It’s been quite a year, in many ways, but one good way was the amount of reading I was able to do. Varied, both in subject matter, style and skill, with a good smattering of new authors, old favourites and the long-overlooked. I love year-end lists. I’ve always been a sucker for “Best of’s”. But looking back at a year through the books you’ve read is something special, I think. See what you think. I’m sure you’ll find some books here worth putting on your 2014 to be read pile. (NB: I have not included poetry books or short story collections here, of which I read very many. Maybe those  should have lists of their own.)
In chronological order:
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. Marvellous. The voice! The changing narrators!
Trumpet, by Jackie KayFascinating novel of a woman who lives her life as a man. Kay’s poetry is evident in her style.
Benediction, by Kent Haruf. Probably my book of the year, which I wrote about here.
A Woman of Angkor, by John Burgess. Wonderful, incredibly realistic envisioning of the building of Angkor Wat. An example of really great historical fiction.
Temple of 1000 Faces, by John Shors. More simply written than Burgess’, but an excellent story of Angkor times, with beautifully drawn characters.
Coconuts and Wonderbras, by Lynda Renham. As silly and hilarious as its name implies, by a talented writer who specialises in the silly and hilarious — no mean feat, that!
The Black House, by Peter May. Suspense. A genre I don’t often read, but I really enjoyed this page turner.
What I Loved, by Siri Hutsvedt. Expertly written (as always), but extraordinarily disturbing, wavering between being too cerebral and too emotional.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, by Caroline Smailes. I always look forward to her novels. This one had a fascinating concept, written with a great deal of truth.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. Completely inspirational memoir (of sorts). I read the entire thing in one plane ride.
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. Her novel about climate change. Though much is beautifully written it, unfortunately, veers towards the diatribe. A bit disappointing, this.
Be Awesome! , by Hadley Freeman. This masquerades as light, young women’s essays, but it is really a hysterical and wise selection of musings on feminism today.
A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carre. His latest. Sometimes you just want to sit down with a good Le Carre and get lost in the intrigue. Alas, this one didn’t do it for me.
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. There was much hype about this one, and it was, indeed, very good. But it wasn’t fabulous and I’m not sure why. Something about the main character, I think.
The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco. The history of antisemitism and lots of weirdness. If I had known it was actually based on a true story when I read it, I would have appreciated it more.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Folklorish/mystical tales about “finding your legend.”
On Canaan’s Side, by Sebastian Barry. Heartbreakingly sad and heartbreakingly beautiful. I loved it (and think it will be helpful in thinking about the structure of the 3rd novel in my Cambodian trilogy).
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, by Sebastian Barry. Beautiful again, and on a similar theme as above, but written quite a bit earlier and somehow, it shows.
Stoner, by John Williams. The long-lost book that many have just rediscovered. And thank goodness for it. Beautifully written, perfectly pitched, unsentimental but still full of heart.
Guts, by Roddy Doyle. I’ve always loved his stuff and still do. Jimmy Rabbitt returns, but in a book written in nearly 90% dialogue. And it works. Is this a new literary form?
Year of Night, by Kate Beswick. Vivid and very engaging portrayal of Russian emigres in Paris during the Revolution. A great debut.
Stephen Dearsley’s Summer of Love, by Colin Bell. Both fun and serious at the same time. Full of heart, but without sentimentality. Characters that you know — really.
Stone in a Landslide, by Maria Barbal. Simple and stirring telling of a life in early 20th century Spain by a Catalan writer previously unknown here, published by the small, indie Peirene Press, which specialises in bringing such unknown Continentals to our xenophobic shores.
So that’s it. Not a bad haul. Onto the next (we’ll see what Santa brings…).