To me, it feels like 2013 went by in a flash. The past few years have contained so much, but this one contained an uprooting of my own doing. I chose to give up my adorable little apartment and leave all my friends – although to be fair, many of them were leaving me too – in pursuit of bigger and better things. I went on my trip and I saw plenty of big, beautiful things, but I can’t say whether they were better than my perfectly imperfect life in Montreal. I look back on my year and I can see that I lived bravely. I did things that scared me, sometimes once or more times a day. But I can see that I was not brave in my reading.
Reading comes with so much baggage. We all have these ideas of books we “should” be reading (ie. Oprah’s book club books) and ways that we “should” read (ie. read every book cover to cover, even if you don’t like it). But when we think like that, we miss the point of reading. Reading should be fun, or helpful, or calming, or exciting or interesting. Or all of the above! It shouldn’t be dull or boring or repetitive.
This year, when I was in the midst of all my brave living, I did a lot of comforting reading. I read to feel safe, to feel closer to home, to avoid feeling if I was already exhausted from all the real-life feeling I was doing. I don’t think I always did this consciously, but looking back it seems obvious. I didn’t read as many serious books, and I read a lot of non-fiction. I re-read books that are like comfort food for my brain (everything by Sarah Addison Allen). I read less serious books that were easy to read to take my mind off things. I didn’t tackle big, serious, important books that I wanted to read but just felt too tired to read. I just find it so fascinating that when I look back, what I chose to read sort of reflects the place I was in at that point in time.
And yet, I read the most books this year that I ever have before: 75. That’s a lot of books! I wanted to share a few with you, the ones that still stick in my mind or from which I still remember characters fondly.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt: I read this one for my bookclub. There are certain scenes that still stick out vividly in my memory from this book, and our discussion of it afterwards was so great. Hearing people’s theories about the symbolism in the book was fascinating. It’s a quirky book, but really fun to read and very interesting. It’s like a more sophisticated, literary version of a cowboy western novel.
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman: I adore this book, I’ve read it twice now. It’s very short, only 100 or so pages, but there are scenes that are so touching or poignant or funny that they stay with me. The cardboard box scene! Be still my heart.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I’d heard a ton of buzz about this book but never picked it up. I ended up reading it cover to cover on my flight from Toronto to Paris in July. It’s unstoppable. It’s sad and sweet and funny and perfect. I loved it and I’m sure I’ll soon re-read it.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: This was my first time reading anything by Joan Didion and I really liked it even though it made me sad. It’s about the author’s grief following the unexpected death of her husband. I loved the way she wrote and her way of describing her memories, but I read Blue Nights not too long afterwards and found myself growing tired of her style. Nonetheless, this was a very touching book.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: I’m a huge sucker for anything that involves a mysterious magical bookstore. The characters in this book were great, and I liked the story.
What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson: I found this book really comforting. It doesn’t tell you what to do with your life (though wouldn’t that be nice), but the author presents you with real stories of people from all different types of careers and backgrounds, and he explores various themes. He tackles questions like “does it matter if I hate my job and pursue my passions on the side?”, “does everybody get a passion?”, “is it bad to do something I really hate to fund something I really love?”, etc. It was fascinating and offered a really great dose of perspective.
One Day by David Nicholls: I’ve heard the movie isn’t very good, but I liked the book a lot. In essence, it’s about bad timing in relationships, which is one of those sad, bittersweet things I think we all experience sometimes. When she’s ready for him, he’s off gallivating, and when he’s ready for her, she’s engaged to some dashing French guy. You know, the usual. This book spans many years and I thought it was pretty touching and fun.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: I read this book before my trip, so it seems like it was a lifetime ago. In my memory, it’s as if instead of reading this book, I watched the movie version. It was that vivid and action-packed. I haven’t read very much by Margaret Atwood, but this book made me see why she’s considered so great. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world (a favourite type of book) that is not very far removed from our own, and it masterfully tells the story backwards, starting from the present and revealing little bits of backstory as it goes along. It was great, I’m looking forward to reading the next two in the series.
This list is probably not even close to complete. I didn’t mention the favourites that I read for the third time this year (Wild, Tiny Beautiful Things, Garden Spells) and I didn’t list ones that I loved but not quite enough to justify listing here. Heck, I’m not even sure I loved all these ones enough to be listing them here. However. To see all the books I read this year (I probably rated about half of them), check out my GoodReads. And add me as a friend! I love to see what other people are reading.
I’d love to hear what your favourite books were this year. Do you have any incredible book recommendations for me? I think I’ll be setting a similar goal of reading 75 books for 2014 so I need some suggestions! I’d love to hear about the books that changed your perspective or stuck with you for whatever reason.