It has been nearly three weeks into the New Year. So, it is time for me to write about my favourites from last year and also see my reading year in perspective.
First the perspective part.
I read 46 books last year. It was not as many as previous years, but I had bad reading slumps throughout the year, especially in the second half, and also family emergencies and so considering that, I think I read a good number of beautiful books. Here is a brief overview of my reading year.
The first book that I read was ‘In the Land of Punctuation’ by the German poet Christian Morgenstern. It was actually a visual, artistic representation of a poem of the same name by Morgenstern. It defied classification – I didn’t know whether to consider it as poetry, or a book of art or a graphic novel.
The last book I read was ‘Blue Horses’ by the American poet Mary Oliver. It was one of my favourite books of the year. It was nice to start the year with a poem and end the year with a poetry collection.
The thickest book that I read during the year was this one.
Can you guess which book this is? Yes, it is that chunkster, the 1006-page long ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ 🙂
The thinnest book that I read was ‘In Berlin : Day and Night in 1929’ by Franz Hessel.
Now for some numbers.
I read 21 books by women authors and 22 books by men authors, which was nearly perfect. I read three books which featured both women and men authors – they were all anthologies – one was a poetry anthology and two were short story anthologies.
I read 24 books which were originally written in English, 6 books written in French (5 of them were Belgian comics :)), 10 written in German, 1 written in Russian, 2 written in Spanish, 2 written in Swedish and 1 written in Tamil. Except for the Tamil book which I read in the original, I read the other non-English books in translation. My English : Non-English reading was 24 : 22. Which is not bad.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell which country a book is from – because the author is from one country, while the characters in the story are from another and the story happens in a different country. But looking at it from the perspective of the author’s nationality, I read 4 Austrian books, 6 German books, 5 Belgian books, 1 French book, 1 Chilean book, 1 Spanish book, 6 English books, 1 Irish book, 16 American books, 2 Indian books, 1 Russian book and 2 Swedish books. No Middle-eastern, East Asian, African books – I need to work on that.
It was supposed to be the year in which I read a lot of French and Russian literature, but it didn’t turn out that way. I read just 1 French and 1 Russian book (and 5 Belgian comics written in French). I need to learn to stick to my reading plans – atleast an approximation of them.
In terms of genre, I read 7 Children books, 4 YA books, 6 Comics, 1 Fantasy, 3 Memoirs (one of them was a graphic novel memoir), 1 Essay, 2 Plays, 6 collections of Poetry, 2 Short Story collections, 1 book on Science, 1 Science Fiction novel and 12 books of Literary Fiction. I loved the fact that I read 6 collections of poetry – I don’t remember having read so many collections of poetry in a year before.
My Fiction : Non-Fiction reading was 41 : 5 (I considered poetry as fiction here, though some readers tend to consider it as nonfiction.).
My Narrative Stories : Others reading was 33 : 13. (In addition to novels, I included Children books, Comics and Short Story collections under the ‘Narrative Stories’ category. I included Plays in the ‘Others’ category.)
I participated in seven reading events – Angela Carter Week, German Literature Month, Romain Gary Month, Once Upon a Time and three readalongs – the Literature and War Readalong, the ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ readalong and the ‘Lolita’ readalong. I loved all of them and I am hoping to participate in more reading events this year.
That is all about numbers.
Now for my favourite books of the year. Here are my favourite books of the year, in no particular order, with links to my reviews.
Selected Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva – My first experience of reading Tsvetaeva’s poems. Very beautiful collection. Unfortunately, Tsvetaeva doesn’t seem to be as popular among English readers as much as Boris Pasternak or Anna Akhmatova. She deserves to be better known and better read.
101 Great American Poems – One of the finest poetry collections that I have ever read. In a slim book, the compilers have packed a lot of beautiful poems. I have a whole new love for American poetry after reading this book. All the classic poems are there in this book.
Blue Horses by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver’s new collection. Each poem is beautiful and different and the book refuses to let you go till the end. A must read for Oliver fans.
Sandhya’s Kiss (Sandhyavin Mutham) by Kavitha – I didn’t review this book, unfortunately. It is one of my favourite discoveries of the year. I love reading Tamil poetry, and Kavitha is one of the talented, young poets. I will look forward to reading more of her poetry during the coming year.
I know that this is a list of favourites, but I have to mention this here. My biggest disappointment of the year was Pablo Neruda’s ‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’.
I loved Neruda’s ‘Odes to Common Things’ when I first read it a few years back. It is one of my favourite poetry collections. When I read that, I heard from Neruda fans that ‘Twenty Love Poems…’ is a more critically acclaimed book and is more beautiful. I loved the title of that book and so, I went in with high hopes. As often happens when we go with high hopes, it ended in disappointment. There were beautiful lines in the book, of course, like this – “Love is so short, forgetting is so long” – and this – “Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness, and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar” – and this – “Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed” (this line made me remember the lines from a W.B.Yeats poem – “I’m looking for the face I had / Before the world was made.”). But, despite these beautiful lines, the book was a song of despair for me. The poems didn’t have the impact that I expected they would, and I came off feeling underwhelmed. I am wondering why that happened. Maybe the collection didn’t fit my poetry taste. Or maybe it is just me – maybe I didn’t understand the poems, the way they were supposed to be understood. Maybe I should give it a chance again later in life. Have you read this collection? What do you think about it?
Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren – I have wanted to read Ronja’s story for years. I finally got to read it and it was as wonderful as expected. Ronja is one of the great adorable heroines in children’s literature and this is a book that I will be reading again.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – I have been trying to get this book for years after one of my friends highly recommended it. Finally got it and read it and loved it. I wish I had read it when I was a child – I would have loved it more.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris – A beautiful, contemporary retelling of a famous fairytale. Jackie Morris’ writing is the very definition of purple prose and the illustrations in the book are gorgeous and that ending, which is very different from the traditional ending, will make you think.
Le Survivant by Jean Van Hamme, Thierry Cailleteau and Christian Denayer
La Vengeance by Jean Van Hamme, Thierry Cailleteau and Christian Denayer
I didn’t review these two books. I am a big fan of Belgian comics and Jean Van Hamme is one of my favourite Belgian Comic writers. He has worked on literally every comic genre and they are all excellent. These two are from the Wayne Shelton series – Shelton is a retired armyman in his fifties. He has grey hair and looks his age, but he is cool, stylish and sophisticated, he is frequently hired by bad guys on mercenary projects and most of the time he turns against his employers and his adventures are gripping and thrilling to read.
Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary – My first Romain Gary book. Though it is Gary’s memoir, it is more a love letter to his mom. Beautifully written, humorous and insightful in equal measure, it made me want to read more of Gary’s works.
Relish : My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley – A beautiful graphic memoir of Lucy Knisley love affair with food. It has many recipes and I loved reading all of them.
Infinite Ascent : A Short History of Mathematics by David Berlinski – I didn’t review this book. It is a slim, beautiful gem and the finest introduction to mathematics that I have read. I wish it was around during my student days – I would have loved it more.
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones – The dogstar gets convicted in the celestial court and ends up being born a dog on earth. His mistress is kind but can’t always protect him. Will he regain his lost glory and become a star again? And if he does, how can he bear to part from his mistress, whom he loves so much and who loves him back? One of the most beautiful fantasy tales that I have ever read. Vintage Diana Wynne Jones.
The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – Gae Polisner’s second book. It is about love and loss and family and about being a teenager in today’s complex world. With each new book Gae Polisner keeps getting better and better. I am torn between deciding which one I like more – this one or Polisner’s first book ‘The Pull of Gravity’ – they are both beautiful. I can’t wait to read her next book.
So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane – Has been lying in my bookshelf for years. Finally read it. A bookish girl while hiding in the library from bullies, discovers a book there on how to become a wizard. And before she knows it, she is plunged headlong into a world of magic and things go out of control. My favourite character in the story was a white hole which talks. One of the great discoveries of the year for me.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – One of the finest war novels ever written. I am glad that I finally read it. Every page has quotable passages and my highlighting pen didn’t stop working. If I have to choose just one favourite book for the year, this might be the one.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin – I have wanted to read Kate Chopin’s only novel for years. Finally got to read it. Chopin’s prose is exquisite and her sensitive portrayal of a woman who yearns to be free is beautifully told. A book which I will be reading again.
The Millstone by Margaret Drabble – A surprising discovery for me. I have never heard of Drabble before and I got this book in a sale. This is about a twenty-something woman in ‘60s London who gets pregnant and decides to have the baby. The challenges she faces are told in the rest of the story. Very realistically and beautifully told. I can’t wait to read more books by Drabble.
Three Paths to the Lake by Ingeborg Bachmann – In her novella, Bachmann is as insightful as ever as she describes the life of her fifty-year-old heroine and her life and her loves. Probably my most favourite Bachmann story yet.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker – The story of a woman’s quest for her father which leads her into the interior part of Burma. Beautiful prose, quotable passages and a sensitive story.
Letter to the Lady of the House by Richard Bausch
Though I read two short story collections, my favourite short story of the year was not from them. It was a story by Richard Bausch, an author who my friend M—–l (from Outgoing Signals) highly recommended. The Richard Bausch story I loved was called, ‘Letter to the Lady of the House’. It was featured in the collection ‘The Stories of Richard Bausch’. It is the story of a man who on the eve of his seventieth birthday writes a letter to his wife. It is now one of my alltime favourite short stories. If you like, you can listen to Richard Bausch reading it here.
So, that was my reading year in 2014. How was your reading year in 2014? Which were your favourite books? Have you read any of the above books?
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