A Year In Books, Part 1

I love reading other people’s book lists, learning what they liked and didn’t.  It makes me feel I know them a bit better, and often alerts me to books I may have missed (or helps me avoid books I won’t like).  So, in that spirit, here’s the first 25 of the 71 books I read last year.  Book I loved are in bold.

  1. POETS IN THEIR YOUTH by Eileen Simpson.  Eileen Simpson was married to John Berryman. A fascinating yet tragic memoir. Clear-eyed yet compassionate insight into Berryman’s influences, aspirations and struggles. Knowing what happened to him in the end, of course, tinges the work with layer upon layer of pathos.
  2. THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRINGS by Olivia Laing.  I reviewed this one for the National Post.
  3. THUNDER ROAD by Chadwick Ginther. What a great ride. I read it in a day, because it kept drawing me back. Not only is it full of suspense and action, but the characters are wonderfully drawn and it’s simply busting with humor. If you like Gaimon’s AMERICAN GODS, you’ll ADORE this.
  4. LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson. A bravura performance about storytelling, justice and Destiny. I could not put it down. One of the books I’ve read in a long time.
  5. WHEN GOD IS GONE EVERYTHING IS HOLY by Chet Raymo. My faith and wonder in creation is enriched by Raymo’s work. I’m sure that statement would annoy Mr. Raymo since he INSISTS he is NOT a man of faith. Snort.
  6. DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver. These poems about dogs the poet has known and loved direct the reader to the spiritual truth, the sacredness of the world & every ordinary moment. Deceptively simple, but no less profound for that.
  7. THE DEMONOLOGIST by Andrew Pyper. Pyper uses all his considerable literary chops to create this page-turner. How refreshing (not to mention entertaining) to read such an intelligent supernatural thriller. Pyper’s a terrific writer whose understanding of Milton’s Paradise Lost is impressive and inspiring. Makes me want to go back and read the classic again.
  8. THE CHILD: STRUCTURE AND DYNAMICS OF THE NASCENT PERSONALITY By Erich Neumann. Although much of the book seems like hokum, his thoughts on the consequences of the mother and child relationship gone wrong are thought-provoking.
  9. THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE WOMEN WHO HELPED WIN WORLD WAR II By Denise Kiernan. For me, there were a few too many folksy anecdotes. Too little analysis marred an otherwise interesting story.
  10. THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE: THE NATURE OF RELIGIONS By Mircea Eliade. Eliade argues religious thought is predicated on a clear distinction between that which is sacred and that which is profane. He explores sacred time and space as well as his concept of hierophany.
  11. LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by (Handsome) Colm McCann. (I insist on calling him that after meeting him at the IFOA in Toronto a couple of years back.  Snort.)  Mccann has a natural ear for voice — each one of the sections focusing on a different character has a particular, utterly natural tone. It’s a complex web McCann weaves and an indication of his talent that the connections never seem contrived. Each one carries its own wisdom and its own surprise. The structure is a series of overlapping, delicately linked lives and the image that holds them all together is that of the tightrope walker, defying the odds. Highly recommended.
  12. MCSWEENY’S ISSUE 30 – The one with This is called McSweeney’s “Forge-Ahead/Throwback” Issue, but there’s not a single story I’d throw back. All good, solid stories with great structure and characters.
  13. A COMPLICATED KINDNESS by Miriam Toews. Toew’s is a writer of considerable gifts and her ability to create Nomi’s voice is impressive. She’s (very)funny, bitter, terrified (but not about to admit it), proud, sardonic, kind…in other words, a complete person. It’s hard to believe, in fact, she’s fictional.
  14. MY EAST END by Gilda Oneill. The book is a combination of memoir, traditional historical/anthropological writing & oral history about the east end of London. Oneill’s research and breadth is impressive, although the combination of mediums isn’t entirely successful. While her own writing is clear, concise, focused and engaging, the same can’t be said for the oral histories and no matter how intriguing some of the details are, some of it is repetitious. It feels at times as though it’s part of a student thesis, which detracts from it’s considerable charm.
  15. A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA by Anthony Marra. One of my favorite novels of the year.  Profound, lyric, compassionate.  This feels  like the work of a writer who will last.  The POV is challenging, and probably shouldn’t work, but it does. Highly recommended.
  16. GLIMPSES OF THE MOON by Edmund Crispin. A country-cosy mystery, full of odd-ball eccentrics as only the Brits can write them. Lots of clever dialogue. A vicar, a tortoise, a mildly-insane cat, a horse with narcolepsy, & a dismembered body.
  17. CONFESSIONS OF A SOCIOPATH by M.E.Thomas. I didn’t want to spend any more time than was necessary with this book and the relentless self-justification, grandiosity, arrogance and smug conceit. The author may well be a sociopath, but it was all simply too sad.
  18. THE METAMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka. A classic work of expressionism. A metaphor for what happens to an individual when he lives a life he loathes, for extreme alienation and rebellion.
  19. ALL MY PUNY SORROWS by Miriam Toews. Shattering, nuanced and poignant examination of suicide in the family. How does one keep loving someone who wants to die? Reviewed this one for the National Post.
  20. LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE by Nancy Mitford. Lovable characters in spite of their considerable flaws & that’s a testament to Mitford’s skill. Read for the sparkling wit & subversive class satire. Worth it, even after all these years.
  21. A MAP OF LOST MEMORIES by Kim Faye. DaVinci Code meets Indiana Jones, with a plucky female heroine. The language is much better than the contrived plot.
  22. SISTER AGE by M.F.K. Fisher. Splendid stories and meditations on aging and dying by one of the 20th century’s great writers.
  23. HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss. Terribly clever. Ambitious. Alas, did not emotionally engage me.
  24. THE NIGHT INSIDE by Nancy Baker. I found myself hurriedly turning pages and reading later into the evening that I’d planned (good things), on top of that pleasure, the story was consistently enhanced by moral dilemmas. What is one to do with eternity? What is a ‘monster’? How does perspective alter morality? Well done.
  25. GOAT SONG: A SEASONAL LIFE, A SHORT HISTORY OF HERDING, AND THE ART OF MAKING CHEESE by Brad Kessler.  Who knew such a book about goats could be so inspiring, so profound? Beautiful prose, acute observation, philosophy that enlightens but never preaches, and animals… READ THIS BOOK! And don’t be put off by the section on the billy goat in rut.  They are disgusting creatures, but unavoidable. Snort. 

So there you have it.  Books 26-50 will be along shortly.  Happy reading.



  1. Vicki Weisfeld on January 12, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    How great that our choices have so diverged. It’s as if each of us is bringing different thoughts to our conversations! Our only shared book (SO FAR!!) is Life after Life, which I think has meaning for writers and readers at many levels. Glad you liked it, too!

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 12, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      Vicki — and I see you just read “City of Thieves.” LOVED that book. Talk about an author who understands both character and pacing. You know, Benioff’s the writer for GAME OF THRONES on the telly, as well as Kite Runner on film and a few others. His skills translate across media. And, as for “Life AFter Life”, I think the only flaw there is that it begins in the wrong place. Because the opening scene sets up Hitler’s assassination, the reader keeps waiting for that as to be the climax, which of course it’s not. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Wendy Alden on February 24, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Happy to see you found “My East End” by Gilda O’Neill. Found it to be fascinating reading the anecdotal as well as historical facts throughout the book. As my own heritage is London’s East End having been a child there until age 6. Many of the sociological influences of the lifestyle of the war years, gave me more understanding of my parents attitudes and beliefs which were a part of my childhood years. Sadly, both my parents are gone now and so I was unable to speak to them about any specifics of the anecdotes, although many mirrored their own lives in large families struggling before and after WW I and before WW II. I’m grateful for the chance to have this glimpse of a life I really don’ t recall. Nor was I able to hear the family stories from grandparents or aunts and uncles growing up as they were all back in England and I was far away in Vancouver, Canada. Always will feel a tender sense of loss of that family connection which was only maintained in the 50’s & 60’s by regular posted letters. However, another insight was that most of my relatives of my parents age were not able to attend school after about age 14, Grade 8 level. So even the correspondence must have lacked the literacy of the more educated.

    You listed Colm McCann’s book, #11, Let The Great World Spin and in your description it mirrored mine of his other book, The Dancer. I enjoyed the latter book for the same reasons you gave for this new novel. (Assuming it is a novel) I’ll definitely have to search for this one.

    As a short note: Were you aware of Colm being attacked in New York last year when going to the aid of another person? He was badly injured facially and I read about this in a Celtic local Canadian monthly publication. I’ve attempted to find out if he’s recovered well, through his website, but was unable on the last check. If you are able to call him, perhaps you would be able to see if he now is fully recovered. I certainly do hope so.

    As always, enjoy reading your blog essays and especially your list of books you read last year. Nearly double the number I read in 2014, but like you, am trying to read more this year! Am up to 12 books so far this year! My dad would be proud of me with that total, as he was a voracious reader.

    Hope the winter blasts of cold, snow and ice give way to Spring very soon in your eastern State. Here, I already have two miniature daffodils in bloom on my balcony! Strange our weather here in the Northwest of the coast.

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