Thursday, December 18, 2014

In Which I Take a Look at the Books That Guided Me Through 2014

This is the time of year when book bloggers and magazines and newspapers are touting their Best Of lists. I, however, am going to take a different slant on my reading for the year 2014.  

Here you have Belle's Book Guide, a look at a few books that especially entertained and guided me through the year.

To begin with, for a total education I could have just read and re-read two books: Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel which covers everything from literature to history to art, and, yes, a few travel destinations along the way, and The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel which offers shelves full of architecture, histories of private and public libraries and their patrons, lost books, burned books, and a community of international authors.

Here are other BOOKS that made up my reading list this year and what they brought to my life:

Beauty: The Southerner's Handbook celebrates the beauty of what makes Southerners Southern and gave me insights into my own below-the-Mason-Dixon line heritage. These were well-written essays collected by the editors of Garden and Gun magazine on everything from sweet tea and barbecue to the Great Southern Novel and the Art of Wearing Pearls.

Anytime I read one of Peter Mayle's novels set in France - this year it was Chasing Cezanne - I know I am in for a sensory extravaganza. He not only paints for me the landscape and architecture of the region but also the glories of food and drink and the pleasures of the table. Delicious.

Observation: Reading books such as Delight by J.B. Priestly and A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon remind me to slow down and take a good look at everyday pleasures and to be mindful of recording them in my own journal. Also, dipping into the wacky worlds of  Dave Barry (You Can Date When You're Forty) and Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) and reading their close observations and experiments with life keep me from taking things too seriously.

In Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, I observed a writer at work and also felt as if I had spent time with and gotten to know a new friend. Her look at her own writing practice with its perils and pleasures is a must-read for anyone looking to jump start her creative life. 

Obfuscation: Of the over one hundred books I read this year more than 40 of them were mysteries/suspense/thriller novels. I do love a puzzle. These were books ranging from the old school Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library to the new school world of Tim Hallinan's witty burglar Junior Bender. It takes a clever author to hide clues in plain sight and yet keep me guessing.

Kindness: Unlike the murder and mayhem found in the books above, kindness and good spirits abound in The All-Girls' Filling Station Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg; the ever delightful 84,
Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff; and, my favorite of the year, The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. In each of these books the kindnesses of strangers and the affection of the characters for each other (including dogs and blue jays) encourage one to just Be Kind.

Simplicity, Solitude, Silence: There are a dearth of books telling me how to pack more into and organize every nanosecond of my days. I, however, prefer to live a life with broad margins. I aim to leave time between activities - whether chores and errands or the more contemplative ones of painting and writing. Here are the books that inspired me this past year: Shelter for the Spirit by Victoria Moran; two by Elaine St. James, Simplify Your Life and Living the Simple Life; and the first two 'shells' (her chapters on solitude and simplicity) in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea.

For the complete list (to date) of my shelf full of books for 2014, browse here.

Now, what books guided you through the year?


  1. Good list Belle, your posting prompted me to consider what I had read in 2014 and quickly discovered my book journal’s last entry was in July which may indicate where my year went from there! Anyway I have on few scraps of paper (old habits) with illegible notes on some of my subsequent readings.
    Best fun “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame,..its been so long and the creatures of the river-bank are still a wonderful bunch of chaps!
    In Poetry my favourite discovery in 2014 was “Unfortunately, It Was Paradise” Selected Poems by Mahmoud Darwish, A mesmerising heat-haze of words and images.
    The best and only (don’t usually indulge) mystery reading was “Morality Play” by Barry Unsworth. I came across this as I was doing a bit of amateur research into the influences of the old “Passion” and “Morality” plays on Shakespeare and his time. It is so well written and I thought I could hear constantly the refrain of “Bring out your dead!” …but it was just Monty Python! Great fun but very dark as fits that dank and mirthless period.
    My surprise of the year was “The Ice Palace” by Norwegian poet and novelist Tarjei Vesaas. It is less than 200 pages but packs a wallop. You can feel the cold in every page, It is one of those books that I think no one can forget once encountered.
    Biographical winner was “Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead” by Paula Byrne. A bit gossipy but has great insight into Waugh and his constant and much discussed desire to gain the next step on the ladder of society.
    Biggest disappointments were “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel and “The Heart of Thoreau's Journals” by Henry David Thoreau.
    Thanks Bell for nudging me to mull over the readings of the past year. Now I can start a new reading journal! Thanks again!

    1. Hi, Tullik. Well, you can't lose with "The Wind in the Willows". I read it a few years ago and loved every minute. Wonderful chaps, yes!

      The mystery and the poetry sound intriguing and your thoughts on "The Ice Palace" bring to mind "The Frozen Thames" which left me shivering.

      Gossip and Evelyn Waugh just seem to go together, don't they. And your nod to Thoreau reminds me that this was the year I was going to read "Walden" and alas, have not.

      Good luck with your reading journal in 2015. I try to keep up with mine here at BB&C but am sure some books have slipped through the cracks. Oh, well. We do our best

  2. What a thoughtful and beautiful post, Belle. So much nicer than a simple "best" list. I've read many of the books you list here and enjoyed all of them a great deal. I'm adding Shelter for the Spirit to my TBR list (I've read books by Moran before and enjoyed them very much and was not familiar with this one), and it's been a while since I read Gift From the Sea so I think it's time for a reread.

    As for the books that have guided me, I would also list Dani Shapiro's book. I've also enjoyed a lot of good literature and new-to-me authors this year, thanks to bloggers like you. Here's to many more years of reading delight!

    1. Thank you, Kathy, for your kind words.

      I, too, have read many of Victoria Moran's books but had somehow missed her 'Shelter for the Spirit'. She has a bright, fresh way of looking at things. I enjoy her books. I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's first chapters on Solitude and Simplicity while I was on retreat over Thanksgiving. Certainly tied in with what I was experiencing.

      And yes, Dani Shapiro's book is one of my new favorites. I am so glad I stumbled across it and will probably give it a re-read in 2015.

  3. Kindness is so important in life - I am going to look at my books read now and ask myself if I have read enough about kindness this year. I wonder.

    1. Well, Vicki, the mysteries, although the ones I read are not too violent, are certainly at odds with the books mentioned that promote kindness! Perhaps I should read more of the latter...

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. wonderful idea. I loved so much The Library at Night - read in 2013

    1. I was totally enthralled with "The Library at Night" and want to read more of Mr. Manguel's books in 2015. Thanks for your comments.