The Sunday Salon: Reflecting on a Year of Reading

The Sunday Salon

Here we are, at the first Sunday Salon of 2015. As trite as it sounds, it really is hard to believe another year has passed.

Reading-wise, this was a pretty good year for me. I finished 2014 having met my Goodreads challenge goal of 75 books read – although to do so I was literally reading right up until the clock struck midnight. I was in the midst of Blue Horses by Mary Oliver when I heard the chants of “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven ….” on TV. (I may have gone a little into 2015 with this one. No big deal, right? I mean, we’re only talking books here, not a matter of life and death.)

Before telling you about Favorite Books Read in 2014, some statistics.

Number of Books Read = 75
Number of Pages Read = 9,620
Number of Magazines/Literary Journals Read = 15
Number of Audiobooks Listened To = 22 (I am pretty sure this is a personal record)
How Many Days of Listening That Equals = 9.6
Average Number of Days It Took Me to Finish a Book = 4.6
Number of Books I Started but Could Not Finish and Abandoned = 11
My Average Rating of a Book = 3.5
Authors Who Were New to Me = 39
Authors Who I’d Read Previously = 36
Female Authors Read = 48
Male Authors Read = 27

I very rarely choose a Best Book of the Year.  (Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever done so in my six years of blogging). However, I decided to do so this year because the book was so incredibly well-written and so moving. My choice is at the conclusion of this post. Now, without further ado, here are my favorites in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Essays, and Historical Fiction.

Fiction
I read 19 books in this category and as usual, this was my most popular genre of choice. If I had to choose my Best Fiction Book Read in 2014, it would be History of the Rain by Niall Williams, which was nominated for The Man Booker Prize.

History of the Rain

As very, very close runners up (and in alphabetical order), I also loved:

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian
Frances and Bernard

Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer

Perfect

Perfect, by Rachel Joyce

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Transatlantic

Transatlantic, by Colum McCann

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

Poetry
This was the year I re-discovered poetry, having read 16 volumes of it.  It was perfect for reading at lunch or right before falling asleep. I’m grateful to the co-worker who introduced me to the work of Olena Kalytiak Davis (And Her Soul Out of Nothing) and I enjoyed reading Pittsburgh poet Rachel Mennies (The Glad Hand of God Points Backward) and I believe Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses is one of her best volumes in recent years.  However, one book stands out for me and that’s Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch, which is why it is my Best Poetry Book Read in 2014.

Gabriel

Memoirs
Very close behind poetry was the memoir genre, always one of my favorites. I read 15 memoirs this year, so this was another difficult category to choose just one selection.  All of these listed here were outstanding in their own right and I loved them all for very different reasons. My choice for Best Memoir Read in 2014 was Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan.

Glitter and Glue

 

Others well worth mentioning:

Hope for a Sea Change

 Hope for a Sea Change, by Elizabeth Aquino

In the Body of the World

 In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler

Nest. Flight. Sky.

Nest. Flight. Sky. On love and loss, one wing at a time, by Beth Kephart

Nonfiction
I read 12 nonfiction books and enjoyed the majority of what I read, but the one that stands out to me as being the Best Nonfiction Book Read in 2014 is Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, by Beth Kephart.

Handling the Truth

Runners-up included Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, which I listened to on audio …

Five Days at Memorial

… and Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers, by David Perlmutter, MD.

Grain Brain

Short Story Collections
I’m surprised that I only read 3 short story collections last year. (Must remedy that in 2015!) I loved Jess Walter’s novels The Financial Lives of the Poets and Beautiful Ruins, and his short story collection We Live in Water is equally brilliant. It gets my vote for Best Short Story Collection Read in 2014. 

We Live in Water

Runner-up is Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

I also want to make mention of two new-to-me short story writers who I discovered from reading “One Story.” Two of the best short stories I read last year were “Cool City” by Chuck Augello (8/25/2014, Issue #195) and “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle (5/20/2014, Issue #192). I love this publication and writers like Chuck and Katie are two of the reasons why.

Historical Fiction 
With only 3 historical fiction books read last year, I’m hoping to increase that number in 2015 because I’m finding that I really enjoy this genre.  My pick for Best Historical Fiction Read in 2014 was Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen.

Mrs. Poe

I also really liked Drood by Dan Simmons, which I listened to on audio. (It was one of my favorite audio books of the year.)

Drood

Essays
I really liked each of the 3 essay collections I read this year, which included Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, by Anne Lamott; and Once I Was Cool, by Megan Stielstra. However, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett gets my vote for Best Essay Collection Read in 2014.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

One of the highlights of my 2014 was having the chance to meet several wonderful authors, including Colum McCann, David McCullough, and Ann Patchett. When I met Ann, I told her that I was interested in reading The Magician’s Assistant because I was writing a novel set in the midst of the AIDS epidemic.

“Oh, no, no, no. Forget The Magician’s Assistant,” she said, dismissing her own book with a wave of her hand and reaching for a Post-It note. “You need to read Borrowed Time by Paul Monette.”

And so, over the Fourth of July weekend, I did. And I could not put it down. I knew, the moment I finished it, that it would either be the best book I read all year or a strong contender. As I wrote in my review of Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, there isn’t a single page where Paul Monette doesn’t leave a piece of his heart while taking part of his reader’s.

For that and many other reasons, I give you Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette as my Best Book Read in 2014. 

Borrowed Time

This year-end wrap up gives me a chance to say thank you to all who read this blog. I’m so grateful to each and every one of you. As is the case for most bloggers, doing what we do (in my case, sharing my thoughts on the books I’m reading) is something we do for fun, not to get rich. That’s certainly the case here. I’m not planning any changes here for 2015 and I’m not going anywhere.

Here’s to more great books and more great conversations in the New Year!

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3 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Reflecting on a Year of Reading

  1. Bryan G. Robinson

    I’ve heard a lot about Station Eleven. I guess I need to add that one now to my TBR pile.

    I had a bag of books to donate to the library but had The Bell Jar in there. I guess I’ll pull it back out now, based on your recommendation. 🙂

    I like that you have no goals for the blog AND that you don’t plan on going anywhere. Your voice would be missed if you left.

  2. Barbara

    Wonderful wrap up. I read History of the Rain and had mixed feelings. Odd feeling for me. The beauty of the writing got in my way. I kept fixating on it and had a hard time pushing through the plot.I felt I could love it, but didn’t. That is if I wrote about it — if I plunged into the way in dove and soared, I might move myself more deeply into it. A very poetic book, possibly too poetic for me — and my first love was poetry. Sometimes I don’t understand my own reactions to books. Clearly up there as one of the great books of the year but not as high on my list as yours.

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