Readasaurus Rex: 5 Favorite Reads of 2014

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photo credit: moqub via photopin cc

According to Goodreads, I read 5620 pages this year. That was just books that I finished. This was the year that I finally gave up trying to finish books that just weren’t doing it for me. A moment of silence for the ones that met the end of my attention span far before their time:

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (a re-reading, originally read in 2006)
  • The Giver by Lois Lawry (a re-reading, originally read in 1993)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (I heard it would make me feel the feels. I felt very little. It remains on my nightstand in case I run out of books for some reason … even though I have several hundred in my apartment. Perhaps someday I will return to it).

But that number doesn’t take into account all the reading I do each day for work — the emails and articles. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do around the interwebs just for fun (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Book Riot). It doesn’t take into account everything I read to keep up with things so that I can be good at my job. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do on social media (and anyone who follows me on any social media site knows that I am a daily participant because I think social media is fascinating for a plethora of reasons I won’t get into now).

Ultimately, I feel better having a page count at 5620 combined with all of the other reading I’ve done than I would if I would have spent, like, 6 months slogging through Infinite Jest and another 6 through War and Peace or something. There’s a reason I’ve not re-read Ulysses, as well. There are so many things to read and my to-be-read list grows weekly. I blame the following podcasts: Book Riot, Literary Disco, and Overdue Podcast.

I’ve been a reader forever. There are pictures of me as a toddler, passed out on stacks of books. I couldn’t wait to participate in the library’s summer reading program, or Book It! during the school year. I loved being a part of Great Books and reading outside of class as a kind of club activity. With very few exceptions, I only ever got in trouble in school if I was reading when I should have been paying attention (joke’s on my 7th grade life science teacher who took books away from me weekly… I still have yet to find a practical use for knowing all of the nitty-gritty details of the pasteurization process, but reading is crucial). Sometimes I’d get in trouble because I didn’t do my homework… because I’d been really engrossed in a book the night before. Sometimes my parents would take me to the bookstore on a Friday night. I’d get a new book and, being somewhat insomniac at an early age, stay up all night reading it, finishing it before the sun came up — by flashlight, so as not to wake my otherwise narcoleptic sister. I never minded being sent to my room as a kid because I’d hide in my closet, which is where my mom kept baskets full of my books — the same ones she would sit on my bed for me on days when I stayed home sick from school.

It’s probably no surprise that I grew up to be an English major. Or an English teacher. Or an English grad student. Or a writer. Or an editor. Basically, I’m one of those people who will tell you all the reasons why reading is awesome, and it will be pretty much like I’m just quoting the lyrics to the Reading Rainbow theme song to you.

I like to use Goodreads to track everything I read and want to read. Some people hate their reading challenges because they think it puts unnecessary pressure on you to read. I think it’s great, and I never feel the pressure to increase my number. Last year I set my goal at 20 books and only read 11. This year I set it at 11 and read 24. Some of these were audiobooks that I listened to while I worked.

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I have a problem, too, that I read so much and forget the details of things I’ve read before. So I’ve started writing about everything on Goodreads immediately after finishing it. This way, if I’m talking to someone about a book and I can’t remember what happened, I can call up my review/recap and jog my memory.

So… shut up and tell me what you read this year.

  1. S. by J.J. Abrams
  2. Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories by Lucia Perillo
  3. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
  4. A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
  5. Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley
  6. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn (my only one-star review ever! I loathed this book)
  7. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
  8. The Amber Room by Steve Berry
  9. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak (read the hardcover & listened to the audiobook, which is read by a celebrity lineup)
  10. The Natural by Bernard Malamud
  11. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
  12. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  13. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  14. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
  15. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching For My Father and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart
  16. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
  17. The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
  18. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  19. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (a re-read; originally read in 2013)
  20. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  21. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  22. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
  23. 10:04 by Ben Lerner
  24. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Cool. And what would you recommend? What were your favorites? 

Mind you, these were not all published in 2014. I just read them this year. I mixed some old and new.

Desert island top 5 books I’ve read in 2014: 

5. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This was a pick for my book club for November. When I bought it, the woman at the cash register held it in her hands and looked at it for a second, then said to me something like, “I’m so jealous that you’re reading this book for the first time. It’s got some very funny moments, and also some very poignant ones.” She was absolutely correct about that. She also told me not to see the movie until I’d read the book, which is fine since I hardly ever go to the movies. I still haven’t seen it, but I want to.

The Amazon synopsis for This is Where I Leave You: 

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she’s pregnant.

This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s (One Last Thing Before I Go) most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not.

My Goodreads review


4. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

We’ve all seen the kinds of horrific images depicting the effect that Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans, but this book just blows all of that open. Sheri Fink spent years researching the aftermath of the hurricane, particularly what occurred at Memorial Medical Center over 5 days in the immediate aftermath. Spoiler alert: it was HORRIFIC. It’s one of those things that you just sit there, jaw hanging open, unable to believe what you’re hearing (especially if you listen to the audiobook, which is what I did. But I’ve heard that the reading experience is pretty much the same). I couldn’t stop listening.

Barnes and Noble synopsis for Five Days at Memorial:

The winds and floods of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina induced thousands of dramatic stories of rescue, survival, or tragedy, but perhaps none more resonant than those at New Orlean’s Memorial Medical Center. For author Sheri Fink and other critics, what the venerated hospital had offered those grim days was far different than shelter from the storm. Indeed, the forty-five corpses found after the calm suggested to several observers that Memorial’s physicians had sometimes functioned more as angels of death than as life-givers. In Five Days at Memorial, Fink adds depth and breadth to an article that won her a Pulitzer and a National Magazine Award.

My Goodreads review


3. Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley

If you have any interest in history, politics, journalism, or related topics, this is a really interesting book. I listened to the audiobook, but I was totally hooked. It follows Walter Cronkite’s entire career, as well as all of the major stories he covered and what he personally witnessed as part of our country’s history during some really formative times. He was quite a character, and brought a pretty unique perspective to some of the biggest historical moments of the past century. Of course, being me, I thought his recollections of the Kennedy assassination were among the most intriguing parts of the book. I love stories and sharing narratives, and this is full of that kind of thing.

The Amazon synopsis for Cronkite:

Douglas Brinkley presents the definitive, revealing biography of an American legend: renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite.

An acclaimed author and historian, Brinkley has drawn upon recently disclosed letters, diaries, and other artifacts at the recently opened Cronkite Archive to bring detail and depth to this deeply personal portrait.

He also interviewed nearly two hundred of Cronkite’s closest friends and colleagues, including Andy Rooney, Leslie Stahl, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, Brian Williams, Les Moonves, Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric, Bob Schieffer, Ted Turner, Jimmy Buffett, and Morley Safer, using their voices to instill dignity and humanity in this study of one of America’s most beloved and trusted public figures.

My Goodreads review


2. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I, like most people, loved Gone Girl. The twists and turns are fun to navigate, and it leaves you wondering what exactly goes on in Gillian Flynn’s mind. So after I re-read that one and saw the movie, that’s the mode I was in. I picked up Dark Places and had a very difficult time putting it back down. In many ways, because I wasn’t anticipating a giant twist that I’d heard about from a zillion people, I enjoyed Dark Places even more than Gone Girl. It’s just creepy enough and kept me thinking until the end.

Amazon synopsis of Dark Places:

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

My Goodreads review


1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This was the last book I completed in 2014 — one that came out earlier this year and that I’d wanted to read since I first heard about its release. This is truly a book nerd’s book: a novel about what it means to be a reader, filled with literary references, interesting characters, and a solid story line that is not above getting a little meta at times when the characters discuss authors’ writing tendencies in novels. I love how the chapters are set up as short story recommendations to A.J.’s daughter. I just loved everything about this book — including how I cried through the entire last chapter, and then may or may not have hugged the book a little when I finished reading it. It was, in a word, delightful. I didn’t want it to end. Hands down, my favorite for 2014.

Amazon synopsis for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry:

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.

My Goodreads review


Honorable Mentions: 

1. S. by J.J. AbramsThis was a fun book to read because it’s a story within a story within a story. You read a “stolen library book” that tells a story of its own, but there’s a story running in the margin notes between two people reading the book and studying its mysterious author. There’s also a third story running in the footnotes — ones the readers believe tell a story between said mysterious author and the book’s translator. The reading experience is really unique for this book given its setup and all of the ephemera included as part of the story. My Goodreads review.

2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year, and though it wasn’t in my top 5, I did really enjoy it. I listened to the audiobook and it was very long (the book spans 2 decades of main character Theo Decker’s life), but that was what made it possible for me to read this. It’s a good story and one that is well-crafted, even if some parts did lag for me. My Goodreads review.

3. The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett Don’t judge a book by its cover. This cover is pretty terrible with the woman’s eyes hanging out there, but the story was a lot of fun. Again, it’s another tale about someone who is obsessed with books and the adventure to which he is led as a result. It’s a fun read and easy to get lost in, if not a bit slow in parts. The mystery aspect is focused on proving or disproving Shakespeare’s existence, so it’s also an English major’s dream. It jumps back and forth in time, which can potentially be confusing, although it didn’t present me with any real issues. My Goodreads review.

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Ok, that’s enough out of me. What did you read and love in 2014? What are you looking forward to reading in 2015? My TBR list is already growing out of control, so I can’t wait to get started on my first book of 2015 (whatever it may be). Happy new year!

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