I’m not doing an eclectic “best of” this year because my reading patterns are changing.
I’m finding that instead of reading more widely, I’m reading more deeply – picking a theme and staying with it for 1,2,3 or even more books. It’s a pattern likely to continue throughout 2015.
As will most likely my picking of reading material associated with travelling. I did a lot of that during 2014: holidays, weekends and days away, attendance at literary festivals and ad-hoc events. It didn’t seem to rain as much in Scotland this year. (Long may that continue.) Loved it all and hope for more of the same next year. Less reading time converted into 15 books/5000 pages fewer than last year though surprisingly I wrote the same amount of blog posts. (93 to last year’s 91). I’ve enjoyed 2014 in ways other than having my nose stuck in a book (gasp!) and the following list of favourites are inevitably associated with some of that. They haven’t been picked solely on the basis of their literary merit.
That said, I’ll start with my favourite (and best, in every sense of the word ) book of the year.
For the second year in a row, I’ve found my Book of The Year during German Literature Month. Though this one is neither written in German, nor is it literature, but Neil McGregor’s Germany: Memories of A Nation is a work of genius. Not just for Germanophiles, but more than likely to be. It just pipped Rory McLean’s Berlin: Imagine A City, which I read while there, into second place. McLean’s book sparked a reading project to follow Berlin through the ages via fiction. That turned out to be a great idea. The first novel I picked up in this project, Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, just happens to be my Novel of The Year. Staying in Berlin a little while longer, Ben Fergusson’s The Spring of Kasper Meier, set amidst the devastion of Berlin in 1946, conjured the best evocation of place.
A cracking debut novel it is too, yet not my debut of the year. That rosette is embossed with Sarah Maine’s Bhalla Strand, a Victorian saga and another novel I picked up to coincide with my travels, this time to the Hebrides. I was superglued to its pages.
Now that we’re in Scotland, one of my highlights of the year was participating in the Read Scotland challenge. (The only one I completed as it turned out.) Although intending to continue reading one Scottish book a month through 2015, not many of the 15 Scottish novels I read in 2014 make it to this list. It appears that the Read Scotland Challenge was an accumulative pleasure. I will mention Lin Anderson’s crime novel Pictures of the Dead, set in the derelict cinemas in Glasgow though. Hands down, best first chapter and my favourite crime novel of my year.
The other Scottish call-out goes to R L Stevenson, whose A Child’s Garden of Verses charmed the socks off me …. and added him to my completist reading list.
Elena Ferrante was also added to that list; My Brillant Friend, as brilliant as everyone says it is. Novels 2 and 3 not hitting the same heights. Addictive nonetheless and I’m looking forward to the final volume of the quartet in 2015 (hopefully).
While supporting #readwomen2014, I concentrated on the ladies on my completist list. My favourite from this selection was Margaret Atwood’s short story anthology Stone Mattress, which I didn’t review in full because Victoria did such a splendiferous job on Shiny New Books (winner of my best newcomer award. 🙂 ). I was relieved to see Atwood back on top form as Maddaddam was a DNF earlier in the year. Stone Mattress is currently longlisted for the Folio Prize as is Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf In Manhattan, the most imaginative homage I’ve read to date.
Each year I have a standard goal to read 33% in translations. Last year, thanks mainly to the Simenon reissues and German Literature Month I’m just over 50%. Yet only 2 of the books mentioned so far are translations (which is rather telling). So let me give Yogo Ogawa’s short-story collection Revenge an honourable mention as it was in the running for both Favourite Translated Fiction (edged out by Baum) and Favourite Short Story Collection (edged out by Atwood).
Finally, the book that was most fun was built on the idiosyncrasies of German compound nouns and written by a non-German speaker. Schottenfreude, was exactly that, a joy from start to finish and the most beautifully designed to boot.
For the purists
5-star reads of 2014 (7/86)
Stone Mattress: Margaret Atwood, Grand Hotel – Vicki Baum, The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer, The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey, The Boat – Nam Le, Germany: Memories of A Nation – Neil McGregor, Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition – Ben Schott.
4.5 star reads of 2014 (2/86)
Schroder – Amity Gaige, Revenge – Yogo Ogawa
For the statisticians
Male:female reading list ratio 43:42 (1 mixed anthology)
Male:female favourites ratio 5:7
Fiction:non-fiction reading list ratio 76:10
Fiction:non-fiction favourites ratio 9:3
Anglophone:translated fiction reading list ratio (includes poetry) 35:37
Anglophone:translated fiction favourites ratio (includes poetry) 6:3
Published 2014: published pre-2014 ratio 40:46
Published 2014: published pre-2014 favourites ratio 6:6
New-to-me:Previously read authors reading list ratio 43:27
New-to-me:previously read authors favourites ratio 9:3
Review copy:Purchase:Library Book Ratio 40:42:4