek at people’s book spines. Another strike against Kindles.

  7. dhonour says:

    I really liked (and was surprised) by We are all Completely Besides Ourselves as well. But above and away my favorite book that I read this year was Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. If you haven’t read it, go forth and do so now.

  8. Susan says:

    I signed up for the Goodreads challenge last year and for the first time I have a record of what I read. All but one of the books were fiction and 28 out of 32 were written by women. (Sorry, Ross, will try to expand my tastes in 2015.) The ones I enjoyed most ranged from Donna Tartt to Kate Quinn, from Hannah Richell to Marian Keyes. I read JK Rowling’s new Robert Galbraith book – does that count as a male writer? (I could try to argue here that I thought it was but I guess the cat’s been out of that bag for long enough now.) I also enjoyed Gigi Pandian, Marguerite Poland, Cary Elwes’ As You Wish (non-fiction AND male author, please note!), David Benioff’s City of Thieves and Steve Robinson’s latest Jefferson Tayte book.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      In think the boy authors are doing just fine…
      That’s a diverse list. I have a love-hate relationship with Goodreads. I like reading other people’s opinions but have to remember to take them for what they’re worth.

  9. breezyk says:

    Nice list! I’m working on a post about the top books I read in 2014 now. I also stole that Graham Greene title from my dad’s bookshelf when I was home for Christmas… looking forward to getting into it after I’m through with “Us Conductors”

  10. Karen says:

    What do you think of Hillary Mantel? I’m mystified by the reputation she has (and the awards she’s won). I tried to read Bringing Up the Bodies a few years ago without success.

    I’ve been reading a bunch of self-published books off Amazon the past two months or so. I’ve yet to find one that’s any good, but I’m going to keep searching, as I am a masochist.

    Here are the non-self published books I bought (notice I’m not saying I read them) for pleasure reading this year.

    The Murder at the Vicarage (Agatha Christie)
    Easy Spanish Reader (Willam Tardy)
    I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Malala Yousafzai)
    Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
    S. (JJ Abrams, Doug Dorst)
    Dude, That’s Rude! Get Some Manners (Pamela Espeland)
    The A Song of Ice and Fire Series (George R.R. Martin)

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ready Player One has been on my to-read list for a while. Must get to it.
      This was my intro to Mantel, and from what I understand, her short stories are unlike her novels, at least in topic. I found them superbly crafted and readable, with a sly dark humour to some of them. One of them, “Winter Break,” made me throw the book down at the end and say out loud, “Nope. Uh-uh. Nope.” But in a good way. You can find that story online if you’re interested.

    • I’m a big Anglophile and love those Mantel books about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. So much so that for Christmas, I got a ticket to a Broadway production of Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies that’s five and a half hours long. It’s currently running in London and migrating its way across the Atlantic this spring. The Royal Shakespeare Company is producing it. Sounds like your worst nightmare come true!

      Might I suggest you start with Wolf Hall? By reading Bringing up the Bodies first you picked up the story thread midstream.

  11. It was a very heavy nonfiction reading year for me. Whenever I start focusing on writing fiction, I tend not to read any. I saw a comment above referencing Mary Oliver – I did read a couple of her collections, as well as some poets I’d never read before. I’m hoping to read a little more long fiction in 2015, but hope is the opiate of the procrastinators, of which I’m surely one.

  12. pinklightsabre says:

    Thanks for sharing Ross! I’m going to save this…quite a list. How was the hard sledding? Slow, or sharp? On a bus to Portland, still dark. Hooded, yet someone just sat down next to me.

  13. ksbeth says:

    the thirteenth tale, war and peace, the wave, go dog go.

  14. rossmurray1 says:

    War and Peace: that would be half my year right there.

  15. I was looking at the Hornby book to pair up with my reading of Infinite Jest this year. I tried Infinite Jest a few years ago and made it to page 200 before deciding I was too dumb to finish it. I think my brain is ready to give it a second try.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Coincidentally, in the intro to the Best Short Stories of 2012, Perrotta defends DFW’s excess as “attempting to document and embody a crisis in postmodern consciousness, the human personality breaking down under the pressure of too much information… [the excess] was precisely the point.” Sounds like fun.

      • After reading his essays, I came to the realization that his footnoting (which I hated initially) was his way of mimicking the distractions of modern life. My mind is easily distracted (or dumb) so it took some time to adjust.

  16. It looks like you’ve been raiding my bookshelf. The Power and Glory right on top of A Clockwork Orange. Two of my absolute favs. Not that they’re the best-ever written books. Not by a long shot. But they got under my skin at an impressionable age and there they are still.

    I met David Foster Wallace at a book signing. He was kind of mean to me. So I didn’t spend any time grieving when he died.

    The New York Trilogy is one of those things I’m embarassed to admit I haven’t read yet.

    So now that you’ve read it, have you seen True Grit? Glan Campbell was the Texas Ranger in the fist version. I love that.

    To Kill a Mockingbird changed the course of my life.

    I tried Under the Volcano but couldn’t get through it. Not enough gray matter in the ole’ cranium.

    I’ll tell you somethig kind of fucked up. I don’t keep a list of books I read because I don’t get through as many as I should throughout the year. But I keep a list of the plays I’ve seen. 54. A record. And this, during a year when I made a promise not to spend so much $$$$ on theater tickets.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I read Clockwork after a discussion here or somewhere with you. It’s a beauty, so thanks.

      I think more authors are kind of jerks than we imagine. But why shouldn’t we imagine that? Most highly successful people, the really driven ones, have the ego in overdrive.

      New York Trilogy is mind-bending. It’s meta-meta.

      Still haven’t watched the Grits. I hear the Coens practically transcribed the book to film.

      I found Volcano pretty brutal this time around. I think I was smarter in my early twenties. S
      Still, there are some moments of stunning beauty in it.

      I’ve only begun listing in the past few years. I like going back and looking. Sometimes I see patterns, shared motifs in what I’m reading. As for plays, money well spent, my friend.

  17. brinkling says:

    Wow, that’s quite the list! You make me ashamed of my small one. I’ve created my own post for it, but you’ll get a pingback.

    Out of curiosity, what’d you think of Mother Night? I’m slowly working my way through Vonnegut’s body of work, I adore him.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’ve read a fair bit of V, some a couple times over, but this was a first for Mother Night. It’s an earlier work, so more conventional but still off the wall. I loved it. He can be so simple yet profound.

      • brinkling says:

        Yeah, when I first read Slaughterhouse V it was an absolutely delightful shock to me. I had had a very distinct idea of what “classics” were like, and as an English major, many “classics” had reinforced that for me. Slaughterhouse blew all those conventions away. His crazy style changed how I looked at writing and reading, and I’m forever grateful. I’m glad Mother Night is a good read!

  18. Pingback: Books I Read in 2014 | An Inkling

  19. I just added a few of these titles to my Kindle….thanks for the recommendations.

  20. Pingback: Books Read in 2014 « Practicing Resurrection

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