One reflection right off the bat though: I am, apparently irresistibly drawn to a book with a good (and often long) sub-title.
The numbers breakdown to:
To make sense of things I'll have to subdivide the list into categories.
The best adult fiction was Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik. It was fantastically written so that the twist at the end come out of the clear blue sky. So very clever. Plus, while I don't approve of violence, in general, I could really appreciate the way the main character is worn down my the modern life and seeking more, seeking something different. Its funny, I always think I of myself as a huge fan of fiction, but you know, I don't think its true any more. As the saying goes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Hence, I only list one favorite work of fiction from last year.
The best adult non-fiction was Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World by Tristan Donocan. I am a recovering soda pop junkie and so this historical narrative thrilled me. It was amazing to learn about the rapid growth of this product and its influence on American culture. That influence is much greater that I'd have thought. Other contenders would be Bird by Andrew Zuckerman or The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obamascik. Bird has only a few pages of text so "read" might be a strong word for it. Still, those photos! I poured over the images. Huge, fantastically detailed photos of freakishly amazing avian critters that share our world. The page background is just plain white allowing the stunning feathers and leg and plumes and eyes to stand out in strong relief. The Big Year inspired me to start keeping track of how many birds I saw in 2014. Until I read the book I never knew competitive birding was a thing! I am a birder on a whole different level than these folks, but I founding it endlessly interesting and amusing. I, uncharacteristically, watched the film that had been made from the book. It was also enjoyable. It starred Steve Martin and Jack Black...and oh, that other guy...Owen Wilson....yeah, that's it.
The best children/YA fiction was probably the Harry Potter books. There, I said it. See, for more than a decade I avoided these books. I am not much into wizards and dragons and things. The books got awfully thick toward the end. I don't like to read a series until they are all published. I don't like to read books just because everyone else is going crazy for them--as in go to the bookstore at midnight for the release party kind of crazy. I had my reasons. Being a librarian of my age bracket though people seemed positively aghast that I'd refused to read them. So, I did. Matt re-read them with me and we had wonderful book discussions. Dang, they were good tales--except The Order of the Phoenix. I sort of loathed that one. It was most certainly just a sign of how well written it was, really, but I just hated reading it. Harry is impossibly annoying and whiny (yes, yes, I know his world had steadily been going to hell in a hand basket and he is a teenager by this point) and Professor Umbridge is such a fascist that her presence on the page made me angry. People who can make up the rules as they go with impunity do that to me, apparently even fictitious ones. I really appreciated that it wasn't a separate magical world elsewhere, but one hidden right within our own. I already gave my reviews of the Caldecott books, so I won't repeat myself here for my favorites or least favorites.
The best children/YA non-fiction was Look Up!: Bird-watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. I want to buy it for every child I know. Its so informative, relate-able, and wonderfully illustrated. I also enjoyed Hidden by Loic Dauviller et al. I find graphic novels to be very fun to read. Additionally, they can frequently convey a subject matter--politics, history, etc-- in such as way as to make it approachable to a wider audience with remarkable poignancy and clarity. Locomotive by Brian Floca was the 2014 Caldecott winner and while it wasn't listed in my Caldecott reviews I was pretty fond of it. I learned quite a few little things about the expansion of the railroad that I didn't know--or had forgotten since my history classes and, as could be expected of a Caldecott winner, it was richly illustrated, too.
The best audiobooks were Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich, Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get it Back by Ann Vileisis, The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy, and Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf. Sex on the Moon was an unbelievable--but true--story about an intern trying to steal moon rocks from NASA. I must say I enjoyed the mystery and crime style drama with a geek twist instead of a serial killer one. Founding Gardeners gave me some tremendous new insight into the significance of the agricultural roots of our country. Plus, you know, I love growing things.
The worst book--or maybe I should say the book I enjoyed the least-- was probably A Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Wiesel. I picked it up because I have a mad desire to dance and I've only read Night, his holocaust memoir. He is so acclaimed and all so I figured I'd give it a go. I should remember I am rarely impressed when I pick up a book for the latter reason. I was confused a lot. Or maybe it was too deeply allegorical or metaphorical and I just didn't get it. I don't know. The Gathering by Anne Enright was another I found almost completely unpleasant. That may be to a lack of cultural understanding on my part. Again, I don't know. I also found all of the sequels to Bunnicula to be consistently disappointing. Its a shame, too, since Bunnicula is a pretty great story, I think.
One more thought: Edgar Allen Poe is one messed up dude. I'd never really read much by him--a short story here or there in literature classes in school, but that was all. I read two collections of poems and short stories in succession. Weird. Dark. Freaky. I told Matt that I had the same feeling as when I read things like Stephen King. They are clearly brilliant writers with creative minds, but I just want to ask them, "What happened to you!?!" Why is the product of that brilliant, creative mind so darn black and sinister? So, it was an interesting exposure, but I don't see myself becoming a big fan or anything.
Books Read (or Listened to) in 2014:
* indicates an audiobook
And with that we're off to another new year of reading! I just enrolled in an adult reading program for 2015 through our public library. 52 books (of 200 pages or more) in 52 weeks. Should be a swell time!