As the very happy recipient of a Kindle for my birthday last year, 2014 became one of my most productive reading years ever. This list doesn’t include books that I’ve slogged through and given up on, and also doesn’t include a variety of “how to organise your life, stop procrastination and get things done” books.
1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Some of the most gripping accounts of war are written from the perspective of children. I remember being profoundly affected by reading Zlata’s Diary when I was young, and although this is a fictional account of the second world war in a small German town, the characters are so vivid and well-written that you are easily immersed in their world. Which is what fiction ought to do.
If you want a more historical account of events, look somewhere else. This novel is not about the war – it’s about people, friendship, community and loss.
I made the mistake of reading the second half of the book on a train. I don’t know anyone who has read this and not cried buckets. Give yourself an afternoon by yourself to cry your eyes out. Don’t read it in public.
2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This is a difficult book to talk about as it contains a plot twist early on in the story, which I will not reveal as I found it quite unexpected and rather wonderful. Essentially, it’s a book about family and relationships, even the unconventional sorts. The protagonist is simultaneously rather unlikeable but also charismatic, and her description of having a secret, having a family unlike any other is of course relatable… until you get to the plot twist. Then you realise that, actually her family really was unlike any other.
Yeah, basically impossible to talk about this one without ruining it. Read it.
3. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
Hitler wakes up in 2011 Berlin. He becomes a YouTube sensation.
That’s really all you need to know about this book. I found it laugh-out-loud funny in parts and I’m not usually one to chuckle through my books.
Read it if you’re interested in how modern Germany would react to Hitler, or if you like sharp satires on the media. Some of the references might be a bit confusing if you don’t know much about Germany (or Hitler), but there is a section explaining all of them.
4. Sane New World: Taming The Mind by Ruby Wax
Ruby Wax is a comedian turned mental health activist, who has had some very public struggles with depression. In 2013 she completed a Master’s degree from Oxford University in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, so this is far from another sleb book.
This book is a very practical guide to mindfulness, written in an honest, funny and sensitive way. Some mindfulness books can focus on one sort of meditation to the point where you feel like you are doing it wrong, failing, or not good enough. The approaches outlined in this book are no-nonsense, varied, and do not excessively focus on your breathing (which can be a trigger for some who have had panic attacks).
Wax’s writing style is humorous, self-deprecating, but above all incredibly warm, understanding and knowledgeable. One of the best self-help books I’ve read – if you could really call it a “self-help” book.
5. How to be a Heroine: Or what I’ve learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis
This book is utterly charming: part-memoir about an Iraqi-Jewish playwright growing up in London, part-nostalgic recap of the best heroines of (mostly) British and American literature. Her love of reading is so infectious, and looking back on childhood favourites from an adult’s perspective is a weird but wonderful exercise. If you love the classics, you’ll love this.
6. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This one took me a while to get into but it’s well worth it. It’s translated from the Swedish, and the writing style doesn’t flow in quite the same way it would in English, but eventually you get used to it and the humour gets through.
It’s about a man who, on his 100th birthday, decides to leave his care home and climbs out the window while they are preparing his birthday festivities. The book follows his rather slapstick adventures from there, interspersed with many flashbacks about his life. Which it turns out was rather full and interesting.
It reminded me a little of Forrest Gump, with a smarter protagonist, and Allan’s life is very cleverly woven in with historical events. As an explosives expert, he is in high demand throughout the twentieth century, and while the plot gets ridiculous at points (I’m talking about the elephant, mostly), it’s really a wonderful read.
Other 2014 reads:
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I read this because the film got rave reviews and in general I like to try and read the book before I see the film. I found this one a drag, to be honest. It’s an account of recovery from mental illness, and reintegration into society, which should be a fascinating topic to write about but I found little to relate to in this book. The bro sports stuff bored me to the extent I can’t even remember which sport they were supporting (baseball? football?) and to be honest it didn’t seem like there was much to like about any of the characters. I would have guessed that maybe that was the point if it weren’t for all the rave reviews online.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
I was curious to read the books which the TV series were based on. What can I say, the TV show stayed quite true to the books, at least this first one. I didn’t bother with the rest of the books as I felt they didn’t add much – plus, Michael C Hall’s portrayal of Dexter is so wonderful that I think I’d really rather watch the series.
The Psychology of Dexter by Leah Wilson
As a psychology nerd, I was curious as to how much of the characters portrayed on TV were based on real accounts of psychopaths. This is a collection of essays on the topic of Dexter and psychopathy, some of which are much better than others. Definitely a book to dip in and out of.
Bumpology by Linda Geddes
A no-nonsense guide to what scientific research says about all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. From what I’ve heard, pregnancy is when total strangers give you unsolicited advice about your life, your health and your child, and I hope that when the time comes for me I’ll be able to bitchslap them with science. Or if I’m too tired, I’m sure I could hit them with my Kindle.
The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood
For days when you want the ground to swallow you up, take heart in the fact that there is really no “you” to swallow up in the first place, more like a collection of everything you have ever experienced – internally and externally – processed by your brain into a coherent narrative. It’s not a book you can breeze through but the information is presented in a way that’s accessible to non-psychologists as well.