So I didn’t take part in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon this year, or the 10 Years in 10 Books challenge; I think I was on my way back from a friend’s wedding and I’ve heard it’s not socially acceptable for guests to hide under the table and read. That said, I do regret missing out. I love a good read-a-thon as it’s an opportunity to check in with the reading community but I also love the challenges.
This year, the Dewey geniuses came up with a really interesting challenge that I’ve decided to take part in a good, oh, three weeks after the event? You’ll survive.
The object of the challenge is to submit one book recommendation for every year published from 2007 to 2017. Admittedly this is actually eleven years, not ten, but hey ho.
Click on the title for a link to my review (except for Harry Potter because, seriously, who reviews Harry Potter?).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
This one was the first year I looked at (thankfully you can arrange your Goodreads list by year) and it was tough. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve had ten years to read books published in 2007 and there actually turned out to be fifty three books on my list. How is that even possible!?
I was going with Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey until I’d reached the very bottom of this list and stumbled across Harry Potter but, seriously, like I’m not going to pick this one. It broke me emotionally in two different places (and not the places you’d think, either).
I do feel like Reserved for the Cat has been cheated a little, however, as I really do love that book and it would have won out over most things that don’t involve Professor McGonagall standing in harm’s way in front of her students.
We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee
I saw this a pretty much stopped scrolling because they don’t make books better than this. I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t have beaten Harry Potter – that’s how strongly a feel about this book. It gives me the warm, happy, fuzzy feelings everytime I read it and it’s much better than the film, which changed pretty much everything.
You don’t need to be a fan of animals, memoirs or zoos to love this book, because it seems to fit into a category of its own. Parts of it are so funny that I actually snorted my tea on one memorable, but not particularly attractive, occasion. There’s a general tone of cheerfulness and hope, even in the worst possible scenarios, that you just can’t fail to be uplifted and cheered by.
As an honourable mention, I have to give a quick nod to The Way of Shadows, the first book in Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy, which is also amazing.
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Another non-fiction book – that was unexpected. This one was another no-brainer for me though.
This one is pretty special. It talks about the process of researching and writing the book as it discusses the topic which, by the way, is WWII Czechoslovakia. It really brings to life the impact that the War had on the little people and the sheer bloody mindedness required of the common people to power through and fight back.
It’s written in a very informal, chatty, style that really brings the topic home.
I’m pretty sure I cried, but then I’ve cried at every book on this list so far.
It’s almost as though Laurent Binet wrote the book without going back to edit. For example, he’ll state that he doesn’t know a certain fact…, but a few chapters later he’ll pop up and go “Oh, I’ve checked it now – it’s this…!” At one point he refuses to buy a certain reference book about Reinhard Heydrich but then ends up buying it a little later.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go for another non-fiction. This book is the reason I went off and did a whole Masters in Biotechnology Law. I even quoted this book in my essay application, which admittedly makes me cringe looking back.
It’s a surprisingly accessible book about how the cells removed from a particular woman without her consent went on the form the basis of the cancer treatment we use today… and how her life and that of her family was spent in poverty.
You know a book is written very well indeed when the issues it raises makes you so angry you get that tight feeling in the pit of your stomach. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about my tissues being used for research without my consent, but the millions of dollars made in profit by the medical companies was clearly immoral, especially when the Lacks family can’t even afford medical insurance.
11.22.63 by Stephen King
Still though, I couldn’t not use 11.22.63. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a book blow me away as much as this one. It’s been on every list of ‘best’ books, as well as the most moving, heart-wrenching, character-driven… the list goes on. I haven’t even dared reread it due to just how haunting it is. It’s definitely the best book published in 2011, no question.
This book is amazing, and it broke me. There may as well be no other books. It’s long and occasionally heavy, but it genuinely stopped being just a story for me. I cared more than was reasonable about all the characters and felt so tense over certain plot twists I could have been sick. This is a story about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But not really. It’s also a story of time travel, morality, romance, science fiction and friendship, with a little bit of creepiness thrown in for good measure. This is Stephen King, after all.
The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J.W. Ironmonger
Sigh. Making this list is more difficult than I’d expected. I’m ignoring so many brilliant books here.
That said, I can hardly leave this book out. It follows a man attempting to catalogue the entire content of his brain in preparation for it to be dissected upon his death. It’s philosophical but accessible, methodical but fascinating… I read it the same year as 11.22.63 and therefore spent the majority of the year as a broken, weeping husk.
The ending is one of the best I’ve read, ever. I wasn’t sure whether to cry or throw up or what, but my heart was hammering and my fingers were gripping the sides of the book so hard I left permanent indentations. It’s just perfect. It’s a slow build-up, but it makes so much sense and left me absolutely desperate to know what happened. It almost, almost matches 11.22.63 and we all know how much I loved that one.
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
This is the only book I’ve read even relatively recently that has made it onto this list so far. All the others I haven’t picked up in several years, although I am making mental notes of the books I want to reread as I go.
This book is the start to the Lady Isabella Trent series, and it somehow manages to be charming and action-packed all at the same time. I’ve already read the second book, own the third and have the fourth on my wishlist. If you’re even vaguely interested in dragons and fantasy, you need to read this series.
Lady Trent writes her memoirs from several decades in the future, when she’s clearly an accomplished scholarly adventurer of some renown. In her twilight years, she has taken some leisure time to finally write an honest account in response to the hundreds of letters she receives from young fans, clamouring for details on her exploits. This results in a charming first person narrative that has the benefit of hindsight – the elderly Lady Trent looks back on her younger self with some fondness (and occasionally frustration) and muses on how the world has changed.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty
Oh look, another non-fiction. That really wasn’t expected.
Admittedly this seems to be a sort of strange choice for the best book I’ve read that was published in 2014, but it’s true. It’s a casual, funny memoir of Caitlin’s time working in a crematorium, but it’s also a more in-depth look at how our modern society deals with death and if that’s really the best way. It’s never hard going or too emotional, and she really made me think about several larger issues. As well as making me cry with laughter, obviously.
This is not a book for those of a sensitive disposition. We read about decay, leaking and mechanisms for keeping the eyes of the deceased firmly closed (spoiler alert: they use caps with spikes on). I like that about this book though. I like that it goes slightly beyond the realms of propriety to explain the details that I had never considered were an issue. For me, the most interesting chapter dealt with the bodies of babies, both pre- and post-term, and the associated problems. It wasn’t exactly pleasant reading, but it was fascinating and I have respect for the author for discussing what most people would rather brush under the carpet.
She writes that there is a culture of death denial prevalent in the modern world. Where death was previously accepted as a natural fact of life, attempts are now made to hide ourselves away from the very existence of death, as evidenced by the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry, the rise of embalming and the ability to cremate your loved ones via the Internet.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I wasn’t all that enthused about reading this book or the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, as I really hadn’t got along with the author’s earlier Grisha series. I was really surprised to realise that they don’t even seem like they were written by the same person.
This series is amazing. It’s dark and unique, and it’s written so, so well. That said, easily my favourite thing was the characters which are just amazing.
I’m a sucker for books about close knit groups of wildly different people, all working towards a shared objective, bonding and bickering along the way. Six Crows and Crooked Kingdom do that perfectly. The way the relationships develop and change is so perfect and so subtle – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen characterisation performed so beautifully. The characters are so different, but the way their personalities interweave is wonderfully crafted.
Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson
I was torn between this and The Power, but we ended up with this as I’m not sure how I feel about the ending of The Power. It’s probably the more ‘important’ book and it’s definitely won more prizes, but I think I liked Mara’s book just a tad more.
This is the memoir of Mara Wilson, the now grown-up woman who played Matilda in the 90s film.
I loved that this book wasn’t a written-by-numbers, dreary account of her life – I was born here, my parents were nice, etc etc. Instead it’s a collection of long essays that discuss various aspects of her life – the death of Robin Williams, her experiences of show choir, the fact that the Internet seems to think she’s ugly now.
It’s hilarious, thought-provoking, insightful and moving, all at the same time.
I (now) know that she has experience in writing (both academically and through her one-man shows, etc) so perhaps it’s it’s only to be expected, but she writes very well. Not just ‘… for a celebrity,’ but it’s actually, objectively, good. I felt angry when she was describing the joys of seeing comparisons of your childhood and adult faces of the Internet when you least expect it, and I teared up when she was expressing her sadness over the loss of Robin Williams. She’s very self-deprecating and never woe-is-me, but you end up sharing her emotions, or at least those she chooses to project.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
This choice, however, was not spectacularly difficult. If it didn’t have to complete with The Radium Girls, perhaps The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. would have won, as I adored that book.
But it’s not, it’s The Radium Girls, and so there’s no doubt of its rightful place in this list. It’s a hefty non-fiction book about the women who worked in the factories in the 1920s, painting dials on watches with radioactive paint. They were encouraged to put this paint in their mouths… cue a huge range of terrifying ailments and a ridiculously protracted Court battle.
This book is wonderful. It’s informal and accessible, but so hard-hitting that I couldn’t get it out of my head for months afterwards. I actually sobbed whilst reading this book. I’m not talking about a solitary tear wending its way down my cheek – I full on bawled.
I’m desperate to talk about this book so hurry up and read it! I want to talk about the women, the people and especially how radium affected the whole town. The factory was eventually used as a meat locker – so naturally everybody who ate the meat became severely ill. After that the factory was knocked down… and the rubble was deposited around town. Dogs died prematurely, citizens developed an inordinate amount of tumours… you get the idea. I want to talk about it.
Well, there we go. I’ve learned two things:
- I have read a lot of amazing books over the past eleven years, and
- I have excellent taste in non-fiction.
Have you read any of these books? Do they deserve their place on this list?