Which books changed my life in 2014?
I read thirty-six books this year, as of today. I hope to make it 37 before midnight tomorrow, if I can pound out the last of Plato’s Republic. Many of these volumes were forgotten the instant I put it back on the bookshelf, or shut off my Kindle.
Others changed me. I quoted new phrases. I modified my philosophy. I gained courage. I ate differently. Which were my most memorable books of 2014?
The Life-Changer: Trim Healthy Mama
This book, by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, set the tone for the entire year. It was a year filled with fitness victories, as I lost nearly forty pounds, and gained a passion for running.
I have already written extensively on the diet and lifestyle espoused in the book Trim Healthy Mama. You can read a summary of what it is and why I chose it here, some of my favourite benefits here, and more about my weight-loss and food addiction journey here.
Most-Quoted: Slaughterhouse 5
Though it wasn’t quite the page-turner that Divergent, the Maze Runner, and other popular novels I read this year, Slaughterhouse 5 lingers much longer.
After watching the Crash Course with John Green video discussing Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, I was intrigued by the Tralfamadorian aliens, Billy Pilgrim’s complete unhinging from reality (and time and space), the fire-bombing of Dresden, and the ideas of time and free will. It is also a strangely comedic book, considering the traumatic subject matter.
There was a lot of death this year, as there always is in this evil world. My method of dealing with this involved denial, impotent rage, helpless tears, prayer, and bouts of jaded weariness. In those times, it was tempting to say ‘so it goes’ every time I’d heard someone died. I also gave thought to what time actually is, and how free we are to choose our destiny. I tend to oppose the Tralfamadorian idea of complete fatalism.
It is also no accident that the ‘Society of Immortals’ in the series I am writing makes their headquarters in Dresden.
Best Business Book: Rise of the Machines
How do you make yourself stand out in social media? How do you make your blog a success? Frankly, I was lost.
Rise of the Machines, by Kristen Lamb brought me from the dark ages of promo-tweeting, into the adventure of making friends through Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. I’m no social media wiz, but at least I have some idea of how to make the most of these resources and not bore everyone to death in the process. Particularly helpful was her blogging advice, which promotes a highly relatable style based on your personal interests, stories and experiences and not on your actual profession (because apparently only writers want to hear writers rant about writing).
The One That Haunts Me: Thank You for Your Service
I stumbled across Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel in McLeans magazine while I was revising We are the Living for publication. It’s the story of several American soldiers and their families, who live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or physical injuries. It was probably intended as an expose of the inadequate care these men and women receive, but for me it was about seeing life through their eyes.
I was in the midst of writing Liam, the male lead of We are the Living, who has battled through the compound effects of a brain injury and PTSD and cannot quite break free of their stigma. This book sharpened my image of Liam, but it also showed my what a no-win situation his might be. This, combined with some events in my family, shaped the conclusion of the story. I realized that a straight-up happy ending wasn’t in the cards for him, just like their was no quick fix for the families in Thank You for Your Service. But there was great opportunity for love, courage and redemption.
The Book from Left-field: The Way of the Fight
I found this autobiography of UFC champion Georges St. Pierre crammed into the teetering ‘Religion’ shelf of a an overcrowded used bookstore. I pulled it out and hee-hawed with my friends. They didn’t know who St. Pierre was, but were amused/embarrassed at the cover, which featured the fighter bare-chested and geared for the fight. I’d developed an interest in St. Pierre and the UFC after watching some pre-fight coverage on a TV at the local McDonalds. I was puzzled by what would motivate a man to make a career of beating people up on national television. Here was my chance to find out. It turned out, MMA fighting is much more complicated than that.
It’s less of a life-story and more an explanation of his ideology. St. Pierre comes across as a philosopher, a learner, and a man dedicated to a craft. In fact, much of what he said on conquering fear, managing risk, submitting to mentorship, and constant learning could be applied directly to writing. I was in the thick of publishing We are the Living at the time, and choking on the fear of exposing my novel (and thus the inner workings of my mind) to an audience. The Way of the Fight turned out to be the medicine I needed.
The One I Wrote: We are the Living
How do you find peace and hope when you have no control over your life?
Kayla’s plans are as finely tuned as her cello, so when Liam joins her friends on their tour of Europe, she resents him. The ex-soldier with a fragile psyche seems like a liability. But when political turmoil in France explodes into a zombie apocalypse, their lives may depend on this warrior’s skills.
Their flight takes them to a tiny Italian community where a mysterious priest is curing zombies. There, Kayla and Liam’s shared horror draws them together. But they aren’t the only ones who want the cure.
As the threat of the living eclipses the danger of the undead, they must decide whether to run, or to fight for those they love.
“Zombies Geralyn?” a friend said to me. “It’s not a zombie novel,” I always said, “It’s a love story that has zombies in it.” I relished writing scenes of gritty hand-to-hand combat between undead, the living and rebel/terrorist fighters. Snappy dialogue and off-beat humour was my joy. But it’s the relationship that develops between Liam and Kayla that I’m most proud of. You can pick it up here.
Other excellent books I read included: The Forgotten Trinity (White), Wheat Belly (Davis), The Amazing Connection Between Food and Love (Smalley), A Whole New Mind (Pink), The Lord of the Rings (my third read-through of the giant classic), Divergent (Roth), The Republic (Plato), and City of Bones (Clare).
What Did You Read?
I’m curious. What were the best books you read this year? I’m always searching for a great new read. Right now I’m in the market for a great novel. Was there a book that changed you this year?