It’s a nice game to try to make order out of the rolling chaos of life by counting things, like how many minutes spent on the treadmill this morning (33) or how many cookies I had after lunch (2) or how many siblings I have (2, also). This gives the impression that life can be put away neatly, like laundry — but life isn’t folded sweatpants and all your tank tops hung up on those narrow, velvet hangers they sell at the Container Store. Life is all your clothes in piles all over the floor, and sometimes the pieces of clothing get up and move to a different pile at night when you’re asleep, and sometimes some of the piles start to mold.
Anyway, here’s what I read this year, as of this writing:
36 total books
20 written by women
(16 written by men)
(0 written by authors who do not identify as either female or male)
7 books that could be found on the Young Adult Fiction shelves
5 books that could be found on the Supernatural Young Adult Fiction shelf
3 non-fiction books (really firmly non-fiction, like about topics as much as about the self)
3 books of poetry
5 audiobooksThe numbers are comforting even though 36 isn’t a very big one; in 2013 I read something like 50 books. But in 2013 a weirdo breakup made a mess of my psyche and in 2014 I went to a lot of pool parties and let summer stretch to six months long. This year, I didn’t need to devour books, searching for knowledge or passion or understanding. I let books spread out lazily, let the language on the page melt and drip slowly into me, through my fingers I guess or sometimes my ears (only 1 audiobook in 2013). I gave four whole weeks to Women in Clothes.
Here’s the best of what I read:
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
This is Flynn’s first novel and understandably her least polished, and I guessed the twist about fifty pages before it happened. But it unfolded with the same creepiness as a Dario Argento move, and I love a Crazy Mom (I saw the movie Ouija and actually clapped with glee when a little girl ghost said ominously, “Run! Mother’s coming!”). I like my beach reads to have at least one death in them, so this was a perfect fit for my annual wintertime family vacation to the tropics where we do nothing but drink wine and read books.
California, by Edan Lepucki
Many people I know read this book this year, and I got the chance to talk about it often and hear it unpacked from many different perspectives. Lepucki’s story about a couple who lie to each other a lot and who are also living in a post-apocalypse world sparked widely different responses from the readers
I know. I hated Cal (and loved hating him) but I know many more people who didn’t care for Frida. Lepucki’s skilled rendering of these characters made them so real, and I cherished talking about them the way I’d gossip about a mutual friend.
E! Entertainment, by Kate Durbin
This is one of two books I read this year that, while I was reading it, I had the feeling that the book was written for me.* Durbin built E! Entertainment out of transcriptions of reality television shows, scenes or full episodes. Some of the transcriptions held up a stark mirror in front of my face; some transcriptions held up a warped mirror. Some of them veered into horror, some dabbled in a little sci-fi. In every chapter, I felt sharply the blurred boundary between real and fake — though maybe that boundary doesn’t exist at all.
Titanic, by Cecilia Corrigan
I’m still trying to figure out how an abstract-ish book length poem, which is kind of about a girl falling in love with Alan Turing if he was a computer, could point out all the raw nerves left over from that breakup I mentioned, and try to wrap them in a blanket and feed them chicken soup. I’m not saying this book made me better, but in its own way, it tried.
Dare Me, by Megan Abbott
This is one of those YAs, but it had the most energy and charisma of any book I’ve read this year. Abbott is a master of putting the reader into the body of a character — something that is incredibly hard to do well, and yet she does it seamlessly, even perfectly. This book is, I guess, about a teenage cheerleader and her relationship with her coach and her best friend, but really, it’s about what it is to be inside a body.
Cassandra at the Wedding, by Dorothy Baker
I just finished reading this one, so I don’t have a lot of distance. Is this something I’d consider the best of the best, or am I just high on the shock of seeing a more extreme version of my own mind so well captured? I’m not sure yet, but either way this book deserves to be on this list based on the virtues of the third section in the first part, which devotes itself to the best description of a bad hangover (both physical and emotional) that I’ve ever read.
Here’s the worst of what I read:
Insurgent (Divergent #2), by Veronica Roth
Without all the slightly cool world building to buoy it like the first one (Divergent), all I was left with was a character I didn’t like and a writing style that grated on my very last never (every time what’s-her-name had an emotion, she felt it in her chest and then pushed it down). I’m not sure how I made it to the end.
*The other is The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes, which I would recommend to anyone who really wanted to like Night Film but kinda didn’t.