A Woman, Thinking

2014 Best Books of the Year

Poppy Lochridge

I am going to cheat a little this year - two of my Books of the Year are series rather than individual books. It’s my list and I’m allowed to do that.
 

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Series #1 is Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. Recommended to me by Deborah of La Padre in the fall of 2013, I put off reading them until I had finished Series #2 this last spring. Rothfuss’s writing is poetic and his characters grab interest by being untraditional - Kvothe may have been orphaned tragically (minor spoiler, terribly sorry), but he’s not walking the stereotypical Hero’s Jouney that readers are all too familiar with.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

 

Book art by Michael Whelan, click through to see his website.

Book art by Michael Whelan, click through to see his website.

Series #2 is The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson. He’s two books in, and it promises to be a long and well-written series, with an intriguing cast of characters. This is the series that convinces me that he was the right author to take over The Wheel of Time, and I am sure that working with Jordan’s widow to complete that series has changed how Sanderson approaches his own masterpiece. I love the world building that Sanderson has put into this series, and as difficult as it is to keep the large cast of characters straight, I love being able to go back into the book and look for clues to each character’s storyline after the big reveals have been made. And oh yes, there are surprising reveals.

“Life before Death.
Strength before Weakness.
Journey before Destination.”

 

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Book #3 is non-fiction this year, and it’s The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk. I was initially reticent to read this book, because van der Kolk was part of a movement in the late 80s and early 90s that ended with a large number of day care providers being unfairly accused of abusing their charges. I was in college studying psychology shortly after the movement broke open, and the horror with which it was taught left a mark. However, I did some research and found that since then, van der Kolk has continued to work with victims of trauma, and is now affiliated with the medical school attached to my alma mater - an interesting turn - and so I gave this book a fair chance, with a handy supply of salt.

What they have been learning about trauma is life-altering for anyone who’s been traumatized, bullied, abused, or who knows someone who has experienced any of those things. It’s an extremely brief summation to say that when we undergo traumatic experiences, whether it’s a bad car accident or years of bullying from peers or battle in the Middle East, our nature as human animals is fight or flight. If restrained from those two options, the impulse to use one of those to escape the experience sinks into our muscle memory, like the memory of riding a bicycle, and needs to be pulled back out before we can truly be free of our past. This book describes the therapies they have found most helpful in working with trauma survivors from returned military personnel to ordinary civilians who’ve survived terrible accidents.

This article from the New York Times describes one form of trauma therapy which is discussed in the book. And you can listen to an interview with Dr. van der Kolk at On Being.

 

An honorable mention should go to Oyster (www.oysterbooks.com), which provides a whole library of digital books for a small monthly fee - and unlike the public library’s digital lending, there’s no due dates and a much better selection. One thing I’m noticing as I’m reviewing the year’s books and picking the best is how many books this year I started, but never finished. That I’ve been able to preview books on Oyster contributes to this; the overall busyness of this year has accounted for the rest. There has been a lot to do this year, and I’m finding myself short on attention for reading challenging books. Here’s hoping 2015 brings more wonderful adventures, the final volume in the Kingkiller Chronicles, and lots of time to read!