Another year and another reading challenge have passed, and while I didn’t spend as much time between the covers of books as I would have liked, I’m happy to say I made my goal.
Of the 40 books I read, 16 were consumed via unabridged audiobook. I say that counts due to the insane amount of time I spend in the car getting to work and back again. And I can honestly say that there is something lovely about a well-done audiobook. For instance, I might never have gotten through the entirety of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child in hardback form. The thing is an absolute doorstop! But the narrator of the audiobook did a lovely job presenting quotes from Julia’s letters and books in that familiar, loopy voice, which made me feel like I was getting it from the horse’s mouth. (On a related note: I’m currently listening to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury on audiobook, and it’s a totally different experience than reading it in print. The lyrical element of his prose really comes through when you hear it!)
So, of the books I consumed in 2014, here are my top ten. Rather than do a straight list, I thought I’d create some categories and let you decide for yourself which, if any, you might like to peruse!
Best Fiction: Joyland by Stephen King
King really tells a great story. Joyland is just that. With its well-drawn characters and interesting plot, it carried me along and kept me in the car a lot longer than I should have been some days. He injects just enough horror to give this book zing without overpowering the narrative he established (a la Revival). Highly recommended.
Best Non-Fiction: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
I love learning about history–especially things that I knew little to nothing about before I started reading. There were so many amazing people that made the Chicago World’s Fair possible, and it brought about so many inventions and innovations that it’s beyond belief. Did you know it spawned the Pledge of Allegiance? That it made the Ferris Wheel possible? Plus, you get a little history on one of America’s first serial killers in this gem. A fun read!
Best Christian Work: Yawning At Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck
I read a lot…and I mean A LOT of Christian books for my job. With many of them, I scan a few chapters to see if the author might be a good fit for the magazine. Others I disregard outright because the material is trite, totally overdone, or terribly pedantic. Drew Dyck’s work is none of those. He takes a topic that has been discussed before (the awesome majesty of God) and makes readers consider it from an entirely different point of view.
Most Overrated: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Okay, I may be the only person who read this book and didn’t enjoy much of it at all. I liked several of the characters (especially Hobie) and the emphasis on Dutch masterpieces like The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritus. But much of the book felt ponderous to me, too full of itself and overburdened by melodrama. Characters like Boris felt more stock than unique, and while it was a solid book, I hardly felt it was worth the effusive praise heaped on it by many critics.
Most Underrated: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn
There are a lot of books about baseball. Player bios, books about certain franchises, books about the history of the game, statistical reference books, instruction manuals, the list goes on and on. This one is very niche; it tells the story of the 1883 pennant fight between the St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Athletics and the many colorful men who helped create the game we all know and love. If you like baseball, read it. If you like history books, read it. If you like biographies, well…you know what to do.
Most Surprising: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Someone recommended this book to me a long time ago, and I never got around to reading it until I found a copy of it on audiobook in my local library. It’s a fun read to be sure, a quirky blend of literary nerdiness, wit, and surreal science fiction. Essentially, people can walk into copies of their favorite books and interact with the characters, but if you enter the original text, be careful! You can actually change the plot! Think The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets a fun whodunnit.
One I’d Recommend to Others: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
We all know Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling…and that this woman can write! Seriously, anyone who can create an entire magical universe like Harry Potter and then turn around and write a pretty amazing character study (A Casual Vacancy) as well as a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction like this one is an author who’s worth reading. The first in this series (The Cuckoo’s Calling) was also a great read.
One I’d Beg Others Not to Read: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Thank goodness I only paid $1.99 for this on Kindle. The cover is great and the idea is solid, but I don’t have many nice things to say beyond that. The rules of the magical universe are left largely unexplained, the characters are very one-dimensional, and the plot is uneven. It was a good idea poorly executed, which is a real shame. A good editor could really have made something of this.
One That Should Be Turned Into A Movie: Dr. Sleep by Stephen King
Yeah, King made the list twice. So what? 🙂 This is the sequel to The Shining, which I had to re-read before embarking on this book. It was fun to see how Danny and the other characters turned out, to see what kind of gifts the kid really had and how he put them to good use. It was a great read on its own, but when you pair it with the first work, everything comes full circle rather nicely. A little strange (it is King after all), but the booga-booga factor on this one is great. Super creepy in all the right ways. And it would translate into a great film with the right director and cast.
One I Wish I’d Written: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Apparently everyone and their drunk uncle has read this book, but I just now got around to it. And let me tell you, I am never going to complain about my life again. You want to talk about challenges, pain, suffering, and trials? Louis Zamperini experienced them all and came through it all. The man hit bottom, met Christ, and crawled out of a PTSD-induced hole I can’t even imagine, and become a true servant of God. And now his life is ours to learn from. I wish I could have met him in person before he passed.
Okay folks, there you have it. Ten books I read this year and thought I’d pass on. Tell me what books you loved this year and if you think I’d enjoy them. I’m always looking for something new and — if you’ll pardon the pun — novel to read.