2014: A Year of Reading

January, the month of new beginnings is coming to a close, but before we advance further into the new year I want to take a moment to look back. The Millions hosts their annual Year in Reading features in December and so I am quite late to the party, but as this blog has lain languishing in the backwaters of the Internet for so long I wanted to revive it while also providing some context for my absence.

In 2014 I read a total of 60 (non-academic) books [for a full list see my Goodreads 2014 bookshelf], but when I think back on the year I can barely see past the heft of my beginning research bibliography. I began my PhD this past October and in the last three months of the year, my reading took on a whole new life. It’s exciting and it’s terrifying, but mainly it’s just been an adjustment. My reading habits have changed drastically and I still have yet to find a comfortable balance between my two reading lives.

There was a day many months ago now that I can remember so clearly, reading in the sun on my parents’ farm in Maryland. Reading memories so often jumble together, but something about that afternoon has stuck in my mind. I was reading Artful by Ali Smith. It was a library book so I don’t have it with me to reference, but I can still remember noting down a particular passage on time (in a notebook undoubtedly misplaced in my trans-Atlantic move several months later). My memory is spotty, and so all I can excavate now is a few vague phrases: ‘Time means…Time will undo us’. This partially remembered passage, that it is embedded in such a poignant memory, seems almost a foreshadowing.

When I was reading Artful, back home on the farm, I was waiting—my life was peaceful and my days were filled with fiction. I was waiting to move back to England, to start my PhD and a whole new phase of life. I didn’t know just how much was about to change, but then again we never do. I read so many books during that waiting period:

  • Bark by Lorrie Moore* made me smile wryly even when reading about existential despair [1];
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson livened up a long road trip [2];
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson reminded that sometimes it’s nice to meander through a story [3];
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl gave me a spooky mystery to relish [4];
  • the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis entertained me while simultaneously annoying me [5];
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt filled up several snow days [6];
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart had me flipping pages in a whirlwind [7]; and
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton held me tightly in its interwoven narratives [8].

Just to name a few. It was a reading golden age, a book-lover’s dream. Waiting, for a reader, is never unendurable as long as there are books to be read.

And yet it’s strange to me to look back on the year, knowing now that when I was wishing for time to hurry up, antsy for change, I really should have been cherishing the waiting. But we never know the ‘before’ is just that until suddenly we’re in the ‘after’. Time makes meaning. It will undo us—unravel an old life—and it will remake us into something new.

I didn’t mean for this post to become so pensive. For all of this nostalgia for the enigmatic ‘before’, I feel the need to clarify: I am very happy in my life at the moment. 2014 was a strange year, with plenty of turmoil as well as a lot of happiness. For the first time in three years I was able to spend an extended amount of time with my family back in Maryland and it was so wonderful - living abroad is hard, especially when your family is going through stress and pain, and so I will always cherish those six months I had at home (and it will always be home). Despite how hard it was to leave again, and it gets harder with every leaving, I love my life in England. I can’t believe that I get to spend the next two and a half years reading and writing about a nerdy obsession. I love reading about early modern Catholicism and women’s devotional writing. But I will always look back fondly on the reading memories I have from that waiting period.

One Line Reviews:

  1. Enjoyable but underwhelming compared to her other works.
  2. I always appreciate LHA’s writing, but I thought the romance and the ending could have had more depth.
  3. A winding, imaginative story told well but floundered at the end (although I could be misremembering).
  4. Flawed in the execution but still an intriguing read.
  5. Such potential but messy in the world-building; that said it was entertaining.
  6. A great story, filled with wonderful characters, but has some slow parts in the middle.
  7. A good twist, but the writing fell flat and at times it felt as though Lockhart was trying a bit too hard.
  8. Just wonderful - masterfully plotted, hefty but still fully immersive.