Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: My Year in Books

This year, I read thirty-nine books, according to goodreads. That's actually a little low, since I don't generally bother recording purely escapist fare (hence, it doesn't include the handful of Lawrence Block novels I read) or non-fiction (which eliminates Francis Spufford's extremely interesting Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, which I need to reread to speak cogently about, and will). Also, no comics. Still, close enough! So let's go through and pick out the highs and lows.

Most Disappointing Novel

Felix Gilman, The Revolutions—After four terrific fantasy novels, we finally came, alas, to Gilman's first misfire. A promising plot that never comes together and a super-lame ending. I'm still looking forward to whatever he does next, however.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions—Given Vonnegut's reputation, as well as the reputation of this novel in particular, I seriously expected more than this facile postmodern goofing around.

Pleasantest Surprise

Mochtar Lubis, Twilight in Jakarta—This really did NOT look all that interesting to me at the outset; the impetus for reading it was basically a sense of duty to the country I lived in (and will again, inshallah). Social criticism from the second-best-known writer from a country not known for great writers? Hmm. But it turned out to be a highly gripping and effective broadside against a corrupt society and the people just trying to hold on.

Wilkie Collins, Man and Wife—Given that Collins' reputation rests on four novels which are not this one, and given that the general critical reaction to most of his other work, insofar as said reaction exists at all, is not good, I was amazed by how fucking awesome this one turned out to be. I look forward to exploring more of Collins in 2015.

Best Character, Hero Dept.

Uncle Toby Shandy (from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne)—This guy is such a sweetheart you wouldn't believe, and his fixation on military fortifications just makes him all the more endearing.

Minke (from the Buru Quartet by Pramoedya Ananta Toer)—The endlessly earnest hero of Pramoedya's epic vista of colonial Indonesian life really embodies his country and really helped me to understand it—better, perhaps, than actually living there did.

Best Character, Villain Dept.

Geoffrey Delamayn (from Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins)—Maybe Collins' scariest character, this guy's sociopathy really rings true, making him all the scarier.

Jacques Pangemanann (from House of Glass by Pramoedya Ananta Toer)—Pramoedya takes both character runner-up positions! Pangemanann is a really great exemplar of how a man with alleged ideals can gradually but totally willingly abandon them as it proves necessary, becoming a monster in the process. A very comprehensible monster, though.

Worst Novel

Walter Scott, Waverly—something feels a little off about naming this “worst novel,” given how non-passion-inspiring it is. But it can't be easy to turn out a book this boring, so, uh, congrats to Sir Walter, I guess.

Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho—I want to be clear: this is a lot worse than Waverly; it's just that I feel like calling it the -st anything is giving it too much credit. I'm frankly somewhat embarrassed to have read it, and I feel like even admitting to having done so here is giving it altogether too much acknowledgment. So enjoy your non-award, Bret.

Best Novel

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman—HOLY SHIT is this novel ever cool. I can't stop thinking about how great it is. I keenly look forward to rereading it after some time has passed and it becomes a little hazier in my mind.

Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling—It's a banner year for the eighteenth century, as it takes both first AND second place for best novel! Very different from Sterne's opus, but almost as delightful.


Post a Comment

<< Home