Growing up, I was a voracious reader. What a surprise, right? Gee, a librarian who likes to read. But something happened to me between college and grad school where I lost that zeal to lose myself in a great book. That’s not to suggest that I didn’t read, but I didn’t read much for pleasure. I mostly read to better myself professionally and personally (be a better parent, learn French, learn a skill, etc.). In college, the classes I took were so reading-heavy — I have a horrible memory of being assigned to read all of Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit in one week — that I didn’t have time for pleasure-reading. I still read the occasional novel, but I mostly read things related to librarianship, technology, teaching, and higher education. As my free time became more precious and rare (especially after my son came into our lives), I think I forgot what pleasure reading meant to me and what it gave me.
Around a year and a half ago, I fell into a depression (at least that’s what it felt like… falling). It was a dark, horrible summer, but this was when I rediscovered reading, and reading was a big part of what kept me afloat. Books became for me that great friend who manages to push you out of your funk by getting your brain involved in something immersive and pleasurable. I started by reading or re-reading all of Jane Austen’s books and found that losing myself in the world of Regency Britain and hopeful plot-lines helped me stop ruminating and helped me sleep. I started getting books on my Kindle through Multnomah County’s expansive Overdrive collection (I keep a good-sized list of holds so there’s always something available I want to read), and retained my appetite for pleasure reading long after the darkness lifted.
2014 was the first full year (in a long time) in which I really savored reading for pleasure, though my reading tends to be relegated to after I’ve put Reed to bed or when I’m on airplanes. Here’s an approximate list of what I read this year for fun. I say it’s approximate because I’m pretty sure there are at least a few I’ve read through Overdrive that I’m not remembering because Overdrive is kind enough not to keep my checkout history and I don’t use anything like Goodreads to record my reading behavior. The ones in bold are those that I particularly loved (for various reasons) and didn’t want to put down. The ones with an asterisk were those I slogged my way through and wouldn’t recommend (in spite of the fact that one of them is a major award-winner… hey, we like what we like).
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
Not My Father’s Son – Alan Cumming
The Circle – Dave Eggers
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Makmy ing of The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes (such a sweet remembrance of a movie I love)
The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides (reminded me of college life at Wesleyan, but not as good as his other work)
*The Signature of all Things – Elizabeth Gilbert (started off great, but the second half was slow and plodding with an unsatisfying ending)
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
Problems with People: Stories – David Guterson (decidedly meh short story collection)
Mother, Daughter, Me: A Memoir – Katie Hafner
The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
The Tie that Binds – Kent Haruf (reread just after Haruf, my favorite author died)
Where You Once Belonged – Kent Haruf (ditto)
The Painter – Peter Heller (wowza, this man needs to write more books. I couldn’t put this down. I don’t usually like books about murder and violence, but this was really special)
The Dog Stars – Peter Heller (not as engrossing as The Painter, but it was extremely well-written and kicked off my post-apocalyptic reading streak)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver
Redeployment – Phil Klay (while it sent me to my computer Googling abbreviations every few minutes, it was a really special short story collection about war that felt very honest)
The Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (just as good as everyone said this collection was)
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri (a beautiful story about two brothers that started off wonderfully, which kept me going through the anticlimactic middle and end. Lahiri is an amazing writer, but this novel’s pacing was uneven.)
California – Edan Lepucki (a really good read, but it was my third post-apocalyptic story in a few months and I think I was burnt out on the genre)
Every Day – David Levithan
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandell (could not put this down; great plot and really well-drawn characters)
Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett (I can’t believe it took me so long to read this beautiful book. What a treasure! I didn’t want it to end.)
Truth and Beauty – Ann Patchett
State of Wonder – Ann Patchett
Landline – Rainbow Rowell (a nice break from the heavy stuff and a satisfying story. Definitely plan to read more of her stuff.)
*Joseph Anton – Salman Rushdie (wowza, all this book did was convince me that Rushdie is a total narcissist. Read it for three weeks and then gave up because of all the name-dropping and long descriptions of every minute detail of his life. Was actually very good for helping me fall asleep, so if you’re having trouble…)
Tenth of December – George Saunders
Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead (not great literature, but I really enjoyed the story and learning about the world of ballet of which I was completely ignorant)
*The Farm – Tom Rob Smith (such a great premise, but I ended up finding the characters, story and ending really unlikable)
The Vacationers – Emma Straub
*The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (I read this for a long time and for long stretches, but I just got to the point at which I didn’t want to follow the main character on his journey anymore — at the point where he reconnected with his friend from Vegas in New York. Very well-written, great beginning, and very well-drawn characters, but too slow and depressing. I might actually try to finish it at some point, because it really was well-written.)
I’ve been reading on a Kindle since I won one at a conference in 2010. I upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite last year and I have to say that I really don’t miss reading physical books at all. Every time I’ve moved since high school, it’s been heartbreaking to let go of some of my collection, so it feels nice not to be accumulating more physical stuff. And the convenience of the Overdrive/Kindle connection can’t be beat. I’d never use the system if I had to download an file and get it onto a device; I couldn’t even figure it out how to get it to work when I downloaded an audiobook once. And what’s great about using the Kindle format is that I can access the book I’m reading from the Kindle app on my iPad or iPhone if I’m ever stuck waiting somewhere without my e-reader. I know there are a lot of bad things about Amazon and Kindle, but the ridiculous convenience wins out for me.
What did you read this year that you absolutely loved? What would you recommend?
Image credit: Kindle Paperwhite by Frmorrison