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Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 reading highlights

Best of reading lists are not my strength; I always forget something even with reading journals both physical and online. But here are some highlights from 2014:

Middle Grade Fiction

The Fourtheenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
Holm pays tribute to her science forebear in a funny, wise and non-preachy book about parents and children, grown and not grown-up, when the new kid in Ellie's class turns out to be her grandfather. His experiment worked and he's now a 6th grader.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Ophelia does not believe in magic in this novel inspired by The Snow Queen. But when her sword historian father takes on a job in a museum in a city where it never stops snowing, and she meets a boy in a locked room who has been waiting for her to rescue him, Ophelia has some rethinking to do.

YA Fiction
Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley
The teen daughter of a mommy blogger does not appreciate having her whole life bantered about on the internet. And now her teacher wants everyone in class to blog. An entertaining coming-of-age story when those moments with your family are now things everyone online knows.

Nonfiction
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (memoir)
The New York Times columnist's memoir recounts his childhood in rural poverty, his mother's incredible hard work, his confusion over his sexual identity and his college years. I loved reading his gentle words about hardships, and his honesty with grace toward others.

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
Mead relates the importance of various aspects of George Eliot's wonderful novel to various aspects of her own life in a book that is part literary criticism, part biography of Eliot, part memoir and wholly entertaining.

Literary Fiction

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Haruf's Plainsong introduced me to quiet, heartfelt midland fiction. Haruf, who died this year but finished one more novel, wrote here about the end of life of a good man who didn't always do the right thing.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
One of two books by Americans on this year's Man Booker list for the first time, Ferris's novel about a self-absorbed dentist is wild, wide-ranging and was a complete blast to read. Especially after I wondered if I was the right reader for it. A terrific book.
 
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The other Booker nominee is about Rosemary's family, including her very special sister Fern. What I thought at first was a gimmick is instead a marvelous way to talk about how families relate to each other, how people relate to each other and how people and animals relate to each other.
 
History of the Rain by Niall Williams
A dreary story of a dreary Irish family where the rain makes everything look dreary. Except that it is not dreary. Bedridden Ruthie Swain tries to find her father through stories and it is transporting. Another Booker nominee.
 
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Another reason for me to love Murakami and his translators. A young man traces what went wrong as a teenager with the friends who formed a tight circle, and what happened when they grew up. His work is wistful.

Most Grateful to Have Read:
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Pete Snow is a social worker in western Montana in the 1970s. He tries to help the son of a survivalist, Jeremiah Pearl, who sees the era as the start of the End Times and has hidden his family in the woods. At the same time, Pete's family has fallen apart -- his wife has left, taking their daughter. When the teenager runs away, Pete experiences the helplessness on he saw in the families he tries to help. Henderson knows the people, he knows the land and he has written a complex, thoughtful and devastatingly honest work.

Biggest Regret:
A long list of books not yet read and other online reviews and critiques not read or properly lauded.

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