Lit fic and manga and self-pubbed, oh my!

If one aspires to be a writer, one must first be a reader. Plain and simple. Below are the books I read in 2014. Looking at the list, it’s easy to see where some choices came from, and interesting to ruminate on other trends that only surface in the aggregate, and how they might eventually inform my own writing:

So many books...

So many books. These are the ones I made time for in 2014.

First, I deliberately stepped outside my contemporary fiction comfort zone. Just as trying different cuisines diversifies one’s palate, different genres enrich an author. To that end I read:

  • Science fiction (Wool)
  • YA (The Fault in Our Stars, Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, plus a thick stripe in Orphan Train.)
  • My first-ever manga/graphic novel (Into the Light)
  • Memoir – while not exactly a genre, it’s is a category I don’t read often. (On Writing, The Reason I Jump, Glitter and Glue, and The Dirty Life)

Second, I read books with a strong sense of place. Plot, character and setting are the three pillars of story, and setting is by far my weakest. Among the places that stayed with me this year:

  • Loud, crowded New Jersey apartments and neighborhoods, home to displaced Dominicans in Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her
  • Refugee camps Across the Mekong River, where Elaine Russell’s Hmong characters first find dubious sanctuary, and then the American suburbs where they strive to recreate their culture
  • Barren, frigid Alaskan tundra speckled with isolated Native villages, setting of Don Rearden’s The Raven’s Gift
  • Howard Norman’s so-real-I-could-taste-the-saltwater scenes of coastal Newfoundland in The Bird Artist.

Third, books about autism: After creating my Autism Reads list in April, I read Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, Into the Light, A Special Love and The Reason I Jump. I expect this tilt will continue throughout my reading life, and it’s wonderful to see the subject presented in ways that will appeal to so many diverse readers. (These four titles alone represent YA, graphic novel/manga, fiction and memoir.)

Fourth, books with southeast Asian settings: Five of the 22 (The Namesake, the Lowland, Crazy Rich Asians, Across the Mekong River, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats) are set predominantly in southeast Asia. (Two more, The Reason I Jump and Into the Light, are set in Japan.) That wasn’t deliberate, but it makes me speculate how I might incorporate that influence someday.

Fifth, nearly equal numbers of male and female authors. The works themselves are even at 11 each, but since Jhumpa Lahiri is represented twice, it works out to 11 men and ten women. I’ll strive for that balance again in 2015. Once I heard Jeffrey Eugenides (who mastered a hermaphrodite character) say that authors needed to be equally versatile at writing male and female characters. Reading authors of both genders is the best way to learn how.

Finally, few self-pubbed…alas. Just three of the 22. Both Across the Mekong River and A Special Love are self-published, and Wool was originally.One of my 2015 reading resolutions is to seek out and discover more of these overlooked gems, like The Leaving of Things. It’s a debut novel by fellow Lake Union author Jay Antani, who first self-pubbed before getting picked up by the Amazon imprint, like me. I’ll finish by the end of the week, and my 2015 list will be off and running.

What was your favorite read of 2014? Any reading resolutions for the new year?

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