Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Favourite Books Of 2014

A couple of these choices appeared in last weeks Sydney Morning Herald, but I've expanded that piece to include my "classic" fiction book of the year, my favourite history book of 2014, my favourite mysteries, my favourite audiobook and my favourite science book of the year.

My non-fiction book of 2014 is H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Sharing an obsession with raptors with her father, Macdonald is sent into an, uhm, tailspin after his death and impulsively decides to buy a goshawk. She buys hawk-food, stuffs her fridge in Cambridge full of it and attempts to become a real life falconer. Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson non fiction prize this is perhaps the best book on birds since JA Baker's classic, The Peregrine.

My fiction book of 2014 is The Martian by Andy Weir a self published success story about an engineer trapped on Mars desperately trying to survive with no air and no food. Surprisingly funny, meticulously researched, and chock full of drama this is the book that should have won the Hugo and Nebula Award. It takes a writer of real talent to generate so much tension from a man trying to grow potatoes in a tent... (Currently being turned into a film by Ridley Scott who is overdue to make a good movie...) 

My audiobook choice of the year is Longbourn by Jo Baker. An upstairs/downstairs (mostly downstairs) look at the life of the Bennett sisters during the events of Pride & Prejudice. As I said on the telly if I'd written this book it would have been an unreadable, angry pseudo Marxist screed but Jo Baker is a lot less angry than I am and her book is wonderful. One of the best novels about laundry work I've encountered since Martin Eden. The narration by Emma Fielding is superb. 

My classic fiction book of the year is The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. An office worker's thoughts as he spends his lunch hour buying shoelaces, eating a hot dog and reading Marcus Aurelius. It's like Virginia Woolf's The Waves if The Waves was, you know, good.

My history choice for 2014 is Paris After The Liberation 1944 - 1949 by Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, which tells the tale of the trials, tribulations, attempted coups and eventual return to normalcy of Paris following the liberation. It's particularly good on who really liberated Paris (mostly black African and Spanish troops serving in the Free French forces (who were then - of course - largely excluded from the victory parade)) and I liked the stuff on who really worked for the Resistance and who just lied about it (Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett were patriots, Sartre was a liar). 

Best mysteries of the year? Well this is incredibly tough for me because I read so many great crime novels this year. Part of it, of course, is for my job as a reviewer but many books I just read for fun because I love a well honed mystery or thriller. My favs of 2014 were probably the new ones by: Michael Robotham, Stuart Neville, Eoin McNamee, Alex Barclay, Ian Rankin, Belinda Bower, Cathi Unsworth, Claire McGowan, James Lee Burke, Declan Burke, Samantha Hayes, Garry Disher, Angela Savage, Lucy Caldwell, Dave Whish-Wilson, John Connolly, Arlene Hunt, John McFetridge, Pam Newton, Gerard Brennan & Steve Cavanagh. Not a Scandinavian among them... The worst crime novel I read this year was by this guy called Stephen King, which I reviewed, here

My philosophy/intellectual history book of the year is The Age of Nothing by Peter Watson. This is a book about the contemporary existential dilemma: how best to live in a - largely - Godless era. Watson had me at the introduction where he mentions 4 of my favourite contemporary moral philosphers: Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, Jurgen Habermas and Charles Taylor.

My science book of the year is Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark which has become something of controversial best seller. Tegmark believes that we are living in 4 different levels of multiverse and that we're all just really numbers anyway. Being perfectly honest I didn't quite understand the last fifth of the book, but I'll bet it was pretty smart stuff. You can read my full review, here.