The one, of about five New Year’s resolutions, which I actually fulfilled is to read 100 books in 2014. No, I didn’t continue to eat gluten, vegan, and clean throughout the year (that lasted about a month). No, I did not get down to my goal weight (Maybe this year!).
But I settled myself into bed every night with a book and read through page after page until I reached my goal. I actually read 111 books, not to brag or anything.
Before I get into the books I will recommend, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to read more books this year. Because nine times out of 10, when I tell people I read 100 books this past year I will get the response, “I never could read that much!” Oh contraire, my friend. Yes, you freaking can read more!
- Bring a book with you. Everywhere. Yes, everywhere. I don’t care if you’re only on the bus for seven minutes, bring a book. Sitting around waiting for your boyfriend or girlfriend to finish getting read? Read a couple pages. Read during lunch. Read while you are waiting for your date at the bar. Just read, dammit!
- Read before bed. Even if you’re the type who falls asleep within three minutes of hitting the hay, read a book for those three minutes. Or go to bed 15 minutes sooner to read in those 15 minutes. Do you sense a theme here? Just read, dammit!
- Get an e-reader. I have found that ever since I bought my Nook I have blown through books. It’s easier to pull out and read in public places. A 500-page hardcover book is just plain annoying to lug around and read on the subway. On an e-reader? Not as big of a deal. Plus, e-books are cheaper.
- Read what you want to read. That 600-page tome by the crusty old fiction writer may be all the rage in the literary community, but if it’s not your cup of tea, then don’t read it. People ask me all the time what I’m reading, and guess what? I’m not telling them because half the time it’s a chick lit romance book or a young adult dystopian novel that I’m a little embarrassed to be reading. That’s what I like and that’s what I’m going to read. So just read what you want to read, dammit!
Alright, now that you have my unsolicited advice on how to read more in 2015, here are the books I read in 2014 that I recommend.
The book that made me sob uncontrollably
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Yes, this is not a big surprise. One of the most popular books of the year (and in 2013, and in 2012), and also one of the most popular movies, it is heart-wrenching. If you don’t know the plot, here’s a quick recap: Hazel, a girl with terminal cancer, but is staying alive with some innovative medicine that requires her to have an oxygen tank on her person at all times, is convinced to go to a cancer support group for kids. At the support group she meets Augustus, a kid who lost half of his leg to cancer. They proceed to fall in love, deal with issues that no teenager should have to deal with, and then you want to stab yourself in the eye to feel something other than the pain in your heart.
I was sobbing so hard when I finished this book I had to shove a pillow over my face so as to not alarm my roommate.
That being said, the book has some funny parts and actually had me laughing out loud a couple times. Only one other book has ever made me cry and laugh out loud and that is my favorite book of all time: To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
“I called it a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating faceup on the water, undrowned.”
The book that gave me an inside look at the presidency
The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
This book chronicles the comradery and competition between US presidents from Hoover to Obama. I was amazed at how many of our former US presidents are now buddies. Apparently Obama and Bush get along very well and even refers to him as a “brother from another mother.”
It’s interesting how many presidents have relied on past presidents to help them with their initiatives and political struggles. If you’re intrigued by presidential history, you should definitely read this.
“If the Presidents Club had a seal, around the ring would be three words: cooperation, competition, and consolation. On the one hand, the presidents have powerful motives—personal and patriotic—to help one another succeed and comfort one another when they fail. But at the same time they all compete for history’s blessing.”
The book that left me wondering what the hell the kid was thinking
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
After I finished this book, I was basking in the sun in lovely San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I turned to my dad and told him I was done with the book. He responded, “I always thought that kid was an idiot.” Dad and I had watched the movie years ago and when it ended he said something along the same lines.
Jon Krakauer chronicles the life and adventures of Christopher McCandless, a nomad who decided to go off the grid when he graduated college. Burned his cash, abandoned his car, took on a new name (Alexander Supertramp), Christopher traveled throughout the Southwest, the West, and ultimately Alaska where he died in a bus in the wild. If you want, you can watch a video of someone finding the bus and going into it. It’s creepy as hell.
Some people love Christopher and some people hate him. Krakauer discusses how he dealt with reader letters after first reporting on McCandless in Outside magazine. People were intense in their emotions. From what I got from the book was most people with a lot of intense outdoor experience found him irresponsible and stupid. People with not as much outdoors experience find it romantic and courageous.
I come down on the “he was irresponsible” side. I don’t have much outdoors experience, but after reading the book I rolled your eyes a little bit. McCandless thought he was in the true Alaskan wild. Uh, there were houses just a few miles away from where he died where people were living. Every Alaskan that Krakauer interviewed agreed that McCandless was nowhere near the true Alaskan wild.
Also, I’ve been to Alaska and I took a train from Anchorage to Fairbanks and when I looked out the window it was beautiful, but terrifying in its great expanse and uncharted territory. Wild like the kind in Alaska deserves respect, and I don’t think McCandless fully appreciated that.
With all that being said, McCandless lived a hell of a lot longer than I ever would have out in the wild. So, props to him?
The writing is fantastic and the reporting is well done. It’s definitely worth a read. Decide for yourself if McCandless is an idiot or just a true adventurous spirit.
“The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.”
The book I wish I had started during the daytime
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
If you liked Gone Girl, this is a book for you to check out. I’ve heard it described as 50 First Dates meets Gone Girl, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking this book is in any way funny. Christine wakes up every morning thinking she is in her 20s, but then she sees herself in the mirror and realizes she is in her 40s, not knowing where the last years, much less the last 24 hours, went. She has a husband she doesn’t recognize and a journal she doesn’t remember ever filling out.
It’s creepy, suspenseful, and left me a little freaked out. It’s got some twists and turns, and I think a more satisfying ending than Gone Girl. And like my title says, I started it at night and decided that was a mistake. I saved it for the morning.
If you’re interested in a more chick lit book that features suspense, amnesia, and romance, I would recommend Burying Water by K.A. Tucker.
“What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?”
The book that was the best historical fiction I read this year
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
This book had been on my to-read list forever, and I had been kind of putting it off. It had gotten great reviews from other Goodreads reviewers so I finally ordered it and sat down and read it. Normally, Southern literature is not something I’m very inclined to read, but this one had an interesting angle that caught my eye. An Irish, seven-year-old girl gets orphaned on a slave ship and comes to reside at a Southern plantation where she is made to be a slave.
Lavinia, the protagonist, becomes deeply attached to her slave family and she sees herself as one of them. Though as she gets older, she is welcomed into the “big house” where the white family lives and finds herself being welcomed in to this privileged life, but connecting more with her fellow slaves.
It would make an excellent novel for a book club. I found myself having to finish it one weekend while I should have been doing homework. That chocks it up to being a good book in my mind.
“What the color is, who the daddy be, who the mama is don’t mean nothin’. We a family, carin’ for each other. Family make us strong in times of trouble. We all stick together, help each other out. That the real meanin’ of family.”
The book that sparked my creative juices
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
I really recommend this books for anyone in any sort of creative field. It’s only 168 pages and it’s quick and to the point. Pressfield has published over 20 books and has spent his life writing.
After I finished it, I told myself I needed to get back into writing. I had highlighted and flagged all the pages I liked and had inspired me. Unfortunately, I was finishing the book around the time I was a major project was going to be due for one of the classes I was taking. All the inspiration that had fueled me after finishing the book got misplaced into my project. Granted, the project turned out well, but I wanted to get back to writing.
Be warned that he does get kind of spiritual and starts talking about angels. It was a little odd, but it didn’t bother me too much.
Another book that came up later this year that really inspired me and got my ass back into the writing chair, so keep reading to see.
“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”
“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell.”
The book that taught me about the South’s love for the Civil War
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
I remember when I was younger looking at my Dad’s bookshelf and seeing this book residing on it. When I was younger, the word Confederate gave me the willies. That word meant a racist with missing teeth that wanted to break up America. To a white, middle class kid in the Midwest that’s a little terrifying.
Years later, I was looking for more nonfiction books to add to my to-read list and I saw this book. I had never even read the back cover of the book when I was younger, but this time I actually decided to look into it and decided to read it.
The book follows Tony Horwitz as he steps in line with Civil War re-enactors who take their craft very seriously. They go on strict diets to look like Confederate soldiers, judge each other based on their authenticity of their uniforms, and revel in the days of yore.
It’s a little hilarious at time when some of the re-enactors find out Horowitz is Jewish and it makes them slightly uncomfortable. And also, the racism is still pretty rampant and the book at times makes you actually feel a little sad for the South, as they seem so stuck in the past.
Also, after reading the book, you’ll find yourself slightly obsessed with Robert Lee Hodge.
“There are people one knows and people one doesn’t. One shouldn’t cheapen the former by feigning intimacy with the latter.”
The book where I bragged that I actually finished it
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Yes, in all its 1,168-page glory, I did finish this epic tome. Was it good? No. Do I understand the majority of it? No.
It was one of those books that had been sitting on my to-read shelf for a long time, taunting me. I know I’m going against my own rules because the book didn’t particularly interest me, but it was a classic and I wanted know what all the Republican hubbub was about.
I was not impressed. At one point a speech goes on for 90 pages. Yes, 90 pages. How I got through it is beyond me. I don’t really recommend it. I’m just here to brag about it.
I got nothin’.
The book that I’m ashamed to say I liked
The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan
I hate the title. I hate the cover. I hate myself for liking it. This is one of my biggest guilty pleasures of the year. This book follows Drew, a Heisman-winning quarterback, and Anna, a Scarlett Johansson lookalike, who fall in love. But wait! There’s complications! Who would have thought?
All joking aside, for a romantic chick lit book, it’s good. It was heartfelt, funny, and I had a hard time putting it down. I can’t wait for Callihan to write her next book.
My one major gripe is that olive oil is used as a massage oil in the book. Who the hell uses olive oil to massage? All I could think is how messy that would be. Why not just use lotion like a regular human being?
“And I think how you see yourself makes you who you are. Your soul doesn’t have a title or an occupation. It’s just you.”
The book where I learned the most about writing
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This is the first Stephen King book I have read, and it made me want to read more of his work. The book starts with King giving an account of his life so far. He has led an interesting existence, full of blue-collar work and dedication to his craft.
You also get a vivid account of his alcohol and drug addiction. At one point he was drinking mouthwash and was shoving tissues in his nose to stop the bleeding from all the cocaine he snorted while he typed away.
He details how he can’t remember writing Cujo. That’s right, he was so blitzed out of his mind he can’t remember writing a whole book.
His advice on writing is spot on and was the finally the kick in the ass I needed to get myself back into my writing mode. I make it a point now to get up an extra hour early to at least get some writing in for the day. If you want to get writing advice, read this book.
Towards the end of the book, King relives his near-fatal accident. He’s still pretty bitter about it. But I can’t blame the guy.
“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”
“To write is human, to edit is divine.”
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
The book that was a classic that I actually enjoyed
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
So this is a classic that I will actually recommend. The book centers around Francie Nolan and her family that grows up in the slums of Brooklyn. Her family struggles to make ends meet and to even get food on the table. The book follows Francie as she grows, finds love, and helps support her brother and mother after (spoiler alert!) her dad dies. Yeah, he was an alcoholic. The book isn’t super uplifting, but it’s a worthwhile read.
It’s definitely a classic that deserves the “classic” title, unlike another book on this list. I’m not naming names…
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
The book that made me laugh out loud
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This book was hilarious. Laugh out loud hilarious. It’s pretty rare that I actually laugh out at a book but this one had me chuckling. My Dad even heard me and asked me what I was reading and I told him and said he should get the book as soon as possible.
Don Tillman is the protagonist, and he is an OCD genetics professor who decides he needs a wife. So in order to find a life partner, he creates a questionnaire that all prospective wives need to fill out. He then meets Rosie, who is looking for her biological father and is everything he is not looking for in a wife.
You can see where this is going, right? But that’s OK, because Don is hilarious. Whenever he meets a new person he automatically estimates their BMI. His social skills are lacking so his adventures through dating prove to be pretty hilarious. If you’re looking to read something with humor, pick this book.
“I asked you here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
“Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious to others.”
“I haven’t changed my mind. That’s the point! I want to spend my life with you even though it’s totally irrational. And you have short earlobes. Socially and genetically there’s no reason for me to be attracted to you. The only logical conclusion is that I must be in love with you.”