You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Lady Demelza's Year in Books 2014

Hello and welcome to my annual Reckoning of the Books!

Since Moonwave's excellent comment on last year's Year in Books, I have discovered Goodreads and joined up, so you can see a really, really long list of books if you check out my profile there. And here, each title on my list links to that book's page on Goodreads, so you can find out what kind of a book it is pretty quickly. In some cases, where the author has their own website or blog, I've linked the author's name to their home sites.

1. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie 1990
2. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith 2013
3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver 2007
4. Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson 2012
5. Opal - The Journal of an Understanding Heart by Opal Whiteley 1920, adapted by Jane Boulton 1976 (re-read)
6. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 2007
7. The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris 2007
8. Peaches for Monsieur le Cure by Joanne Harris 2012
9. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 1992
10. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery 1909 (re-read)
11. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 2001, English translation by Lucia Graves 2004
12. Aspergirls by Rudy Simone 2010
13. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin 2007
14. Madness by Kate Richards 2013
15. The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter 1976
16. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas 2010
17. Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres 2001
18. New York by Edward Rutherfurd 2009
19. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee 2011
20. The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks 2010
21. Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall 2008
22. The Tent by Margaret Atwood 2006
23. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith 2012
24. Poems and Songs by Leonard Cohen 2011
25. The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson 1998
26. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson 2005
27. Holy Fools by Joanne Harris 2003
28. Poems 1972 - 2002 by Michael Leunig 2003
29. Escape by Carolyn Jessop 2007
30. Triumph by Carolyn Jessop 2009
31. The Lot: In Words by Michael Leunig 2008
32. The House in Via Manno by Milena Agus 2006, English translation by Brigid Maher 2009
33. The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato 2012
34. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt 2011
35. Geisha: Women of Japan's Flower and Willow World by Tina Skinner and Mary L. Martin 2005
36. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter 1979
37. Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin 1995
38. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 1973
39. 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood 2008
40. Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos 2010
41. The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran 2011
42. Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda 1957, English translation by G.G. Rowley 2003
43. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt 1994
44. DIY Fashion by Selena Francis-Bryden 2010
45. The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover 2009
46. The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox 2013
47. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick 2007
48. Good Bones by Margaret Atwood 1992
49. Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls by Danielle Wood 2006
50. The Neurotourist by Lone Frank 2007, English translation by Russell Dees 2009
51. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson 1949
52. Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin, rev. ed. 2013
53. The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser 2013
54. The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger 1999
55. The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver 2000
56. Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub 2014
57. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer 2011
58. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger 2010 (re-read)
59. Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger 2013
60. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky 2002

Choosing a 'best book' from this list provided something of a classification dilemma. If I were to choose the best book on this list, it would have to be Opal by Opal Whiteley, which as far as I'm concerned is one of the best books ever written by anyone, anywhere. But I can't very well go giving it my 'best book' award every year that I re-read it. That wouldn't be fair, would it? This also rules out The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, which is one of my favourite stories, but also a re-read for this year. So I've decided to belatedly award Opal my Best Book for 1998, and move on to the present. And the Best Book of 2014 is... ta da da-da... Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a really important book that should be read by anyone who eats anything that they didn't grow themselves, but also, it's written by Barbara Kingsolver, who is absolutely brilliant and has turned all these facts of life, the miserable and the miraculous, into an immensely enjoyable story.

Special Excellence Awards for the runners-up go to Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub and Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos, and the special award for making me laugh out loud goes to Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres.

The crappiest book I read this year was 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood. Now, come on, Lady Demelza, shouldn't the title have tipped you off that this book is written by someone who has no idea what they are talking about? Shouldn't you have known better? The answer is yes and yes, but I was sucked into this one because it was the first time I came across a published personal account of a Western woman's experiences working as a hostess in Tokyo. I really wanted to read about this, because there was once a time, when I was younger and hotter, that I seriously considered going to Tokyo to hostess. I reckoned I'd be good at it - I'm a qualified English teacher, and clever conversation is totally my thing. Of course I soon had to admit the reality that my epilepsy wouldn't let me survive in Tokyo anywhere, let alone in nightclubs. I never went. But when I found this book, I saw it as a 'sliding door' into a reality that could have been mine, if things were different. I started off feeling really excited to learn all the little backstage details of the industry, but as the facts gave way to personal reflection, it became clear that the author is just a vain and selfish little brat and I couldn't care less how she goes about fucking up her life. I was already more than halfway in before I realised where this book was going - which was nowhere - and so I stuck it out 'til the end. That's a few hours of my life I'll never get back. Though at least I can now be glad that my epilepsy stopped me from going to Tokyo and I can stop wondering about what might have been.

Special crappy awards go to Holy Fools by Joanne Harris and The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato, just for the abysmal endings. Both these books were happily cruising along as some nice historical fiction until they got to the end. Then The Venetian Contract suddenly took a ridiculous turn for the absurd, and Holy Fools ended so badly that I actually felt emotionally angry with Joanne Harris for choosing to publish such an idea.

You can also check out Lady Demelza's Year in Books for 2013, or for 2012.

I'm linking in with Click Clack Gorilla's Book Lovers' Blog Hop.


  1. How did you like The World Without Us? I have that on my pile. Looks pretty interesting.

    And what about Doomsday Book? I listened to it and ended up being kind of obsessed with it.

    Good to know that Holy Fools sucks. I keep looking for an entry point into her work, but nothing I've found so far really appeals to me.

  2. I really enjoyed World Without Us. I found myself with a big smile creeping up over my face all the time, imagining the world with no humans.
    That's how I found Doomsday Book - from your list last year. I enjoyed it, but oh my goodness it was so bizarre and distracting every time someone hangs around a landline for a call. A future where they can travel in time but no-one has a mobile phone! That reminds me. It's 2015 already - where's my hoverboard?
    As for Joanne Harris, I go up and down on her. Sometimes I think she's great, other times I'm not so sure. I guess that would make her human! I'm happy to recommend Blackberry Wine. I read it so many years ago I can barely remember the plot, but several scenes have stuck with me, as well as the unmistakable feeling of deep pleasure at finding a really excellent novel.