Tuesday, December 30, 2014

my favourite words of 2014

I wasn't going to do one of these posts. Mostly because they are so ubiquitous this time of year. And you know I lean away from the zeitgeist more often that I lean in. 

But, I guess start - or in this case end - as you mean to go on and seeing as I intend for 2015 to be the year of words, specifically my own, I figure ending this year with some of my favourite words from others is apt. 

I don't think I read an especially inordinate amount of books this year. But when I started compiling this list it occurred to me that I'd read a number of books that I genuinely loved for so many different reasons. Books that I feel will stay with me. I've written before about my disparate style of reading: from fiction to non-fiction across genres and separated sometimes by decades. And as I worked on this post it became clear that the books that stood out for me this year don't fit into a style. They aren't of a type or a specific literary area. They are different, in some cases remarkably so. Nonetheless, I loved them.

In no particular order, except maybe for the order I spotted them in my bookshelf, my favourite words of 2014:

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)
A dystopian novel set in a United States that has been taken over by a totalitarian Christian theocracy in which women and their rights are severely oppressed. Does this one need explanation? Probably only why it took me so long to read it. 2014 really has been the year of Margaret Atwood for me, I've read a little of her work, added much more to my list of books to read, and fell more in love with the way she writes. 

Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit (2014)
After only discovering Rebecca Solnit, the creator of the term 'mansplain', in the latter half of the year, I found myself searching out her work online and bought this collection of essays as a starting point. Featuring seven distinct essays, from the title essay to pieces on Virginia Woolf, doubt and ambiguity, violence against women and marriage equality, Men Explain Things to Me has quickly become a feminist touchstone. Which is undoubtably due to Solnit's writing, a style that merges narrative and journalistic reporting incredibly successfully. 

I Heard The Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven (1967)
A young vicar, with a terminal illness, is sent to an Indigenous parish in British Columbia where he forges genuine trusting and loving relationships with the residents. One of my university tutors recommended this book to me. While it's not an overly long story, I read it from cover to cover in one night and as I closed the last page I was crying. Margaret Craven writes in such a beautiful way, I only wish she'd written a hundred novels. I could read this story constantly for the rest of my days and be perfectly happy. 

Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline (2012)
Fashion has always been an important subject for me. But in the last couple of years the sustainability of the industry and its impact on people and the environment has become a larger part of the story. I read this book very early in the year and it more than likely had some impact on the changes I've made in my sartorial habits. Cline investigates the fast fashion industry from the high street retailers to the manufacturers in China and Bangladesh, to the impact of cheap fashion on the second hand clothing industry. The subtitle is The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which is fairly self-explanatory. 

I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith (1949)
A coming-of-age story of a young woman from an eccentric English family living in gentile poverty in a broken down castle. I discovered this lovely gem of a story though a blog I read somewhat semi regularly. If it was published today it would be unashamedly marketed as YA, a genre that didn't exist in 1949 when it was originally published. Regardless, it's a wonderful read with complicated, and often humorous, characters. 

The Journalist and The Murderer, Janet Malcolm (1989)
After doing a lot of dry journalistic ethics study this year, Janet Malcolm's seminal work on the subject was a refreshing and thought provoking read. The journalist in the title is Joe McGinniss and the murderer Dr. Jeffrey McDonald and the book examines their relationship, McGinniss's resulting book and where the morals and ethics of journalism lie.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
As an entry to the work of Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking is so good. An account of the year following the death of Didion's husband, a year in which her daughter faced her own serious medical issues, there is much in the way Didion works through the death of her husband that was at times confronting and at others so tender. 

The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
I bought this book after seeing Elizabeth Kolbert at the Melbourne Writers Festival. And it floored me so many times. The book covers the phenomena of mass extinctions and posits that we are in the middle of a sixth extinction. Kolbert knows the science, that is clear, and has a way of putting it together that makes a potentially difficult subject digestible for the layperson. 

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride (2013)
I'm ending with A Girl because it is the book of 2014 for me. I wrote about it a few weeks ago and it continues to linger. It was difficult to read, hard and rough and almost like it was pushing you away, but it was and is beautiful, too. I borrowed it from the library, so I'll be buying myself a copy in the new year. This one needs to come overseas with me. 

So, that's my list. All women, which I've only just realised and wasn't something I'd planned, but I'll embrace it anyway. 

kb xx