My Favourite Books of 2014

I have just blogged about the best fiction of the year over on the Universal Heart Book Club - do go over and take a look. But here I wanted to share with you the books I most enjoyed reading in 2014. Each of these is a guaranteed terrific read, many of them inspiring and idea-inducing, all beautifully crafted. Get them and read them over the holidays - you won't be disappointed:






1. Vagabondage by Beth Spencer: An unexpected gem, this is a tale of midlife resettlement, a memoir of moving spiritually and geographically, told in verse! Utterly unique, so Australian and such a beautiful work of art, Beth Spencer's tale of selling her house and becoming a nomad spoke to me with a vivid kind of wanderer's call. A perfect book to read on holiday, but be warned, it might change your life forever.






2. Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington: Journalist and novelist Caroline Overington has mastered the "crime novel of issues" and now she has turned her eye to true crime. But it is true crime with an historical twist, and I was sucked in to the story of Last Woman Hanged from the very first page. Not only is it a good old fashioned fascinating read, it also tells us so much about Sydney's cultural history. Was the last woman hanged in New South Wales innocent or guilty? Read this book and be the judge.






3. How to Stay Married by Mary-Lou Stephens: If she wrote a book a year Mary-Lou would be in my list every year. She is a brilliant writer and after just a few pages you are lost in her world and can't put the book down. This is a travel memoir with a twist, an account of crossing the world with her husband and recording how her relationship with him deepens. It is a very honest record of modern relationship (and Mary-Lou hates that absence of an "s"!), and anyone who is married or in a long-term relationship will recognise the truth in these pages. It also makes me ache to visit the Alps.




 
4. Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality by Gary Lachman: You can read my longer review of it here. Gary Lachman, bass player from Blondie, is one of the best biographers out there, and has been quietly - and quite prolifically - recording the lives of some of the most important spiritual teachers of the West. The wonderful Blavatsky, arch self-publicist, is almost a fictional character by herself, and he does a great job of teasing apart the myth, lies and truths about this fascinating mystic and founder of modern spiritual thinking.






5. No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym: Yes, I have been inducted into the cult of Pym, and this novel is one I absolutely adored. It has everything you could want in a book - subtlety, good humour, High Anglicanism and neighbours in positive thinking cults. The Pymian universe is utterly addictive, and I would love to retire and do nothing but read her books over and over again. Read this - you will never have a more pleasant experience.




6. Grace, Guidance and Gifts by Sonia Choquette: Choquette is one of those spiritual teachers that not that many people know about, but anyone who has basked in her incredible energy live will know just how superb she is. I love her quirky humour, her deliciously offbeat approach to things esoteric and her beautiful, innocent faith. This is a great "Daily Guide" to spiritual observance, a format I love - I always have at least one going at any time, and they are perfect for morning preparation. This book has had a very meaningful impact on me since I have been working with it, and I think more people should check it out.





7. The Dangerous Bride by Lee Kofman: Wow - this one came out of nowhere and left me entirely surprised by its genius and literary brilliance. Another memoir of modern relationship, it is an account of a lifetime of non-monogamy and its effects on the author's life and worldview. Russian-Israeli-Australian Kofman is dazzlingly honest in this book, and I was so entranced by it that, weeks later, I still find myself recommending it to almost everyone I speak to. A huge talent.


My Top 5 Playlist of 2014

What a strange sonic world I live in! My Top plays on iTunes each year is an absolute revelation of how bizarre my tastes are. So here they are: The songs I listened to most in 2014:



1. Pistol Packin' Mama by The Andrews Sisters - I have always adored the Andrews Sisters, and one of thier songs is in my Top 5 every year. Strange that this year I was obsessed with this little paean to gun violence. But what a fantastic track. Besides, in its final line it contains a prayer for peace: Lay that crazy pistol down!





2. Come on and Find Me by Helen Terry - An album track from Blue Notes, a forgotten 80s classic from Culture Club's super-talented backing singer Helen Terry. An incredible voice, and this is a wonderfully soulful song, with plenty of gospel elements.





3. Cry and be Free by Marilyn - Probably Marilyn's best song, this is a song about being emotionally available which, it was rumoured, was dedicated to Tom Bailey, lead singer of the Thompson Twins (no scandal, Marilyn just had a crush on him and thought helooked sad). When he appeared on Top of the Pops singing this, Marilyn was at his most utterly beautiful.




4. Freeway of Love by Aretha Franklin - This is something of an anthem of my youth, and I can never quite figure out what she's saying here. But I'm certain it's some kind of sexual analogy. True 80s soul.



5. Blue Bell Knoll by The Cocteau Twins - Again, there is always a Cocteau Twins song on my Top 5. I have been in love with them since I was a child, and there is no occasion when you can't put on a Cocteau Twins song. This one's kind of mysterious and Hammer, slightly Kate Bush-ey. Love it, and it gets me motivated.
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