Tuesday 6 January 2015

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

Christmas, a cold, a cough, a buggered back, sinusitis, a chest infection and finally a prolonged internet outage at home (necessitating hours of phone calls – with attendant interminable tests – to my provider): many and varied are the obstacles and ailments which have prevented me from posting this top ten of the best books I read in 2014 – selected from the big long list of the books I read over the past twelve months – before now, to the point where I'm almost past caring whether I do so or not. But a lingering sense of unfinished business plus a desire to record for personal posterity what my favourite books from last year were compels me to persevere, and so here, for what it's worth, is my top ten.

1. Ashenden, or, The British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham (Heinemann, 1928/1934)
2. Firecrest by Victor Canning (Heinemann, 1971)
3. Split Images by Elmore Leonard (W. H. Allen, 1983; originally 1981)
4. The Black House by Patricia Highsmith (Heinemann, 1981)
5. The Whisper in the Glen by P. M. Hubbard (Atheneum, 1972)
6. A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith (Heinemann, 1965)
7. Killshot by Elmore Leonard (Viking, 1989)
8. Ant Colony by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)
9. High-Rise by J. G. Ballard (Jonathan Cape, 1975)
10. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (Gerald Duckworth, 1978)

As in past years I've excluded any rereads from the top ten – which in 2014 included Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game and Richard Stark's The Man with the Getaway Face, both of which would've otherwise featured highly here – but I haven't restricted the number of appearances per author, hence why Highsmith and Elmore Leonard both appear twice. Links to whatever I've previously written about each book are provided, the exception being Michael DeForge's terrific graphic novel Ant Colony, which I haven't yet blogged about; anyone interested should go read J. Caleb Mozzocco's Las Vegas Weekly review. And while I'm on the subject of comics, honourable mention must go to Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West, which if I were reading it in graphic novel form rather than serialised comics form, would certainly have featured in my top ten.

As for the number one title, I suspected back in March that I wouldn't read a better book in 2014 than Ashenden, and so it has proved. It's a brilliant novel-cum-short story collection, one which I can unreservedly recommend to all.


  1. I have not read either of those Highsmiths. Will look for them. I was in a terrific bookstore once that had every book of hers and how much I regret not picking more up.

  2. Michael DeForge is a major talent.

  3. I loved "Ashenden", now nearly forgotten and undeservedly so. Glad you enjoyed it (and get well soon!)

  4. Wonderful list.
    By the way, would you say The Black House is similar to Ripley's Game?

  5. Someone commenting on my blog has recommended your excellent blog so I'm visiting! I shall certainly be back. My commentor tells me you often write about book fairs - I had been musing why so few bloggers seem to go, and why the profile of customers is tending to the older lady and gent.

  6. Thank you for the comments, all. Arion: The Black House is a short story collection, so I'm not sure you could make any kind of useful comparison between that and Ripley's Game -- other than they're both excellent books. And Juxtabook: please thank whoever it was who pointed you in my direction; I've added your blog to my blogroll, and will be having a good read very soon.

  7. Very interesting list. I still haven't gotten to Patricia Highsmith or Elmore Leonard. I have hopes for doing this in 2015. You were my inspiration for trying Victor Canning, and I thank you. Ashenden sounds very good, I will have to look into that.

  8. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I read Ashenden on your recommendation, and found it fascinating. But mainly posting to say I hope you're feeling better--sounds like a nasty month or so you've been having.