This month marks my five-year anniversary at Goodreads, which I joined in order to kickstart my fiction reading after years in academia. Since I once again find myself trying to exit a reading slump, I thought it might be interesting (and inspiring) to take a look back at my reading over that time and see how far I had come. Would it be easy or hard, I wondered, to come up with a best of the best list?
January 2010 was the beginning of my “should-read” challenge, where I set myself the goal of reading twelve books I always felt I should have read already (aka War and Peace attempt #1). The year brought me more than a few highs (Don Quixote, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale) and some serious lows (Wide Sargasso Sea, Fun Home). I read both the Hunger Games and Dragon Tattoo trilogies as well as the five volumes of Le Chat du Rabbin (The Rabbi’s Cat). It was the year I discovered the Books on the Nightstand podcast and the fact that I generally don’t like graphic novels even though I love bande dessinée. (I tried, I really did.) You can read my top ten of 2010 here and my thoughts on my 2010 challenge books here.
2011 was the year of The Great Unread. I was pretty good about blogging that year although my reading was a bit scattershot since I was pulling things randomly from my shelves and letting the book salon dictate the rest. As a result, the quality of my reading material was all over the place and I rated a number of books at only two stars on Goodreads (which means “it was okay”). I did read a high of sixty-four books in 2011, many of which were YA, which is probably why I have since taken a break from that category. That year was also dominated by Josephine Tey, who I discovered thanks to Stasia Ward Kehoe. For a round-up of my favorites from 2011, read here. For more on the book salon concept, read A Tale of Two Cities.
With sixty-two books, my quantity remained high in 2012. Luckily, this quantity was accompanied by a huge uptick in general quality. Whether this is because I read more classics—including Eugene Onegin, Hunger, Lolita, McTeague, and Tarzan—or because my podcast listening, especially The Readers, led me to better contemporary selections, I don’t know, but many of the books below come from this year. My annual challenge (aka War and Peace attempt #2) was dictated by this blog’s readers, who brought Lolita and A Prayer for Owen Meany into my life, for which I am very thankful. I was very good about blogging the Readers’ Choice Challenge and my general thoughts on the books I read in 2012 can be found here and here. Like many of the UK book bloggers I follow, I also reflected on My Life in Books.
After the highs of 2011 and 2012, I began 2013 with the lofty goal of reading seventy-two books. Perhaps because I had just made the move to self-employment, I thought I would have more time. (And, yes, I do hear all you self-employed people laughing.) But the reality was that the break in my routine probably kicked off a gradual decline. Nevertheless, I did manage to get through fifty-five books in 2013, including finally finishing Wolf Hall, and managing to work some French books into the mix, including the award-winning HHhH by Laurent Binet and Stupeur et tremblements by Amélie Nothomb. The TBR Challenge served to clear many languishing titles from my shelves and I also did a reread of most of Sherlock Holmes. General thoughts on the books I read in 2013 can be found here and here.
And that brings us to 2014, when it all went to hell. I tried to simplify my annual challenge down to one book (aka War and Peace attempt #3) but I couldn’t even manage that. Still, while I only read twenty-five books total, I was much more successful with my choices overall and wound up with a pretty good Top Ten.
So, after five years, what are the best of the best? Below are my favorite reads of 2010–2014. Some I absolutely adored when I read them, others are ones that have lingered in my mind and so beat out other deserving titles. The top five were givens, after that it became a bit more difficult to choose. Except for a couple of titles, the Best of the Best are recent fiction. I could have easily added McTeague or Unbroken, but I decided to separate them out into their own respective categories.
Best of the Best
The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)
The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)
The Invisible Bridge (Julie Orringer)
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Patrick Süskind)
The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)
Second Best, or Most Eager to Reread
Gillespie and I (Jane Harris)
Possession (A.S. Byatt)
Pure (Andrew Miller)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
Best in Classics
McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (Frank Norris)
Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Best in Non-Fiction
Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed)
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (Twyla Tharp)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Tom Reiss)
Best in Series
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson
Now You See Me (Lacey Flint #1) by S.J. Bolton
Child 44 (Leo Demidov #1) by Tom Rob Smith
The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka #1) by Camilla Läckberg
Best in YA
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
Anna and the French Kiss (Stephanie Perkins)
Tomorrow, When the War Began (John Marsden)
Matched (Ally Condie)
What do you think of my lists? What is the best book you’ve read in recent years?