Every week Barnes and Noble emails out a newsletter called Review that almost always features tidbits that catch my interest. This week’s edition included a piece entitled “Words of the Year: The Best Things They Read in 2014.”
The question they posed to their panel of dozens was an interesting one: not, “What was this year’s best book?” or, “What was the best book you read this year?” but, “What was your favorite reading experience of 2014?”
Most of the respondents did what you’d expect them to do, and described their favorite books of the year. Most — but not all. Literary critic Tom LeClair’s favorite reading experience came from reading something that wasn’t a book at all:
“An email accepting my novel Lincoln’s Billy for publication in April 2015.”
For North Carolina novelist Sarah Addison Allen, it was a text message:
“‘I’m texting exclamation point I almost tripped on a cat come over I still have birthday cake.’ There’s action, food, mystery, even punctuation. My favorite reading experience this year: my mom’s first text.”
For me, it was spending a week prone and weak, under the covers, sick as a dog.
Sicker, actually, since our intrepid poodle Ben was fine the whole week. Not Ana, though. We were both exhausted from a long and difficult 2013, and our bodies both used the excuse nearest at hand (“I know, we’ll have the flu!”) to hurl us both onto our backs and out of circulation.
We took turns dragging ourselves out to the kitchen every so often, just long enough to brew fresh tea or make plain toast, and then drag our catch back with us into the Lair of Darkness and Hibernation to share.
We also read — dawn till dusk and beyond. All week long.
It was awesome.
The book Ana read during Recuperation Week was Night Film, the 600-page monster of a thriller by wunderkind Marisa Pessl that was the talk of New York City when it came out in 2013. We’d had the book for a while — a thick, heavy hardcover with a scattering throughout of odd graphics and intricately created “reproductions” of police reports, diaries, newspaper clippings, Internet posts, and such — but she hadn’t had the chance, or perhaps the audacity, to crack its cover. She loved it.
For my part, I also finally tackled a book I’d been meaning to read for a while: Kate Atkinson’s stunning first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I’d read her four novels featuring detective Jackson Brodie, and loved them. I knew by reputation that Behind the Scenes was something quite different.
Sick or not, no novel has ever moved me so strongly. The moment I finished it, I blew my nose, turned back to page one and read the entire thing over again, word for word.
Its final few sentences echoed in my brain for months afterward.
Last month, I read the entire thing again, for the third time, and loved it even more.
It has become the absolute, #1, top favorite novel of any I’ve read in my lifetime thus far.
I got so much more from it on the second (and later third) reading that over the year I found myself returning to books I’ve loved, one by one, and rereading them, including:
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman’s beautiful and gently terrifying evocation of what it’s like to be a seven-year-old child;
- 11/22/63, Stephen King’s masterful ode to the transcending power of love, disguised as a time-travel fantasy based on the idea of going back in time to prevent JFK’s assassination;
- and John Irving’s breathtaking novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, which says more about the role divine intention plays (or, for the agnostics among us, may play) in our lives than anything else I’ve ever read, and was my #1 favorite novel of all time until Behind the Scenes appeared on my bed table.
A few months after The Great 2014 Contagious Read-In I was invited to participate in a new website called HugDug, a Seth Godin project, by contributing book reviews. I reviewed Ocean at the End of the Lane, 11/22/63, (you can read that review here), The Enemy (my favorite of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series), and The Black-Eyed Blonde, Benjamin Black’s magnificent addition to Raymond Chandler’s classic Philip Marlowe series.
The next review I was going to write was going to be for Behind the Scenes at the Museum — but alas, by summer’s end HugDug closed its doors. I loved writing those reviews, and was sad when they went away.
Thus, an early New Year’s resolution: During 2015, I will find a new forum for those reviews — and I will use it to explain just exactly what it is that has me so in love with that particular book of Kate Atkinson’s … and many more.
Meanwhile, I have a question for you:
What was your favorite reading experience in 2014?