I read a lot of books this year! It might be a personal record: 49 books in a year.
So here it is: the best and worst books I read this year, in no particular order:
The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz: A story about a young couple who seek adventure by going to live at a lighthouse. It fell kind of flat.
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple: This was apparently a best-seller and pretty highly acclaimed by critics. Yeah. I didn’t get the hoopla. It’s about a precocious adolescent girl and her semi-depressed mother and a decrepid house and a trip to Antarctica. I think.
The Mouse-Proof Kitchen by Saira Shah: Despite the whimsical title, this is a horribly depressing and disturbing novel about a couple who have a profoundly disabled child and can’t seem to muster enough compassion or selflessness to put their daughter’s needs before their own narcissism.
Carly’s Gift by Georgia Bockoven: It’s straight up chick lit – of which I’m not a fan – complete with unrequited love, strapping males and delicate females with buttons popping off of bodices, a totally unrealistic story line, and serious issues treated as window dressing.
The Dinner by Herman Koch: Two well-to-do couples with teenage sons discuss over the course of a dinner an incident in which their sons were involved that culminated with an innocent person’s death. None of the characters are likable, there is nobody to root for, and I was left wondering what the point of the story was.
The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn: A scholarly deconstruction of homework as an institution in America, written in down-to-earth language. This book turns conventional wisdom about homework on its head. It validated so much of what I see wrong with homework as it stands, as a parent, and fueled my decision to take a stand in opposition to homework for my own kids.
The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummings: Two stories juxtaposed – in one, a modern-day young woman struggles to cope with new motherhood; in the other, that young woman’s ancestor struggles to keep her family alive during the potato famine in Ireland. Gut-wrenching and relatable, I loved this book.
The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea: Another novel containing two stories running alongside each other: one of a contemporary woman who finds her life upended by an unplanned pregnancy and a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome; the other of a woman in the 1940s who gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome and handed her over to be institutionalized. The author deftly presents questions to the reader about maternal and reproductive technology and the price we pay for having choices. A pivotal book in the Down syndrome literary landscape.
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams: A fascinating non-fiction about breasts – what they’re for, and what we do to them. A must read for anyone who owns or loves a pair of boobs.
The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummings: Another winner by Jeanine Cummings! This novel is about a young Irish gypsy boy who has a mother-shaped hole in his heart. Funny, tender, and heartwrenching, a story that will stay with you.
Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse and Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth: These are the second two in the Call the Midwife trilogy. The first was excellent, as well, but I read it a few years ago (before it was re-titled “Call the Midwife” and before it became the basis for the television series). The entire trilogy is a memoir of Jennifer Worth’s years spent as a midwife in poverty-stricken post WWII London. The stories are so powerful – god I loved these books. Was truly sad to read the last page, knowing there was no more.
The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: A disarming story about a retired English gentleman who leaves the house one day to get the mail, and keeps on walking – for over 600 miles. Along the way, he confronts his past and the misery that haunts him and has turned his life into a dreary chore.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: My first encounter with J.K. Rowling, believe it or not. A novel about a seemingly picture perfect English town seething with all manner of trouble behind the facade. Very moving and provocative.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: A memoir about the author’s hike (as a very inexperienced long-distance hiker) up the Pacific Crest Trail where she encounters many interesting people, as well as her own demons. I started out rolling my eyes at the folly of her undertaking, and ended up cheering for her, and being sad to see her long journey come to an end.
The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism by A.C. Grayling: God, I love A.C. Grayling. He’s become my favorite Philosopher/Atheist/Humanist. A rational deconstruction of religion and belief in the divine. Love his writing and his mind.
Where the Moon Isn’t by Nathan Filer: A quirky, very moving novel about a young man with schizophrenia wrestling with both his mental illness and the death of his brother, who had Down syndrome, years ago. I couldn’t put this one down.
Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan: Another gem by Corrigan – this one a memoir recounting her time working as a nanny in Australia when she began hungering to know her mother in a way she never had before. A beautiful tribute to the complexities of mother-daughter relationships.
Three Generations, No Imbeciles by Paul A. Lombardo: A non-fiction about the Supreme Court Case, Buck v. Bell, which legitimized the eugenics movement in the U.S. The eugenics movement is a terrible chapter in American history that the majority of people don’t even know about it, though it still reverberates today in our quest for technology that will weed out undesirables.
It was a year of awesome books!
Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2014!