I read some pretty awesome books that were published this year (list to come once I finish The Goldfinch — ha!), but I also read a lot of fantastic backlist books, too. I love dipping into older titles, whether they’re classics that I want to read as part of my literary self-education or more recent books that people are still talking about years after their publication. It’s actually one of my resolutions for 2014 to accept fewer books for review and take more time to read older titles; they’re really piling up on my bookshelf!
1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. How had I never read Willa Cather before?! I loved everything about this slim book — the gorgeous language, the way Cather writes about the land, and a strong female protagonist who manages to thrive when everyone else is giving up. I hope to read more of her writing this year!
2. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. Of Russell’s three books, I think this one is my favorite. I’m so in love with all of the stories in this strange little collection — especially the title story, which is about a pack of girls who are taken from their werewolf parents to be re-educated to become proper, civilized young women. It reflects on American history in a really interesting way, and I can’t get enough.
3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. My only prior experience with Woolf, reading To the Lighthouse for high school AP English, made me really intimidated by this author. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I adored this book. I loved the structure and wanted to bask in Woolf’s beautiful sentences all day.
4. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood. This debut short story collection features surreal maritime stories set in Cornwall. Each story contains elements of Cornish folklore woven into reality, and they are each so dreamy and beautiful. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Karen Russell’s work!
5. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I was really impressed by this novel about a teenage girl in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. Ward took me into a culture I am very unfamiliar with and blew me away with her powerful writing.
6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I was totally charmed by this epistolary novel about a girl trying to find her mother, a neurotic former architect, who has vanished. It’s funny and sad, and it’s mostly set in Seattle, but there is also a cruise to Antarctica… I mean, how could I resist?
7. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. I need to cram all the Mary Roach books into my brain. In Packing for Mars, Roach explores the curious science of life in the void. She goes to crazy lengths in her research, badgering experts and immersing herself in her subject — but she’ll also go pretty far for a joke, and her footnotes are the best ever.
8. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. I’m not sure if I feel really smart or really stupid when I read David Foster Wallace. Stupid because I have to look up every fifth word, or smart because I’m reading something that uses such big words? In any case, I was blown away by Wallace’s essays; it’s amazing to see the way his brain works, and he writes about some really fascinating topics.
9. Atonement by Ian McEwan. I was pleasantly surprised by this book about a young girl whose lie changes the lives of multiple people close to her. The plot was intricate and thought-provoking, and the big reveal at the end nearly broke my heart.
10. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I think I love this book more a few months after reading it than I did immediately after finishing it. It’s an incredibly layered, nuanced memoir about Walls’ unconventional childhood. Parts of it were really difficult to read, but I was inspired by Jeannette’s heart and the balanced way she was able to write about her family.
Next year I hope to read some backlist titles by Alice Munro, Karl Marlantes, Nick Harkaway, Colum McCann, and many more!
What are some of the best backlist books you read this year?