Books I read in 2014
The ever-lovely Diana Kimball spurred me to create this, her blog makes the act of writing seem almost effortless (though I know it’s not). Hence this list — I’ve been a quiet fan of booklists for some time, especially since (like every other form of content) I am always questing for something new to read but tend to be dissatisfied with the classic (and not so classic) lists.
This year has been a very divergent one from the last few years — tackling work burnout, a transcontinental move, and assimilating to a new (and surprisingly alien) culture, my book choices have been much lighter and fiction / fantasy / series heavy than in the past. In previous more analogue years my reads would have consisted purely of non-fiction, but my book count would have been much lower. I believe now with the privacy of a Kindle I feel some of the freedom to read those guilty pleasures/pop culture sensations that I’d previously publicly express disdain for but privately wondered what all the fuss was about.
In the end the total came to 68 books. A lot of this feels like mental fluff — guilty pleasure binge-reading in the form of Young Adult and Paranormal Fiction novels. I’m sure Rick can help me come up with a more accurate and complex math for calculating how many YA novels equate to a real book (much like my graphic novels, which are contributing to this headcount as well).
Like Diana, after looking back on everything I’ve read this year, here are my favorites for the year:
The List, in chronological order:
- Mercy Thompson (No. 4-6) by Patricia Briggs — Finished over the last remnants of the New Year’s holiday spent at home, squirrelled away in my room and hiding from my activity-loving family. I’d started the series because I’d found it on my little sister’s bookshelf, who knew she had such great taste.
- The Name of the Wind (and it’s sequel, part of the Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss — I had not read an epic fantasy since high school and didn’t realise how much I’d missed it. Recommended by Brit.
“The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
- Kvothe, The Name of the Wind
“Everyone knows a man’s reputation except the man himself.”
- Sleat, The Wise Man’s Fear
- Mistborn: The Final Empire (No. 1-3) by Brandon Sanderson — Read during a sabbatical to the sound of ocean waves. Loved the toughness of the female lead. Enjoyed the new approach to magic (consumption of metal alloys which when ‘burned’ gave users different powers). Classic fantasy tropes — big bad guy to defeat, impossible odds, political intrigue.
“You’re like some strange mixture of a noblewoman, a street urchin, and a cat.” — Elend Venture, describing Vin, the female lead in The Hero of Ages
- The Alloy of Law (Mistborn No. 4) by Brandon Sanderson — A steampunk sequel to the Mistborn series.
- Tune (1 and 2) by Derek Kirk Kim — Graphic novel series where a boy struggling to get a job finally finds one — but it’s because aliens want to put him on display in an alien zoo. Now in space, he’s struggling to find a way home. There are days when I think this sounds appealing.
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman — Read because of incredibly positive reviews from Rick. Pulled in because it was sold as the grown-up version of Harry Potter. Turns out I don’t really like the grown-up version of anything.
“He was going to sign the papers and he was going to be a motherfucking magician. Or what the hell else was he going to do with his life?”
— A (great) mental dialogue sample from The Magicians
- Murder of Crows (No. 2 in ‘The Others’ series) by Anne Bishop — For some reason I am totally obsessed with the rulesets of fantasy series. This book has all of them, because Meg Corbyn lives in a compound with Vampires, Shapeshifters, Elementals, and Witches, all of whom she has to interact with just-so. Perfect for the obsessive and anxious person in me.
- Boxers and Saints (A 2-Part Series) by Gene Luen Yang — Purchased at The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA for half the price because it was mislabeled. A great east-meets-west clash of perspectives on the Boxer Rebellion. A reminder of how miscommunication repeatedly ruins everything.
- Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Janne Marie Laskas — I always worry, being a person who works in the tech/advertising/consulting industry, that I am losing touch with my blue collar roots. My parents still don’t know how to describe what I do to their friends. The best and most terrifying part describes how Air Traffic Controllers work, which seems stuck in the 1970's. I now know that my chances of surviving a plane landing are determined more by someone’s short term memory than my pilot.
“You know what time is for?” TooDogs asks me. “What it’s for?” I ask. “It’s to keep everything from happening all at once,” he says.
— Bits of the everyday wisdom in Hidden America
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker — A really great mixture of folklore set in the early 1900's in New York.
“The human body is like a piece of fabric. No matter how well one cares for it, it frays as it ages.”
— Rabbi Meyer, The Golem and the Jinni
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan — I keep missing the 24-hour bookclub reads when they happen, so I’ve been trying to keep up after the fact. Loved this mix of classic mystery (man stumbles into a curious bookstore) with modern technology (using hadoop to solve puzzles they encounter), and the dashes of cultism.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline — One of my runaway favorite books of the year. I keep describing it to friends as if ‘Oculus Rift meets Second Life’ with a dash of the Surrogates. In love with the Dystopian Future presented here, the elitist gamer culture, and the 80's references everywhere. There’s rumors of a movie. I’ll be first in line.
“Going outside is highly overrated.”
— Anorak’s Almanac, Ready Player One
- #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso — NastyGal has been one of my secret online shopping pleasures for a long time. Not only that, I had admired from afar Sophia’s HBIC vibe, incredibly successful, scalable business and overall attitude. This was a quick beachside read, with quotes galore. There’s some true hustle in action here.
“When you begin with the finish line in mind, you miss all the fun stuff along the way. The better approach is to tweak and grow, tweak and grow. I call it the incremental potential.”
— Sophia Amoruso, #GIRLBOSS
- Moon Living Abroad in London by Karen White — Self explanatory. When you get a job offer in London in March and don’t get to move there until July, there’s a lot of time spent figuring out the details. I learned that the UK is a rabies-free country from this book.
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner — I honestly don’t know how this was made into a movie.
- Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich — Recommended by the staff at my favorite bookstore in Venice Beach (cat included). Loved the concept of following the guy who does all of the accounting and figures for predicting disasters, didn’t love the execution.
“The eyes had the cocky look of inherited fortune and disinherited ambition.”
—Mitchell Zukor, Odds Against Tomorrow
- The Richest Man in Babylon: Six Laws of Wealth by Charles Conrad — As my partner and I start to build and plan a life together, this felt appropriate and necessary. For the first time in my life I’m not only sharing expenses but also actively saving money. Highly recommended to anyone as a good personal finance 101 book (that doesn’t read like one).
- Blood and Beauty: The Borgia’s by Sarah Dunant — Normally I love this author and her historical fiction, but this read like a list of events.
“Every woman who walks through the world knows there are two roads: a wide, triumphal route for the men, and a second mean little alley for women. Freedom is so much men’s due that even to draw attention to it is to make them angry.”
— Lucrezia Borgia, OG Feminist in Blood and Beauty
- Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder — Purchased because of an Invention Offsite and used as a template for pretty much any workshop with external clients.
- The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Stavely — Surprisingly recommended by a Buzzfeed list of recommended fantasy reads and a great start to a series. Typically I prefer to read completed series, so now I feel a bit disjointed about it.
“A packed mind resisted new impressions; it tended to force itself onto the surrounding world, rather than filling itself with that world.”
- Brother Heng, The Emperor’s Blades
- Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte — There was no way of escaping this book, pretty much every major publication did a review of it and given that I now had an elevated heart rate due to overwork, this was just the read I needed to feel somewhat justified and/or more sane.
“The Greeks called that kind of time kairos. When we live by the clock, the Greeks said, we are bound by chronos time. This is the time that races, marches, creeps, and flies. It is the life that T. S. Eliot measured out in coffee spoons and the thirty hours of leisure that John Robinson tallies on his spreadsheets. But kairos is the time of the “right moment,” the eternal now, when time is not a number on a dial but the enormity of the experience inside it.”
- Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed
- Wool Omnibus (No. 1–5) by Hugh Howey — I was looking for something to read and found this via my friend Sharon. Great postapocalyptic story about people living in a missle silo underground. The trilogy delivers on the why and how of it, but the first book was the most standout in the introduction of the world. This was one of my first experiences with a self-published Kindle author, and I really enjoy the way they react with and respond to fans.
- A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy No. 1–3) by Deborah Harkness — One of those ‘guilty pleasure’ reads where the lead character is a historian who studies in the Oxford Library AND a witch, how could I resist?
- Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World by Peggy Orenstein — I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be a woman in the world, these interview-centric approaches make me most comfortable because I can magpie what I relate to and file it away for future reference.
‘Mom, Dad, if you just wanted me to get married, why did you raise me to be so excellent, why did you let me have the freedoms that put me in an intellectual class where I won’t want to be just a wife?’
- I don’t know who said this, but I want to be her friend (Excerpt from Flux)
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — I saw the trailer for this and on a bit of a whim, decided to pick up the book. The first time in a long time that I’ve read anything resembling modern or popular fiction. I found it a super fun read.
- The Land of Painted Caves (Earth’s Children No. 6) by Jean M. Auel — I’d adored this series as a grungy teenager, flopped on the couch and imagining a simpler, prehistoric age. This book was 15 years late, and not nearly as good as I’d hoped.
- Fifty Shades of Grey (No. 1-3) by E.L James — My mom, of all people, hosted a book club event about this. I figured I should be in the know. Three books worth of in the know.
- Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis — Clearly I had to purge my brain of the previous four books, so I decided to intellectually redeem myself. Most of this was actually on audiotape, and I have to say nothing is quite as satisfying as hearing an audiobook narrator say ‘fucking’ with gusto.
- Throne of Glass (No. 1–3, plus the collected novellas) by Sarah J. Maas — Definitely filed under ‘guilty pleasures’, what teenage heroine at heart can resist an assassin-fighting-for-freedom-from-a-psychotic-warlord story? Clearly I’m in need of a new Game of Thrones book to be released.
- The Riyria Revelations (No. 1–6) by Michael J. Sullivan — Another dive into the world of the self-published superstars. Two male protagonists that I actually enjoyed.
- Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland — Trying to understand the difference between the 1% and the .01%, and how that affects me.
“Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition — and, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who haven’t succeeded quite so spectacularly.”
“A man is likely to earn less after he is fifty years old than before he is thirty.”
- Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
- Midnight Riot by Peter Grant — I started reading this because I was moving to London and figured it would help me get to know the lay of the land better. While I like the idea of a paranormal London procedural, I don’t yet know enough cultural references to fully understand what’s happening.
- The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon — London-based, and a lead character who has a combination of OCD and crazy-girl thoughts, what’s not to love? I enjoyed it so much I built a Spotify playlist based on a mixtape featured in the book.
- Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham — It’s easy to hate on Lena Dunham, but she is an incredible writer.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain — Mostly read to reassure myself that not eating lunch with my coworkers every day didn’t make me a failure. And that my tendencies to want to read alone in my bedroom were also normal.
“Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.”
- Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
- In Real Life by Cory Doctorow — Loved because it’s got not just gamer girls, but some world/techno-economic theory thrown in as well. Also, the art by Jen Wang is gorgeous.
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson — One of those ‘must reads’ that I finally got around to.
“Interesting things happen along borders — transitions — not in the middle where everything is the same.” — Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss —This felt completely separate from the series he’s currently working on (The Kingkiller Chronicle), but it was still some beautifully written work.
“This story is for all the slightly broken people out there. I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.”
- Patrick Rothfuss, in the Introduction to The Slow Regard of Silent Things
- Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy No. 1-2) by Jeff Vandermeer — Read because it was recommended by Bud, and I surprisingly couldn’t bring myself to finish the series. I think it’s because I struggle with ambiguity, and this sci-fi series had it in spades.
“A circle looks at a square and sees a badly made circle.”
- Jeff Vandermeer, Authority
- An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley — I am a massive fan of Knisley ever since I picked up a copy of Relish. A superb illustrator, her recordings of her travel across Europe in her mid-twenties particularly resonated with me and where I am today.
- Magic Bites (Kate Daniels Series No. 1–7, including 1 Novella) by Ilona Andrews — Recommended by Felicia Day. I thought I’d gotten all of the Paranormal fiction out of my system, as it turns out I was wrong.
- Endsinger (The Lotus War No. 3) by Jay Kristoff — Japanese Folklore meets steampunk, anyone?
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed — Making me want to hike more, even though the prospect is pretty terrifying. Not sure if I like or dislike the included Oprah quote selections on the Kindle version.
Number of books bought and started this year, but not finished: 16