70 Books of 2014

I’m using the same opening to a previous blog here, as it’s still relevant. As a child, I was a terrible reader. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read – it was that I just didn’t want to. I don’t know why this is, but I always make a point of letting my students know that it was the case, if they ask. The reason for this is that I love it now – and when I tell the more reluctant readers just how incredible I find it to be truly lost in a book, I want them to understand that while I totally empathise with their reticence, I don’t want them to miss out. In fact, if I could go back and slap my 13-19 year old self in the face and tell him nearly anything, it would be to READ! (OK, there would be some other stuff I’d tell him too, but reading would definitely be on the list).

Anyway, with that in mind, and after my blog last year about the 50 books I got through, I thought I’d have a look back at the 70 books (fiction and non-fiction) that I’ve read this year, and talk a bit about some of them.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

A classic, I’m told, but I didn’t warm to it. Satire and dystopia don’t always age well (see ‘Animal Farm’) but at least I’ve read it.

  • 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

Inspired by seeing the film, I found this a difficult read for all kinds of reasons, but most obviously of course the horrendous recounting of something truly awful.

  • My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson.

An amazing book, this, in that it’s both hugely fascinating and monumentally boring. There are anecdotes for sure, but their delivery leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe

Now, THIS is how to write about football. Sid Lowe is a brilliant journalist and his subject mine is rich in material, polished to a shine by someone who knows and loves his subject. Not one for those who aren’t football fans – an absolute must-read for those who are.

  • How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

If I ever have a daughter, or someone I know has a daughter, I will recommend that they read this book. It’s coarse, at times, sure, but what is life if not occasionally abrasive? It’s written with humour, charm and love and is yet searingly insightful and also a valuable read for those of us who can’t decide we’re feminists in Moran’s recommended way.

  • Room by Emma Donahue.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.
  • What it takes to be #1 by Vic Lombardi.
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

I’m not yet willing to nail my colours to Tartt’s mast, but this went some way towards convincing me. Like ‘The Secret History’, it occasionally reads like someone who’s vomiting up a thesaurus, and like ‘TSH’, there’s nothing wrong with it that the loss of 200 pages couldn’t fix.

  • The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Read as part of a school push on Growth Mindset, I can’t recommend it enough. The thorny issue of whether or not ‘natural talent’ really exists is one aspect of GM that still leaves me unsure. No matter which side of the divide you come down on, this is a really interesting and intriguing, not to mention inspiring, book.

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.

Liked this. Author has a future. Should consider magical schoolboy. Could work.

  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This won some prize or other, and good for it, but I found it labyrinthine and benign. It felt like it took 900 pages to get from Point A to Point A. I’m sure I’m a luddite philistine and just not clever enough for it, but there we go.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Exceptional. I’m sure everyone already knows that, but I was glad to join the throng of admirers.

  • Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

No ‘How to be a Woman’ but it has its moments. Worth reading for the description of Michael Jackson’s funeral alone.

  • Longbourn by Jo Baker

Fascinating idea – not totally convincing in its execution. Very pleasant though.

  • Kill your Friends
  • The Second Coming
  • Straight White Male
  • The Amateurs – by John Niven

Niven must be my author of the year. Recommended by a trusted partner in crime, ‘Kill Your Friends’ had me in stitches. I hadn’t read anything so funny for a LONG time. I proceeded to rocket through his other books at a rate of knots and wasn’t disappointed by any of them.

  • Echo Burning
  • Personal by Lee Child
  • Man On The Run – McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

No Gone Girl, but you can feel Amy and Nick’s genesis in this one.

I’ve talked about the Night School books before, and ‘Resistance’ doesn’t disappoint. CJ has been kind enough to come to my school this year to talk to the kids about her life, career and writing, and they were every bit as spell-bound as I was. Can’t wait for the fifth and final book!

  • It’s not me, it’s you by Jon Richardson
  • If I Stay by Gayle Foreman.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
  • The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

Still a masterpiece. Hardly the newest thing I could have read, but I adore it.

  • Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

Fascinating in concept, this book really doesn’t stand up well to being described, it really has to be read. I loved it, and was pleased to see that biting vitriolic satire isn’t dead after all!

  • True Grit by Charles Portis

I enjoyed this on its own merits (what’s not to like?), but it was elevated when I listened to the audiobook, because it was read by Donna Tartt, whose voice is like southern fried velvet honey. Her love for the material was clear throughout, not least in her wonderful, conflicted, tortured and brave Mattie Ross.

  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  • We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson
  • Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Passage
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin

My wife had read ‘The Passage’ a while ago, but I was put off by both the synopsis and the length. Still, as the summer holiday started, I made a start and absolutely roared through both books (neither of which are speedy reads). Just brilliant.

  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
  • Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov.
  • Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E Thomas.

Definitely worth a read, but not quite the scathing social insight into the condition that I was hoping for. Still, pretty good.

  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.

Having done the old ‘hur hur, he should write Magic fiction’ joke earlier about ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ – I must say I really liked both these books, and they show Rowling’s flair for turning a story. She isn’t reinventing anything here, but she knows her genre, she can write character and she knows how to pace her narrative. Life-changing, no, but shows that the world will always need great storytellers and that Rowling’s magic didn’t have a 7 book shelf-life.

  • The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters.

Recommended to me by my Headteacher before starting my new job, this was a fascinating look at the human brain. The ‘Chimp vs Human’ thing was a bit grating, but the more I read, the more I saw myself, and the more I found ways to help.

  • The Catcher In the Rye by JD Salinger.

I can’t find the words to describe my contempt and dislike for Holden Caulfield. I suppose I’m too old to be reading this for the first time, but he just struck me as a whinging pretentious moron who could do with a good kicking. That probably says more about me than it does the book, but there we go!

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.
  • Cold Hands by John Niven.
  • Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks.
  • The Brontes by Juliet Barker.
  • Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson.
  • Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Kiernan.

I found this a bit difficult. It seems, according to this book, that every single line, syllable, and semi-colon in Shakespeare is all about sex. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Shakespeare’s licentious bits, and I know full well there are lots of them, but I found some of Kiernan’s assertions and ‘translations’ a bit much. Having said that, she might be right – what do I know?

  • Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
  • The Nemesis Program by Scott Mariani.
  • Keane: The Second Half by Roy Keane.

Keane is an interesting figure, but often comes perilously close to self-parody. He doesn’t come across as particularly likeable, but he doesn’t seem to care all that much either. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the point of this book is, other than to point out what a perfectionist he is and then criticise some former managers and team-mates. Still, despite all that, I found this pretty gripping, so he must be doing something right.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  • Every Day by David Levithan.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
  • Moab Is My Washpot
  • The Fry Chronicles
  • More Fool Me by Stephen Fry.

Fry has an extremely idiosyncratic style, and there are times when I wish he would get on with it (after all, as he himself points out, three volumes of an autobiography that still doesn’t even reach 1995 is a bit much) but his manipulation of language is wonderfully enjoyable and reminds us that sometimes when someone writes this well, it can be a pleasure just to listen to or read them as they ramble. Incidentally, the cost of all three books is justified in a single paragraph when Fry describes Emma Thompson. It’s incredible.

  • An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris.

I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy this, but by 50% through it, I realised I was utterly gripped by it. No doubt this was helped by finding out it was based on a real story, one which had hitherto escaped my notice. To mesh real life, anecdotal evidence and fiction in such a compelling and convincing way without compromising the credibility of any of them is quite an achievement.

  • More than This by Patrick Ness.
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Inside the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka.
  • One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson.

This is aimed at a relatively niche audience, insofar as I can imagine people who don’t love America, the romance of the Jazz Age, the often verbose style of the author, obscure anecdotes, Prohibition, Mobsters, minor historical occurrences, planes, baseball, trains, automobiles or lazy Presidents not finding this particularly enjoyable. I, however, love all those things and found this absolutely wonderful. I have always had a strange and indefinable love for America and Americana, and the 1920s (and seemingly this summer in particular) are covered in depth, with humour and undeniable affection, and for a few short hours, the reader can lose themselves in a simpler time that was tantalisingly complex.

  • The Letters of John Lennon by John Lennon and Hunter Davies.

I made the mistake of listening to this one – which was no bad thing per se, Christopher Ecclestone doing a passable Lennon impression helped, but the issue was that Lennon’s ‘letters’, such as they were, were often extremely brief, unrevealing, and decorated with doodles and asides that are critical. In short, they were a visual medium (as letters tend to be; I’m not blaming Lennon for this) and so the book suffered a bit from being listened to, but would be worth a look-in for the hardcore fan.

  • Oasis: The True Story by Tony McCarroll.

I’ve loved Oasis since I first heard them on a bus in Germany in 1995. It’s no exaggeration to say that day changed my life. This was an interesting account of the band’s early days. How much the account can be trusted on the other hand, given the Graphene-veiled antipathy aimed at Noel Gallagher (not all of it unfair, by the sounds of things) and the free admission of a liver-defying amount of alcohol and cocaine consumption in the hectic maelstrom of the early highs of success, is something worth questioning. As a first-hand account of what it was like to strike it big in Britpop though, it’s brilliant.

  • Andy Murray: Seventy-Seven.

Murray seems to be a divisive figure, with many determined to paint him as a dour, boring, anti-social Scot. I’ve never seen him this way – he’s always struck me as a thoroughly decent man, with a pretty well-developed sense of humour. His ‘anyone but England’ quote makes me laugh now just as it made me laugh then. Those who use it as a stick with which to beat him are idiots. This book is not an in-depth psychological profile of a world-class sportsman, which is a shame, but like its subject, while it might not be totally comfortable in the limelight, it has charm and class and is worth a look in.

  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Recommended to me by Twitter superstar @TillyTeacher, I spent the first 30% of this book unsure as to whether I was going to like it or not, but once it had established its parameters, I found myself enjoying it more and more, despite the pretty hefty suspension of disbelief that’s required. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.

Recommended to me by my trusty best friend, I’d heard of the film, and quite fancied seeing it, but am glad I didn’t. This was really brilliant, I thought. It had some pretty hard-hitting moments in it which I won’t spoil here, but the mix of insight, tragedy, comedy, pathos, bathos, and sheer sweary hilarity was a heady one.

  • Yes Please! by Amy Poehler.

I’d recommend this (like so many other books, not least ‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey) to anyone, not least the girls I teach who surely couldn’t want for better role-models in this world that will, at some stage, try to put them down and tell them they ‘should’ be doing something, whether they want to or not. Poehler pulls not a single punch yet still comes across as someone you would absolutely fall over yourself to be friends with. If only more women could find their voice so strongly.

Well, there’s my year in reading. Not in Reading, you understand, I haven’t been there this year. My favourite 7 books of the year, in no particular order, are:

      1. The Talent Code
      2. The Cuckoo’s Calling
      3. Kill your Friends
      4. The Passage
      5. An Officer and a Spy
      6. One Summer: America 1927
      7. This is Where I Leave You

Have a wonderful 2015, read lots and let me know your favourites from last year!! I need recommendations, people!

Mr S.

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About PS

English teacher in Shanghai.
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3 Responses to 70 Books of 2014

  1. Thank you for following my blog, and congrats on reading 70 books last year! My goal for this year is a mere 25, and I’ll be proud of myself if I can swing it. Donna Tartt is definitely on my list. As for recommendations, I really enjoyed The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

  2. Pingback: Read Something Improper | Mr Staveley's Blog

  3. Pingback: 80 Books of 2015 | Mr Staveley's Blog

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