Yep, it’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for “The List.” You know you have been waiting all year for it.
One of my favorite things about having this weekly blog is the ability to prepare a year-end list of my favorite books. I love reading other people’s lists because typically I find out about books I had never heard of and they sometimes even lead to new discoveries. For example, a few years ago I was reading Stephen King’s year-end list and he included a book called “Tree of Smoke” by Denis Johnson, a Vietnam War novel which I had never heard of and quickly snapped up and enjoyed. So who knows, you might make a new discovery from my list…
First, the key to the numbers:
63 total reading experiences;
12 books I rated at 5 stars;
5 classics of literature;
30 books rated 3 stars or less; and
2 books that I didn’t finish (Life’s too short, you know? I used to feel that I had to finish every book I started, but I have too many books on my “to be read” shelf that I might as well move on if I am not enjoying a book after 100 pages—that’s my new rule.)
Aside from the 2 books I did not finish, here is the total: 46 fiction books; 5 non-fiction books (including 3 autobiographies); 5 novellas/short stories/short story collections; and 5 classics of literature. Unfortunately, of the 61 reading experiences, I rated 30 of them at 3 stars or less and 18 of them at 4 stars. This leaves only 12 books at 5 stars.
Thus, I have termed this the “Year of Reading Disappointedly.” A year of true disappointment in reading.
In the past I have provided 2 separate lists; a Top Ten list of all non-classics and a Top Five list of classics. This year, since the “5 Stars” were so few, I have combined them into one “Top Twelve” list, in no particular order.
1. It seems poetic that I should start my “Top Twelve” list with the book called The Twelve by Justin Cronin, the second in a trilogy about government-engineered vampires that eradicate the vast majority of the world’s population and the aftermath of rebuilding. After having read A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Stand by Stephen King this year also, it is obvious that both those novels were major influences for The Twelve and its predecessor The Passage. I may be in the minority, but I think that The Twelve surpassed its predecessor and I cannot wait for the final chapter in the trilogy.
2. Night Film by Marissa Pessl was the most interactive of reading experiences that I had this year. A mystery involving the death of the daughter of a reclusive underground film maker, filled with newspaper reports, magazine articles, pictures, emails, websites and even an interactive application for the phone all contributed to a harrowing and nightmarish descent into the psyche of an ambitious reporter and his obsession with an unknowable subject.
3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was nothing like I expected. At times I found myself yearning for the society envisioned by Huxley, of no stress, everyone in his/her place, simplicity in relationships and general calm. But at its root, it’s a cautionary tale, and one which reaches its true vision in its final pages of death.
4. The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders is the only non-fiction book to make it on the list this year. An education of England in the 1800s and its fascination with murder and the events that made murder glamorous and must-watch television (before television, that is.) A perfect complement to my frequent endeavors into 19th century London crime novels.
5. The Black Country by Alex Grecian is the second novel involving London’s Murder Squad, taking place shortly after the Jack the Ripper murders and the creation of a new squad of detectives at Scotland Yard. Almost as good as its precursor The Yard (which you will recall was in my top 10 of last year), Alex Grecian has become my new favorite.
6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was so much better than I had expected it was astounding how wrong I truly was. I knew that the novel was nothing like the Universal Studios caricatures and the classic films, but after having seen the Kenneth Branagh film from a few years ago, I was expecting boring and more boring. Instead, I found the novel to be a fascinating study of the passion for discovery and the risks of playing creator. My only detraction about the book is that it was quite scary enough. But a wonderful method of storytelling and a great story.
7/8. As you may recall, I typically do not include multiple books by the same author in my list, however this year I had to make an exception. The Solitary House and A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd were both astonishing mysteries taking place in Victorian Era London with a wonderful new character named Charles Maddox. If I had to give an edge to one of the books, it would have to be The Solitary House because of its use of characters from Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. But both books were absolutely fantastic and required reading for anyone interested in Victorian Era mysteries and literature.
9. Living Dead Girl by Tod Goldberg is the rare novel that stuck with me weeks after I had finished reading it. And it wasn’t just the story itself, but it was also the experience of reading it that stayed with me. Even now, I think of the book and get chills about just how uncomfortable I was during reading. To give you any more information about the book would be unfair to you. Just read it, that’s my advice—you’ll thank me later.
10. If you recall, my number one classic from last year was Animal Farm by George Orwell, a book I read in one sitting and grinned the whole way through. So is it any surprise that 1984 by Orwell should make it on the list this year? Another book that I was nervous about reading; a book which I had seen my friends struggle with in high school. And yet, this one totally blew me away. I couldn’t put it down. It was absolutely riveting and would have been my number one classic novel for the year except for
11. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I cannot say enough about this book other than to say it was marvelous. A lengthy read and one which really required savoring, it was well worth the investment of time and focus. I can count on one hand the books I would call amongst my all-time favorite reading experiences and this one is definitely on that list. A mystery, a thriller, a novel of suspense and a social commentary all rolled into one makes for the perfect book.
12. And no Rob Cohen book list would be complete without the annual entry from Michael Connelly, my favorite author of all time. The Gods of Guilt, Connelly’s 26th novel, delivers yet again. This one, the fifth involving Michael Haller, the famed Lincoln Lawyer, is a riveting courtroom drama involving the murder of a prostitute and Mickey’s defense of the accused. My only wish is that the books were longer because I hate having to wait for the next Michael Connelly novel.
So that’s my list for the year. On the whole, a disappointing year but I am definitely looking forward to 2014.
What’s on your list? I am always looking for recommendations.