Recommended books: Christmas 2014

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Looking for some book suggestions in time for Christmas? Here’s my roundup based on my reading so far this year. 

My habit is to post for you the names of  all the books I’ve read, twice a year. Last July, I told you about the 25 titles I’d read by that point. Here is a description of the 27 other books I’ve enjoyed in the remainder of my reading year. Yes, I really do read at least a book a week. 

I name the books I really liked in the “recommended” parts of the list. Books I didn’t enjoy (remember: reading is personal) I’ve placed in the “other” list. Please note I don’t generally read mystery/thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes just don’t run in those directions. 

RECOMMENDED FICTION in order of preference 

  1. Baker, Nicholson. The Mezzanine. Warning: this absolutely brilliant book has no plot. It’s the story of a man buying a pair of shoelaces. Still, I found it completely compelling. Easily my favourite book of the year, even though it’s a slow read.
  2. Koyczan, Shane. Stickboy. This book was the basis for a riveting opera — about bullying — that recently had its world premiere in Vancouver. Bleak but utterly fantastic images and writing. Koyczan is famous for his poem for the 2010 winter Olypmics.
  3. Li, Yiyun. Kinder Than Solitude. Interesting story set in China with four friends reflecting on their youthful relationships. That one of the friends was killed by another (and you’re not sure which, until the end) provides the tension.
  4. Moore, Lorrie. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Pretty good coming-of -age story of a teenage girl, small-town America, 1970s. The writing is a bit self-consciously “literary” so it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
  5. McEwan, Ian. The Children Act. The story of a 17-year-old Jehovah Witness refusing life-saving treatment and the judge who rules on his case. While the plot left me cold, McEwan’s always-excellent writing moved me.
  6. Welty, Eudora. The Optimist’s Daughter. Surprisingly old-fashioned story — about a woman whose father dies — with some very fine writing. Book won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
  7. Trevor, William. Felicia’s Journey. Chilling novel about a serial killer. Would love to see what Alfred Hitchcock would have done with this interesting, creepy tale.
  8. Waters, Sarah. The Paying Guests. A psychological drama set in post World War II London. Not as gripping as Water’s earlier novel, Fingersmith.
  9. Pullinger, Kate. Landing Gear. Interestingly written rich tapestry of stories from members of an English family and an outsider who joins them via a literal fall from the sky.
  10. Renzetti, By Elizabeth. Based on a True Story. Here’s what happens when an insecure American tabloid journalist meets a drunken English actress. Well written and quite fun.
  11. Lerner, Ben. Leaving the Atocha Station. Story about a self-centred post-grad student doing a year abroad in Spain. The author’s description of the main character’s inability to understand Spanish is hilarious.
  12. Jansson, Tove. Moominland Midwinter. An odd but rather charming children’s book about life, troubles, differing personalities and surreal events. Very Scandinavian.
  13. Ferris, Joshua. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Brilliant writing at the service of an overly complicated and mediocre plot about a Manhattan dentist.
  14. King, Lily. Euphoria. The beginning of this fictional story — loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead — is hard slogging. But once you sort out all the characters, the book becomes rather engaging.
  15. McEwan, Ian. Black Dogs. Set in late 1980s Europe the novel explores the difference between intellect and feeling, in a post-war romance seen through the eyes of a son-in-law.
  16. Rachman, Tom. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Novel about a bookseller who travels the world trying to make sense of her own childhood. Good. But not as superb as The Imperfectionists, which I’d loved.
  17. Hiaasen, Carl. Tourist Season. Very predictable in spots but it’s a well written book that provides many laughs. Would be a great (warm weather) holiday read.
  18. Holden, Richard. La Belle Residence. Lovely collection of short stories in a genre the author calls seniors’ lit.
  19. Boyd, William. Brazzaville Beach. The story of a British primate-researcher who relocates to war-torn Africa. 

Other fiction:

  1. Picoult, Jodi. Sing You Home.
  2. Foreman, Gayle. If I Stay.

RECOMMENDED NON-FICTION in order of preference

  1. Rose, Phyllis. The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading. Really enjoyed this fantastic book in which the author picks a shelf at a New York Public Library and reads the whole damn thing.
  2. Davis, Francis. Afterglow: A last conversation with Pauline Kael. Made me want to see more movies right now. Has some really excellent suggestions for doing so.
  3. Raffel, Dawn. The Secret Life of Objects. Unevenly written but some interesting meditations on the “things” that make up a life.
  4. Ephron, Delia. Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog: Etc. Funny but it’s too bad Delia doesn’t have the writing chops her late sister, Nora, did. 

Other non-fiction:

  1. Weissman, Susan. Feeding Eden.
  2. Newton, Judith. Tasting Home. 

(Thanks to my friends Hester, Colleen and Eve for some of the reading suggestions.)

What are the best books you’ve read this year? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me, below. If you comment by November 30, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a no-charge copy of the non-fiction book, Blog Inc by Joy Deangdeelert Cho. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.

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