My best reads of 2014

In the annual tradition of useless best of lists, I hereby present my best reads for 2014. As per my reading habits, this does not mean books that came out this year, only books I read for the first time over the past twelve months.

As I reviewed my reading list for the year, a couple of generalities jumped out. First, I enjoyed a number of shorter works. I also started a lot of crap novellas and short stories that weren’t worth finishing. Second, there are some terrific books appropriate for middle schoolers out there. Gail Carriger, Rebecca Stead and Nick Bruel are far more age level appropriate than was the Stephen King I devoured at age 11–which was about the age I was when I first read The Shining. What goes around, comes around…

Without further ado:

10) Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble – Nick Bruel – Once again, Bruel takes a complicated subject (in this case story craft) and breaks it down into easy to understand components all while engaging in a battle of wills with Bad Kitty. I will read his Bad Kitty books even when my kids outgrown them.

9) Fiend – Peter Stenson – Audio book read by Tom Haberkorn. I specify audio book, because I understand some people take issue with the grammar. The narrator, Tom Haberkorn brought a manic energy to Peter Stenson’s tale of a zombie apocalypse. The survivors are all meth-heads who will succumb to the zombie disease if they don’t get their fix. This book is as close as I wish to get to the urgent crush of addiction.

8) Austinland – Shannon Hale – plenty of authors have tried to write a regency and played with the tropes of Jane Austin’s books and life with varying degrees of success, but Hale’s view of Jane Austin theme park flaunts the anachronism and absurdity of an obsession with all things Austin. I picked this up because of the publication backstory. The content beat my expectations and kudos to Hale for sticking with her vision.

7) The Boys of Summer – Sarah Madison – The historical M/M romance read as part of 2014’s January Project stayed with me all year. I read a handful of other M/M historical in literary and romance categories. John Boyne’s The Absolutist got more attention, but Madison’s was the superior book both in character and story execution.

6) Gulp – Mary Roach – I’ve said it before and I hope I will say it again, I will follow Mary Roach anywhere her curious mind takes her. I laughed and learned, even through the squeamish bits.

5) Dr. Sleep – Stephen King – The man is the master. And I expect a sequel featuring the grown up Abra Stone in about twenty years.

4) Marshlands – Matthew Olshan – In this slim volume of a story told in reverse order hides beautiful language, history lessons and thoughtful meditations on colonialism, otherness, dictatorships, war, brutality, torture and forgiveness. This book deserves a wider audience.

3) Etiquette and Espionage – Gail Carriger – Is it literary sacrilege to say I’d rather attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality than Hogwarts? This steam punk adventure follows young Sophronia’s as she and her mechanimal navigate the floating school, avoid Picklemen, and learn how to kill someone with a handkerchief.

2) Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – It lives up to the hype and is better than the movie.

1) We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson – this book has been around since 1962. HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF ITS EXISTANCE PRIOR TO 2014!!!!! An instant all-time favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Fun for the whole family edition: The Sasquatch Escape, and The Lonely Lake Monster both Suzanne Selfors, When you Reach me – Rebecca Stead

Short Story edition: Bug Stuff – Vicki Batman – for a quick laugh, La Llorona – Leslie Garcia – a haunting ghost story.

Other contenders: Lost in Shangri-La – Mitchell Zuckoff, Bad Traveler – Lola Karns, January Thaw – Jess Lourey, Shine, Shine, Shine – Lydia Netzer

Any suggestions for next year’s reading? Post them below.

Remembering 9/11

A lot has happened in the ten years since terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers. I’ll leave others to ruminate on the long-term changes in society. This is, after all, my blog. I’m going to be selfish and share with you two of the ways I process what happened on that day.

Part I It could have been me.  I used to live in New Jersey. I worked in the purchasing and shipping department of a Fortune 500 company. Because we dealt with hazardous materials, my company paid for me to get certain certifications as part of my job training. I did all my course work at the World Trade Center Institute. On that awful day, other students sat in the same chair I did, but instead of watching boats in the harbor, they watched a plane crash into the building they occupied. Today, I still wonder how they made sense of the inconceivable.  Did they rush down the stairs or for elevators immediately or wait until the true terror of fire and collapsing buildings pressed upon them? Did they make it out alive? Did their teachers? Did my teachers? How did their worlds change when mine continued more or less as it had before?

Part II The Lost.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to by my first day of Graduate school at the Ohio State University. One week later classes began as scheduled but with a notably subdued atmosphere. Students sat nervously in the classrooms, no-one talking about crazy things they did over the summer because it all seemed too trivial.  I faced my first class, a discussion section with 35 students, men and women. I ended class early, then as instructed, asked those students in ROTC, the reserves or the National Guard to stay behind. Three young men did. As I explained the quickly drafted policies regarding what would happen in the unlikely event they were called to service, I saw a range of emotions in their expressions, anger, bravery and a look I’d never seen on anyone before. The fear of dying.

They were good young men, hard workers and leaders in the classroom. One, an Ohio born Muslim-American regularly came to office hours both that quarter and the following when he was once again in my class.  Over time, I became if not a friend exactly, a trusted person in his life.  We talked of his past and his future. He wanted to be a teacher.

The following year, he showed up in my office hours again one day. He’d been called up.

Two years later, as I took a rare chance to indulge in the morning news before my daughter awoke, I learned his unit took heavy casualties. I don’t remember if it was in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I remember spending the next few days hoping against hope that he was okay. He wasn’t.

When I consider all that was lost on 9/11 and in the subsequent decade, his is the face I see. We lost his dreams, his work ethic, his curious mind and humble demeanor. I try not to think about what was lost too much. It always makes me cry.