A Year in Books: My Best Reads of 2014

I read a lot. A lot. I live a busy science-student life, so spare time is a prized commodity, but what little I have goes to the written word.

This year I read 51 full books, countless short stories, articles and poems. Don’t even get me started on all the crap I absorbed through twitter and Buzzfeed and Facebook and myriad blogs.

Camping in the Peak District
I read Chekov’s The Seagull while camping in the Peak District in the Autumn. Waking up to this with that book in my hand is a memory I’ll keep locked away for a long time.

So here’s the reading list from 2014. Most of the books here are favourites I re-read (Catch #22, Oz, Foundation, and anything by Neil Gaiman take the top spots), but I’ve included them here because I always discovers something new in a book, no matter how many times I’ve read it before—that’s the wonderful thing of all about them.

#1 – Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
#2 – Dracula, Bram Stoker
#3 – Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
#4 – The Outsider, Albert Camus
#5 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,L. Frank Baum
#6 – Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
#7 – The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
#8 – The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
#9 – The Case for Mars, Robert Zubrin
#10 – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
#11 – Carrie, Stephen King
#12 – The Analects, Confucius
#13 – The Inheritors, William Golding
#14 – Island, Aldous Huxley
#15 – The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
#16 – Catch #22, Joseph Heller
#17 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
#18 – The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
#19 – The Epigenetics Revolution, Nessa Carey
#20 – Sucker’s Portfolio, Kurt Vonnegut
#21 – King Solomon’s Mines, H. Rider Haggard
#22 – 2001: A Space Odysssey, Arthur C. Clarke
#23 – The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin
#24 – The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke
#25 – The Scarlet Plague, Jack London
#26 – The Son, Philipp Meyer
#27 – Foundation, Isaac Asimov
#28 – Bad Science, Bed Goldacre
#30 – Minority Report, Philip K. Dick
#31 – The Seagull, Anton Chekov
#32 – American Gods, Neil Gaiman
#34 – Ringworld, Larry Niven
#35 – The Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan
#36 – The Epic of Gilgamesh, Unknown
#37 – The Call of Cthulhu, H. P. Lovecraft
#38 – Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh
#39 – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
#40 – The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
#41 – Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
#42 – The Help, Kathryn Stockett
#43 – The Rest of the Robots, Isaac Asimov
#44 – Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
#45 – Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
#46 – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
#47 – Walden, Henry David Thoreau
#48 – Revival, Stephen King
#49 – The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde
#50 – Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens
#51 – The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of the whole lot, because life is too short. I have books to write and yet more to read. But a few titles on the list deserve special mention.

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell’s been on my radar for a long time as one to read, but I never got around to it. This year I watched film adaptation of Cloud Atlas on a flight abroad, and a big part of me was so wholly taken by the themes that I was certain I was dreaming—nobody could have created something so close to my thoughts and fantasies.

I bought the book as soon as I could. It’s definitely not the same story as the film, but it’s just as rewarding. I love the use of ampersands, the weaving narrative and the seamless cuts between the stories within the story.

This book is also responsible for my favourite quote of the year:

“…only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!” Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

The Importance of Being Earnest

I’ve been in love with Oscar Wilde’s poetry since I found it via The Picture of Dorian Grey when I was about 16. But it took me until now to finally sit down to his other seminal work. Earnest is a skinny little book. You can easily get through it in an hour. But in that hour I guarantee you’ll laugh and gasp in stupefied awe at Wilde’s genius a million times over.

I’m constructing a list I’d recommend to my children, should I end up having any. This is going to be near the top.

Dandelion Wine

Ray Bradbury sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to typecasting. He was an absolute unashamed nerd, to be sure, but he was also so exuberantly and compassionately human that he broke all the stereotypes about awkward, dry sci-fi writers and their technobabble nonsense. Bradbury’s writing is simple, and almost naïve, but it cuts deep.

Dandelion Wine is simple and silly and heart-breaking.

But that’s nothing unusual. All his books are hearty-achy tomes of soul food. If you haven’t read any of his work, stop reading this and go find some right this instant.

Letters to a Young Contrarian

When I’m stressed, I watch YouTube videos of Christopher Hitchens and his ilk tearing those who purport intolerance and illogic and new arsehole. It always sends me right off to sleep.

We lost Hitchens last year to cancer, but his legacy will endure throughout this century. He helped inspire a generation of critics and objective thinkers, in journalism, science, and many other fields.

Letters to a Young Contrarian is a collection of letters written to his students. It’s a slim volume, but it packs a whopping punch. It’s like a puff of condensed inspiration, and damn-and-blast outrage at the injustices in this world.

This is another one to go on that reading list for my kids.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman’s done it again. I re-read my two favourites of his this year (American Gods & Neverwhere), but I left his latest release, Ocean, until I knew I had a few days off over New Year to enjoy it. I pretty much inhaled it, breathed it in.

The mysteries of memory, the quagmire that is childhood, and a sprinkling of macabre and magic: three ingredients that make a stunner of a novel.

I’m ready for 2015 thanks to this book.

So where I go from here? Back to the bookshelf, of course. I’ve always been one to buy books by the armful, far faster than I could ever read them. As such, I’ve been in a perpetual state of having a backlist of around 200 books—and those are just the ones I’ve already bought, filling up my cramped home; we’re not saying anything of the many more I have earmarked for later.

In truth, I expect to never catch up. How could I? I’ll never live long enough to read even the books already published I want to read. Once I start thinking about all the intrepid young writers who’ll publish the 21st century’s great works, I have to stop and think about something else. If only I could stop time and spent a few solid decades absorbing all those wonderful tales out there.

Alas, I am but human. How irksome.

I plan to jump into a little more non-fiction in 2015. This year was pretty heavy on novels. History and journalism take my fancy at the moment, but who knows where I’ll end up.

So that’s my year in books, along with some blither and waffle. You know, the usual. Like I said, I’m not giving you a blow-by-blow of 2014’s reading list, but I will say that every single one of the books I read this year was brilliant, eye opening and inspiring. I recommend all of them. There’s quite a few on that list, so if you’re looking for something to read, I suggest eeny-meeny-miny-moe.

Oh, by the way, today’s 1st January. Happy New Year, my darlings. Be kind this year, but also do as many foolish things as you can, and learn from your mistakes.

P.S. Ruin is on sale for $0.99 today (£0.64 for us Brits), along with some fantastic indie sci-fi tales. Check them out over at http://pattyjansen.com/blog/mad-science-fiction-january-sale/.
Special thanks to Patty Jansen for putting the sale together!

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