This was actually a 'slower' year for me with books, in the sense that in years prior I've knocked out a larger chunk of the unread items filling my bookshelves. Granted, my wife and I had a daughter in April, and while having a child is a tremendous joy, an infant also greatly reduces both one's time to read and their brain capacity to do so.
Something else that made this year different was that I have finally come to a place as a person where I can put down a book that I'm not enjoying. I used to be one of those I MUST FINISH IT EVEN IF I HATE IT sort of people, partly because it drove me internally crazy to leave something unfinished, and partly because some small piece of my mind was holding out that 'maybe the book will get better before the end' (most of them did not). However, at the age of twenty-six, I suppose I have come to the conclusion that life is simply too short to read crappy books, and there are too many other great, amazing, wonderful books out there to spend my time on instead. So, I've started giving a book about fifty pages (sometimes more), and if it just isn't catching me, I'll move on.
A few false starts from this year were Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (what is this book? A crime novel? A comedy? Satire? It's all over the place! Apparently I'm too dense to 'get' it), Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show (intriguing and had some catching moments, but ultimately got to where it was dragging on and on), and Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which was excellent but it just wasn't the right time.
And now to the good stuff. Without further adieu, here are the books that hit me just right in 2014 (blue hyperlinks lead to my full reviews of each):
-Allie Brosh's hilarious web-comic/blog-turned-book Hyperbole and a Half. I heard Allie interviewed on NPR, checked out her site, and it was all downhill from there. One of only a few books in my entire life to make me laugh out loud.
-Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill. I'm a sucker for gritty, backwoods fiction, and that's Frank Bill's specialty. Found out about him by way of Donald Ray Pollock's work. This collection of stories is the literature equivalent of getting the shit kicked out of you on a dusty sideroad by a toothless, Meth-addled maniac. Hoping to get to his follow up novel, Donnybrook, very soon.
-Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Steinbeck's cross-country trek in a custom camper-trailer with his French Poodle, Charley. This was the book I was reading in the period when my daughter was born, so for that reason it will always hold some sentimental value, but it was also a quietly beautiful and very funny book. Steinbeck's observation and wit are sharp, and his writing conveys such a love for the average man and working class America. A perfect warm weather roadtrip book. There is speculation that much of it is fabricated or exaggerated, but who cares? He's Steinbeck, and his words are gold.
-Jim Henson: A Biography, by Brian Jay Jones. I picked this one up at the library on a whim and it ended up being one of my favorite books this year. It is both an excellent history of Henson and all of the various endeavors he undertook during his short life, as well as a surprisingly inspiring profile of one of the most talented creative thinkers of his generation. His process was fascinating, and the man was truly brilliant; a real innovator. Henson's accomplishments go far past The Muppets.
-20th Century Ghosts, a collection of spooky short stories by Joe Hill. All of these are good, some of them are great, and a few of them are genius. Some of the finest short-form work around.
-One Shot, Lee Child. Not my usual sort of thing, but this was unabashedly fun. Everybody needs a good mindlessly entertaining “beach read” once in a while.
-The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman. Delightful and imaginative. This reads like a way creepier Narnia story.
-Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King. The man has still got it.
-The Son, Phillipp Meyer. A multi-generational American epic. Hard to articulate just what a massive scope this book undertakes. Masterful storytelling. If you enjoyed the film There Will Be Blood and don't flinch at 700+ pages, this is probably up your alley.
-The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. A definitive novel in the hard-boiled crime genre, and a pitch-perfect little story. I kind of couldn’t believe how fun and snappy this was for being nearly 100 years old.
-Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (published as Vivan Apple at the End of the World in the US) and Fear Itself (short story), Katie Coyle. WHERE DID THIS WOMAN COME FROM AND WHAT WILL SHE DO NEXT. So good you'll be mad you didn't write it.
-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson. Because: Hunter S. Thompson.
-The Informers, Bret Easton Ellis. I'm a fan of Ellis' novels, but for some reason I was surprised by the strength of his shorter pieces. For some reason, I assumed that his style may not translate well to short form, but that wasn't the case. There is a vein of tragedy that runs through these stories. Satire so pointed it's painful. Didn't love all of them, but there are a few gems.
-The Dark Path, David Schickler. Again, not my normal sort of reading. Odd premise: a memoir of a devout Catholic who really wants to be a priest and realizes he can never be a priest. Clever prose and brutal honesty. A man who is deeply in love with God but has thoughts as dark as I do. I can dig that.
-Pet Sematary, Stephen King. Does this require comment? Gut-wrenching. Scarier (presumably) to read being a parent.
-McSweeney's 45: Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven. A collection of zany, chilling stories republished from old pulp horror and sci-fi magazines, as well as a few new stories by contemporary authors. McSweeney's is hit or miss for me, but this one was spot-on.
-By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain (short), Joe Hill
-Saga, Vol. 3, Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples
-Wraith 1-7 (graphic novel, companion story to the novel NOS4A2), Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
-Still Foolin' Em, Billy Crystal
-Born Standing Up, Steve Martin (second time I’ve read this one)
-The Killing Joke, Alan Moore
-The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
-Beautiful You, Chuck Palahniuk
-Revival, Stephen King
-Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn