My best reads from 2014
It’s been a very full year of reading thanks to the 104 in 2014 challenge, but if you’d prefer not to wade through my journals, here are the very finest books from my reading this year.
On War by Carl von Clausewitz
I recorded this book for Librivox last year, and it was a grueling sort of slog, but it was a revelation in terms of thinking about how medieval people discussed warfare. Clausewitz discusses the amateur nature of generalship in the ancient world, and uses multiple examples to indicate how this led to terrible consequences. The axioms of medieval war are very rarely followed in medieval fiction, which is why so much medieval history sees to unlikely to modern readers. A particular revelation is Clausewitz’s dissection of the persistent idea that attack is the stronger form of war, and that defense was therefore for the timid, weak, or stupid.
The Fault in our Stars and Paper Towns by John Green
The Fault in Our Stars is a great book, but the quality of a novel can be difficult for people to recall when a work is an unexpected best-seller. I’m glad I put my thoughts down before the movie came out and various people decided the poppy was too tall, because it helps me to look back at the book itself, instead of the miasma of criticism I’ve read since. The book’s narrator is engaging. The characters follow excellently defined arcs. The lines about how parenthood continues following death were particularly meaningful for me. I have not seen the movie, because there are years for weepy movies and years when you need comedies, and maybe it’s a thing for next year. I own the librarian-terrifying* green edition from Project for Awesome 2014, and of all the books in this list, it’s the only one I went out and bought new. Having praised A Fault in Our Stars, it may seem odd to now say that I enjoyed Paper Towns more. It’s the apogee of John Green’s formula, coming of age books about nerdy boys. As someone who was once a nerdy boy, I was once in its target audience. perhaps that’s why, as recreation, it was the superior book. Paper Towns was first suggested to me years ago (as one of the first posts on book coasters) and I completely failed to understand the appeal of the book from the description I’d been given. I’m glad that I eventually caught up.
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis
I liked a lot of great comic books this year, but of them all, the Transmetropolitan series was the best. Its biting satire has held up over the years since publication. The lead character, Spider, is ridiculously complex for a comic book lead: unlikable and yet mesmerizing. I was ridiculously pleased when I picked up eight of these for $10 at the library’s book sale: something about defaced, discarded copies seems to suit this title. The other comics I’d particularly recommend from this year are Afterlife with Archie : Escape from Riverdale and Hawkeye : Little Hits.
Becoming Queen by Kate Williams
This book covers the period in which the Royal Family became a marketing tool. The death of the Crown Princess sets off a series of events which people would not believe in a soap opera. Lovely narrative history, but a little too indulgent toward the royals. Their continual crying poor does begin to grate rather more than the author acknowledges.
The Odyssey by Homer
This was a story which I thought I knew, having seen it in so many visual forms. The actual text differs so much from what I was expecting, however, that I highly recommend it for people who know it, as I did, primarily from other fragments. Persephone really is a brilliant character, downplayed in most later versions.
The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany
One of the antediluvian ancestors of the fantasy genre, strangely outdated, and yet so much better than many of the books which followed it. The prose is almost lyrical, and only interested in plot progression in the most measured way, but so vivid that it can be forgiven for being so adjective laden that it has somehow become literary fiction. Honorable mentions in the fantasy category are New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko and Skin Game by Jim Butcher, each of which are dependent on having read earlier books in the series. * Since it was never to be commercially sold, it has no ISBN. That’s a real problem for us, because our databases really like having a universal index number.