Great Reads 2014

by stefaniebrooktrout

Inspired by the lovely blog Pints And Cupcakes, I wanted to look back at the books I read in 2014 and call out a few of my favorites. P&C‘s Chloe Clark listed her top 15, but I’m just going to pick five because I don’t think I read nearly as many books as she did in 2014.

To be clear, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2014. Only a few of them were actually published in 2014.

  1. TTTCThe Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I know what you’re thinking. “This is the first time you’re reading this?” The answer is yes, and it shames me to say as much. First published in 1990, TTTC is one of the finest works of fiction I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading my words right now and get on it. I promise this post will still be here when you get back.
  2. CTTAHYOPColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I love Murakami, and I try to read at least one of his books each year, though I’ll have to read more than that if I’m ever going to keep pace with his new work while getting caught up on some of his older stuff. I’ve encountered several negative reviews of CTTAHYOP (published in 2014), but they were mostly from people who are either just starting to read Murakami or else have tried him before and didn’t like it but maybe wanted to so were trying him again. So I strongly recommend it to Murakami fans, but I realize it’s not for everyone.
  3. HTBAWHow to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I’d been wanting to read this one since I first heard Caitlin Moran on NPR in 2012. I actually surprised myself when HTBAW ended up the only nonfiction book that rose to the Top Five. I’m working on a novel for my thesis, so I guess I’ve been in fiction mode lately. But let’s not let that diminish how much I enjoyed reading Moran’s 2011 memoir. I read some great nonfiction books this year, but I devoured this one.
  4. PushcartThe Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses 2014 Edition – Edited by Bill Henderson. (Here’s my short Goodreads review, where I rank my favorite pieces in each genre.) The quality of the nonfiction alone got this book on my Top Five list. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of good fiction and poetry here too. But the nonfiction seemed of another class entirely. It inspired me to step my own essay-writing game up considerably.
  5. PGPrairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland – Edited by Lance M. Sacknoff, Xavier Cavazos, and me, Stefanie Brook Trout. So I know it’s tacky to list your own book – I’d say it’s an unwritten rule, but I’m sure it is in fact written somewhere – and yet I’m going to do it anyway because as hard as I worked on this thing, I can’t take credit for the quality of writing our contributors brought to the table. I’ve read this book more times than I’ve read any other text, and it never fails to fill me with joy, pride, and excitement. (More about Prairie Gold on the publisher’s website.)

Several wonderful books almost made the Top Five, but these were the ones that made me feel the most.

I’m looking forward to doing this again next year, maybe even with a longer list, though for the first time in several years I won’t be setting an annual goal.

Tangent about Annual Reading Goals

I love Goodreads – absolutely adore it – and I’ve participated in their annual reading challenge since 2011. It’s a fun way to hold myself accountable for spending as much time reading as I both should and want to without making it feel like work. It’s always so much easier to find a new show to binge watch on Netflix, but you have to rein that in somehow.

Inevitably, at the end of the year, I was always scrambling to get my hands on shorter reads – novellas, poetry collections, graphic novels, chapbooks, you get the idea – or else finishing books I’ve partially read for some reason or another in order to meet my goal, which is fine because that stuff is good to read too, but this past year I really didn’t want to do that again. I just didn’t feel like it, and I’m a strong believer in doing what you feel like when it comes to reading.

I wonder if there isn’t another way to do a reading challenge that goes beyond books. I love books – I really can’t overstate that enough. But this year, I’ve been trying to read more literary journals, magazines, news, blogs, etc., and I’ve also been doing a lot of editing – reading other people’s work over and over again (and I guess reading my own work over and over again as well) – and this type of reading matters too, even though I can’t log it into my Goodreads.

My older sister, who is a middle school teacher and uses this strategy with her students, suggested (several years ago, in fact, when I first mentioned my impulse to read shorter novels rather than undertake weighty tomes because of the impending Goodreads deadline) that I go by a page count goal instead, which is a smart and perfectly reasonable suggestion, but I don’t want to have to add tally marks to a scrap of paper every time I read something. (Is there an app for this? Or can someone please develop one? Thanks!)

Maybe I’ll set a 2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge in a few months, but for now my goal for 2015 is simply to read a lot and not just books.

Speaking of Goodreads

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