Tuesday, January 20, 2015
What Was Worth Reading in 2014 (& What Wasn't!)
I mentioned in several posts back that the first 13 weeks of pregnancy made me too sick to even read, which is partly the reason I took such a long break from blogging about what books I'd finished lately.
However, it's been several months since then, and I'd like to get back on track (especially since my reading started to finally pick up again at the very end of the year).
I decided I wanted to do my book reviewing a bit differently, though--instead of just giving a general synopsis of each book and calling it good, I wanted to categorize the books according to their readability and worth so that you, my lovely reader, can skim as you please and maybe get some good reading suggestions out of it.
Books I Loved in 2014 (and would read again!) (in no specific order)
1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I actually prepared myself to be disappointed by this one because John Green for me, in the past, has been highly uncomfortable to read (esp. Looking for Alaska, which I still can't believe is marketed to a young adult audience). I was pleasantly surprised that Green kept the sex and language to a minimum in this one, and the storyline was surprisingly page-turning, considering the content of the book. The thing I loved most about the book was that it took what can be a very serious, depressing topic (cancer) and turned it into a pretty humorous novel. But I appreciated the fact that while Green put a lot of humor into the book, he never treated the subject *too* lightly, which meant the ending was still able to have quite an impact on me.
2. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Even though this was a bestseller, I hadn't heard too much about it, and I was surprised at how quickly I was caught up in the storyline of the American expatriates in Paris in the 1920's. The novel is basically about Ernest Hemingway's wife and her experience being one of the only non-artists/writers in her and her husband's social circle. The prose is beautiful in this, and though the ending is far from happy, it's still a beautiful story worth reading.
3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey
I read this several times as a teenager but had never re-visited it as an adult until I was asked to teach it to my students last school year. Even though some of the anecdotes and tips no longer apply to me as a grown-up, I still appreciated the fresh reminders of the seven habits that were such a formative influence on me growing up.
4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I can't believe this book isn't on more recommended reading lists (it is, at least, on a couple). I feel like this book is the most relatable story on childhood I've ever read, and even though my circumstances were pretty different than the main character's growing up, I still felt like her past was MY past, somehow. And that's a pretty tricky feat to pull off. There actually isn't much of a plotline to this story, but I absolutely loved it, and I think it's one of the most accurate books when it comes to capturing the essence of what childhood and growing up are all about.
5. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
Initially, I didn't like this book nearly as much as I liked Rubin's previous book, The Happiness Project. But, as time has gone on, I found that I refer to this book on Rubin's year-long mission to make her home a happier place just as much I refer to her original happiness project. Basically, anytime I'm feeling unmotivated, I can pick up this book and feel ready to conquer the world (of my home, at least) with zeal and enthusiasm. (Of course, perhaps part of the reason why I keep referring to this one instead of her other book is because I can't seem to find my copy of The Happiness Project anywhere. I really need to keep better track of who I loan stuff to...)
6. To Be a Runner by Martin Dugard
I'm a sucker for non-fiction books on running, and this one was no different. Instead of being strictly a memoir of an accomplished runner (like Scott Jurek's Eat & Run) or a "bookumentary" on distance running (Born to Run), this book was more all about the philosophy of running. I couldn't read it in large chunks at a time, but I loved the thoughts in it. I'll probably get my own copy of this when I pick up running again after I've had the baby.
Books I'm Glad I Read Once (but probably won't read again)
1. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
Although I remember that I liked this book when I read it, I actually don't remember too much about the story, which is usually a sign that the book wasn't anything super spectacular. I do remember it was based during World War II (at least, I think?) and that there were some surprise twists at the end (although I can't for the life of me remember what they were). This would be a good book to read if you're not looking for much substance, but you want to be entertained.
2. Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool
The young adult genre has steadily gone further and further down on my priority list, which is perhaps part of the reason why I have 4 young adult books in this particular section. Since I don't find the books as relatable anymore, it's hard to get wrapped up in them like I used to. I remember that this particular book about the Prohibition period in history was interesting, but a little slow. I think it finally picked up near the end, but it's not one I'd read again.
3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Even though I wouldn't read this one again, I've actually thought about it quite a bit since reading it (which is usually a pretty good sign). This dystopian book is all about a society that has created clones for the sole purpose of harvesting the organs later, and it talks about the moral issues that come up with that, especially the treatment and "raising" of the clones. Although I remember the ending being a bit disappointing (and I think a bit of a cliffhanger), I have thought about the ideas in this book quite a bit and have found myself relating it to many other things (including the movie The Island).
4. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
This was one of the most readable classics I've finished in a long time, and even though I liked it and could see why it was a classic, I probably wouldn't pick it up again. Perhaps it's because I'm not one to read sad stories over and over again, but I am really glad I read this South African novel at least once.
5. A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
Another young adult novel, this one a series of mini-stories that all weave together to show the summers a young boy spent with his grandma in the country. There were some funny moments in this Depression-era Newbery winner, but I didn't think the book was all that compelling.
6. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Santos
I had some students who read this and loved it (I caught them several times stifling laughter while reading it in class during silent reading time), so I figured I might as well check it out. While this book is hilarious--no doubt--it once again was not super relatable. After reading several young adult books off my Newbery list that been just that (well-written, but nothing really special for me), I'm honestly reconsidering my life goal of reading all the Newbery winners. Guess I'm just getting too old.
7. Divergent by Veronica Roth
I wasn't sorry I read this book, but I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit more (which is something most book lovers will never say). I liked having some additional background on some of the characters, but I was actually glad that the movie had taken out some of the parts in this book, since some were super disturbing. As I tell everyone about the Divergent series, Roth had a cool idea for her dystopian trilogy, but it wasn't executed super well, and the writing is nothing memorable.
Books I Was Downright Disappointed By
1. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Oh. My. Heck. I kind of hated this book. I love Gilbert's writing style, but this book was one massive disappointment for me: too much obsessing over sex and too many pages. I just kept plugging away at it, hoping that the end could redeem what was quickly becoming one massively depressing story, but I found no such luck. If Gilbert ever writes another novel, I might not ever pick it up because of this book.
2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
After the first book in the trilogy, the whole series just seemed to go downhill. The plot seemed to slow down, the characters, action, and settings seemed to get even more vague (to the point where I couldn't remember who was who and didn't even really care anymore), and I couldn't remember why I'd started the series in the first place.
3. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Being a person who apparently needs things to be finished, I picked up the third book in the trilogy even though I wasn't excited about it. Not only did it take me forever to finish this last one, but I totally HATED the ending. I mean, I REALLY hated it. I thought it possibly one of the worst endings she possibly could have chosen, and the entire series seemed so meaningless by the last page of this book that I wanted to scream out in frustration that I'd wasted so much time reading them. (It didn't help that in this book, she all of a sudden switches to a dual-narrator perspective, which really threw me for a loop since the two voices were almost indistinguishable.) Seriously, I could keep myself awake at night with how mad the ending of this book made me.
4. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
I'm actually super disappointed that I was disappointed by this book because I absolutely love the blog these two men write. In fact, their blog was one of the things that got me pushed into the whole idea of simplification and minimalism, and I thought the book would be over-the-top motivating and give me the new push I needed to continue simplifying after my "50 Weeks to Organized" project was over. While this non-fiction read wasn't bad, it lacked the research, facts, and MEAT that I like in my non-fiction reads. I don't know if I'll even keep this little book, much less read it again. But we'll see.
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Oh man, this book---it's on so many modern classics lists that I was sure that I would be totally blown away by it from the beginning. And, at first, I kind of was--the conflict was utterly fascinating (an unusual boy believes God has given him a special mission after he accidentally kills his best friend's mother with a baseball) and some of the lines were so profound that I just had to highlight them. But then the book started going between the narrator's boyhood self and his current self, and the current self was so boring to read about that I almost wept. Basically, the current narrator loved all the things I've always hated reading about--politics, war, and corruption--and I felt like whenever it switched to the present time, I was in a constantly whining vacuum that I could never escape from. By the time I finally got around to the end (which took me literally like 4 months), I was so sick of the book I wanted to cry, and I could barely enjoy the fact that even in my crippled mental state, I recognized that the ending was really quite brilliant. Basically, I can see why this is on those lists, but I'm counting my lucky stars that I never have to read it again!
What books did you read in 2014 that are worth passing on? Any major disappointments?