I’ve only got 20 books on my long list this year. Yesterday, when I compiled this list I began thinking I didn’t really read that many great books this year. However, as I kept hitting that “older posts” button, I found quite a few. One reason why it’s a great idea to review everything you read, even if it’s just a few quick paragraphs.
So, here is my long list in alphabetical order.
- Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish – Probably the strangest book I read this year. Each chapter uses only words beginning with certain letters of the alphabet, starting with ‘a’ then adding one letter until all of the alphabet is in play. Then removing one letter each chapter until the final chapter which uses only words starting with ‘a’ again. I really loved it. Mr. Abish manages to tell a pretty good story using this strategy. The strategy itself makes a profound point as well.
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – I have not finished this yet, but I swear I will get it done before the midnight deadline for 2014.
- Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly – Nellie Bly was one of my personal discoveries this year. The 19th century journalist writes like a blogger, but she certainly has some adventures. In this one, she becomes the first real life person to break Phileas Fogg’s record of 80 days.
- Ask the Dust by John Fante – If the books here at James Reads Books were a church, John Fante would be our new prophet. I loved this book. It’s a cry from the darkness featuring an author in love with words. Where have you been all my life, Mr. Fante?
- California by Kevin Starr – I’ve been reading lots of books about California this year with the goal of becoming an expert in local history. This one was one of my favorites. An easy, entertaining and very informative read.
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – Murakami back in form again at last. This book stayed with me. It’s a deceptively simple story that reaches profound territory without the reader really noticing it.
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind by Chuck Barris – I just read this one on something of a lark, and was surprised by how good it was, how intelligent Mr. Barris turns out to be and by how much I loved, loved, loved it.
- Five Fires by David Wyatt -Another book about California, specifically about race in California. This one uses the literature and artwork produced in California to present an historical analysis of the state. But don’t let that fool you; it’s also highly readable.
- The Judges of the Secret Court by David Stacton – It’s rare for me to find a piece of historical fiction that I love but Mr. Stacton’s account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln works well as a novel without becoming too fanciful as so much historical fiction does. I feel confident that he has the history right here.
- The Last Policeman by Ben Winters – This is not a great piece of literature, but I really enjoyed reading about the one policeman still investigating cases after everyone realizes the world will end in three months when an asteroid strikes. It was fun.
- More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon – One of the rereads on this years list. A classic piece of science fiction that looks at what humanity might become as evolution continues to change and ‘improve’ us.
- Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny – I just discovered this cult series of science fiction/fantasy novels. Mr. Zelazny is a very good writer working in what was not an appreciated genre in his day. I think he deserves a much wider readership than he currently has.
- The Nose by Nicoli Gogol – A man wakes up to find his nose missing. He soon discovers that his nose is living his life better than he himself had been doing. 19th century Russian humor at its best.
- Other Voices Other Rooms by Truman Capote – I read this in tandem with To Kill a Mockingbird as Mr. Capote and Ms. Lee grew up together and refer to each other in their work. This one deals with Mr. Capote’s childhood which, while magical in its way, was far from the idyllic small town childhood Ms. Lee presents in To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon – Penguin you shall feel my wrath one day. I planned on reading all (about 80) Inspector Maigret novels since Penguin began releasing them one per month promising to publish them all over the next five years. They published five, I think, then stopped with no announced plans to continue the series. Bad flightless bird!!!!
- The Shining by Stephen King – Another re-read. I’m always impressed by how fine the writing is in the early Stephen King books before his plots spiralled out of control. This one is a tightly written account of madness, alcoholism and how each affects the family. I was impressed by how much I admired it.
- The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant – Take A Confederacy of Dunces and set in a Lower East Side Manhattan tenement building and you’ll have The Tenants of Moonbloom.
- Ten Days in the Madhouse by Nellie Bly – Nellie Bly makes my long list twice this year. Of the two books here, I’d say this is the one to read if you only read one book by Nellie Bly. She’s available on Kindle at a reasonable price.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – While overall, I was a bit disappointed by To Kill a Mockingbird this time around, it’s still a wonderful book. It may turn out to be THE American Novel of the 20th century.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen J. Fowler – As an experiment in animal behavior a family raises a chimpanzee alongside their two children. This was probably the best read I had all year. I was compelled to stay up way, way past my bedtime reading.
I already see some titles that won’t make it to my final list. The criteria I use is not really based on literary merit much. Since I’m looking for favorite reads, I’m looking for books that I might read again some time. While To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is a great book, maybe the best one on this list, I’m not going to read it again. I’ve read it many times, but I think this time was the last one. That’s the reason why I didn’t put Our Mutual Friend on the long list. It’s terrific, I enjoyed it, but I know that I’m not going to read it again.
So Nellie Bly won’t make the final cut, nor will Stephen King. I’ve read The Shining three or four times which is enough.
I’ll publish my final list towards the end of the year. Here’s hoping I finish Angle of Repose in time.