Monday, February 2, 2015

(Belated) Best Reading of 2014

I've struggled with this post for over a month now (obviously). In 2014 I read about half as many books as I would in a normal year and compiling a top ten seemed too generous. But then, why not be generous? What does it matter if I make it sound like I enjoyed number eight on my list more than I really did? Well, what if you took my advice and read the book and were similarly un-wowed... Because there are 'wow' books out there.

So here's my list of the five wow books I read in 2014, and here's to more quantity and more quality in 2015!

#1 THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness (novel, audiobook)
The Knife of Never Letting Go
What I said about it in October
"KNIFE is packed with more ideas than almost any novel I've read this year. It has better characterisation, is funnier and braver and is the sort of book I'd give a Milton Bradley 'Ages 12 and up' label to (coz everyone should read it) rather than 'YA'."

#2 WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead (novel, audiobook)

When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery)What I said about it in February:
"My wife and I listened to this on two separate car trips up to the Kapiti Coast over the summer. Haven’t done much in-car listening before., but found it an enjoyable experience. Probably helps that this YA novel about time travel is simply told…"

What I'll add now: "That YA dig was a bit iniquitous. With time away from the book I can say that it held together well, which is rare for time travel stories."

Blood Meridian: Or, the Evening Redness in the West (Picador Books)#3 BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy (novel, audiobook)

What I said about it in May:
"Vivid, violent, unhinged, mythic, vile, meandering, arch... Blood Meridian is an Elmore Leonard western written by the bastard love child of William S Burroughs and Henry Miller.

Now I get why people rave about CMcC and Blood Meridian in particular."

#4 I'M WORKING ON A BUILDING by Pip Adam (novel/short stories, NZ)

I'm Working on a BuildingWhat I said about it in July
"The boldness... is most evident structurally, with chapters ordered in reverse chronology. The main (human) character, Catherine, isn’t present in every chapter, and when she is, we’re never that close to her. We slowly unpick her past, from earthquakes to failed relationships, but the book, like Catherine, seems more focussed on buildings. Structure trumps character, quite deliberately.

At one point a minor character admires the Rankin Brown building at Victoria University, a boxy, concrete, characterless thing, but an amazing structure if you know what to look for. Same goes for I’m working on a building, I think."

#5 ARMS RACE by Nic Low (short stories, NZ/Aus)

I read this in December and the first week of January, so I haven't written about it yet. And maybe I'm breaking my own dumb rules by including it in this list. But this is my kinda story collection.

I first read Low when I was judging the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His story, 'Rush', was the funniest of the several hundred I read. It was also risky, sharp, political. You can read 'Rush' for yourselves now in ARMS RACE and see what bowled me over.

Sometimes there's a sense of trepidation when reading a full collection from a new writer you've loved in a small dose. But there was none of that when I cracked open ARMS RACE. Low can write, but he can also think. I was ready to be challenged. And entertained. I was not disappointed.