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02 Jan 2015
The best books I read in 2014

This was a rough year for me and books - I had a lot of family deaths and a very short commute and started an awesome new job, all of which got in the way, as you might imagine. I only ended up reading 79 books total, which a barely over half my usual count for a year :shamefaced:. Luckily, I came across a few gems to share with you!

Fiction I loved reading in 2014

  • Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho - Absolutely spectacular Malaysian fantasy short stories. This is the big must read of the year, people. Get to it.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie - Written from the POV of a starship’s AI in a human body from a culture with no concept of gender. Really fantastic and original scifi. Read while drinking amazing tea. (Ancillary Sword, its sequel, was fun but not really as great as its predecessor.)
  • A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn - Memory and family and complicated stories and choosing stories and survival and acceptance and hope and redemption and pain passed down through generations. My entire family needs to read this one.
  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler - Vampires done with issues of race and gender in society.
  • The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet - Tremendously twisted fantasy novel - seers, magic, mind control, trigger warning for sexual abuse, lots of horrors and betrayals. No heroes.
  • The Witch in the Almond Tree by C.S.E. Cooney - Gotta admit, she writes great sexy witch stories. Though this short story of hers was somehow even hotter (deeply NSFW, though).
  • The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan - Fantasy novel, queer characters, discrimination, brutality.
  • Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh - Cultural and gender identity, another book with themes of getting lost and isolated from one’s culture and becoming someone else, or maybe not.
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch - Really fun fantasy novel trilogy!
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore - A light fantasy novel, where some people have graces (superpowers, basically). Our protagonist is a teenage girl with a superpower that makes her great at killing, which of course means she unwillingly IS the brute squad for her uncle, the king. But then the story really gets started.
  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo - Great little novel about marriage prospects and Malay Chinese afterlife beliefs.
  • Last Days by Joyce Carol Oates - Great short stories. “If I had it in me to love anyone I would love you… but you know the Holy Ghost saw fit to depart from me leaving just this husk and whited sepulchre, and I can’t lift a finger in rebellion. ‘The Spirit bloweth where it will.’ Do you know what that means? That means everything.
  • The Birthday of the World and other stories by Ursula K. Le Guin - Lots and lots on gender and interesting weird relationship structures.

Non-fiction I loved reading in 2014

  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D. - Mentions a doctor who kept a log of all mistakes he made. Ever since reading this, I kinda want to keep a journal of all bugs I fix/encounter. My main take-aways: Always generate a short list of alternatives, even when you think you know the answer. When talking to doctors: Ask what body parts are near where you’re having your symptoms; what body part might be causing the symptom? What else could it be? What’s the worst thing it could be? Is there anything that doesn’t fit? Is it possible I have more than one problem? (list on p263)
  • Key Concepts in Life and Death: Inside Moves and Under the Stones Techniques by Richard Hunter - Really great Go book!
  • The Unix Programming Environment by Brian W. Kernighan and Rob Pike - I went through this one slowly, with lots of interruptions, over the course of about a year - I actually counted it for last year’s best-of list because I started it in 2013, but I’m counting it again because I finished it in 2014 and it’s still spectacular. I can absolutely see it as a book I can go back and reread and expect to get more out of each time.
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard - I read this book because these quotes from it spoke deeply to me, and it lived up to them completely.
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit - Beautiful, resonant, a perfect read while traveling through Mexico with my friend Bonnie this past spring.
  • And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts - I kept having to close this book to remember how to breathe and stop crying. Intense and amazing and heartbreaking and probably not what I should’ve been reading in this year full of deaths, but so worth it.
  • Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa - Yes! He has an exuberant, fascinating view on life.
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin - Race in America. Painful, important.
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick - I had absolutely no sense of what life is like there before reading a few glimpses this year, and this was the most riveting of them all.
  • The Good Women of China by Xinran - Xinran is basically the Studs Terkel of China.
  • Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang - Migrant young women from rural China working in factories. Particularly striking to read from my current context of the tech industry here.

Books I loved re-reading in 2014

  • for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange - One of my favorite books of poetry of all time. Still makes me cry.
  • Earth by David Brin - I still love this novel as much as I did when I first read it probably 15ish years ago - if anything, it’s only become more strikingly relevant.
  • Alien Sex edited by Ellen Datlow - Short stories about the obvious. Not erotica, honest - it’s just a bunch of really good, weird scifi.
  • Vox by Nicholson Baker - This one really is hot, though. It’s sort of a novel about a single phone sex conversation, except it’s also thoughtful and neurotic and nerdy and brilliant and bizarre.
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber - Had to reread because apparently there’s now a movie? This book has itched at the back of my head for years and years. If you aren’t familiar with the plot, I strongly suggest reading it without reading any reviews of spoilers first. It’s extremely disturbing and told perfectly.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts - Way, way better than its recently released sequel. Vampires without being boring. Cognitive science and how our brains work. Breathtakingly good, really.
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