2014 in Books

Here, in no particular order, are the books I read in 2014, with some notation on whether reading it was a good idea.

Angles of Repose, Wallace Stegner: The story of three generations in the West, in Boise and Northern California. The protagonist reminded me of my grandmother Peggy, which made it sometimes slow reading, but Stegner's vivid writing was always engrossing.

All The Little Living Things, Stegner: The better of the two Stegner books I read, an unblinking meditation on death, and what we hope for in life. The closest thing the book has to an antagonist (other than the looming developers who want to subdivide the valley) is a hippy I was later told was based on Ken Kesey, whom Stegner spared with when Kesey was a writing student at Stanford.

Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes: This was THE book a few years ago. I enjoyed previous work by Barnes, but for the life of me couldn't understand what the rage was about with this work. 

Welcome to Hard Times, E.L. Doctorow: A young, sturdy writer doing some "genre slumming" with Western tropes. Enjoyable enough.

Bottom of the 33rd, Dan Barry: I think every summer I'm going to read a baseball book. This one tells the amazing story of the Pawtucket Red Socks and the Rochester Red Birds playing a 33 inning game back in 1982. But really it's about the heartbreak of AAA baseball, and the death of the rust belt.

The Pale King, David Foster Wallace: His unfinished piece. Magnificent, and devastating for anyone hoping to imitate his craft, for the inimitability of it. 

Why Are We in Vietnam?, Norman Mailer: Despite the name, most of this book takes place in the Brooks Range of Alaska. It's my understanding that Mailer only spent a few days in the state before writing this book, making his vivid depiction of the wilderness all the more stunning.

Executioner's Song, Mailer: 1,000 pages about Gary Gilmore, the first man executed in the United States for decades. Mailer puts you so fully into Gilmore's world that his language, his hopes, his fears, become yours.

An American Dream, Mailer: The third and last Mailer book I read this year, it was a noir, complete with a blonde bombshell and murder.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann: Meh. 

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter: The dean of the strangely ascendent Spokane literary scene, Walter weaves a touching story about men who never gave up on love.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple: Simply the best critique of modern Seattle life in existence. 

Flight, Sherman Alexie: Reading Alexie makes me realize that writing in a strong Native American voice is like doing a Canadian accent: it's difficult to do for how similar it is. Only someone who deeply understands where the vital differences exist between White and Native cultures can do what Alexie does, which is create fully realized American Indian worlds. He does cartwheels with his gift in this book, which is nominally Young Adult.

The Hobbit, the rings, Tokien: Goes without saying. Perfection.

Ponteroy's Complaint, Phillip Roth: My attempt to understand what the fuss about Roth is, I'm still a bit in the dark.

Push, Sapphire: Tara and I do a thing in used book stores where we pick out something for the other to read that we're sure they'll hate. Tara picked this one for me, and I actually was floored by how good it was. The insight on illiteracy was especially crafty, from a writer's perspective. 

Moving On, Larry McMurty: 800 pages about Patsy Carpenter, a young woman who knows she's pretty and knows she's smart and uses those attributes in the most self-serving ways thinkable. And you're sort of supposed to root for her. The best think I got out of this book was this line in the New York Times review of it:

Remember Mark Twain’s preface to “The American Claimant”? Claiming he was only so-so at weather-writing and that weather slowed down the narrative, Twin decided to leave it out; readers wanting weather were advised to turn to his appendix, an anthology of great weather writing from Genesis to Charles Craddock, whenever the urge afflicted them. Someone may someday treat sex in the same way.
— http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/07/home/mcmurtry-moving.html

 No such luck, but it's a great thought.