I’m sad to say I haven’t yet reached my goal of reading all the books in the world, and I haven’t yet taught my cats how to read. I most certainly didn’t come close to reading all the books published in 2014. But I read a lot of great books this year. And others talked about the ones I haven’t yet gotten to, or passed over.
This year I bought a book stand, which may bring me to a new level of book nerdiness. It sounds extreme, until I checked my Goodreads and realized I’ve read 132 books this year. I spend a lot of time reading. Some of those books were listened to as audiobooks, some of them were kindled, some were checked out from the library, and others were added to my ever-growing library, overflowing off shelves.
Bookish folks declared 2014 the year of women and the essay. Pamela Paul, New York Times Book Review’s editor in chief, told Salon, “This year, there were far fewer of those books that stood out. Instead, we found there was more experimental fiction of note, a great deal of humor (even if dark) and a wave of strong essay collections, particularly by women.” Others argued against such a classification. A lot of these essays are still on my to-read list, but there does seem to be something of an essay revolution happening. Maybe we’re just running into memoir fatigue, and moving to essays is the next natural step. I am in the midst of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, which is thus far amazing.
Here’s my top five books of 2014, in order:
1. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle – I just double-checked the New York Times notable list to ensure they overlooked this one. How could this have happened? Wolf in White Van visited tragedy and depression in such a muted way, reading it felt a bit like suffocating. When so many books are filled with flowery language, there was such a lack of affect here that the understatement itself became affect. Wolf in White Van was long-listed for the National Book Award.
2. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson – My regular readers may now know I have an appreciation for books about those living on the edge, in some way. Fourth of July Creek explores a man gone mad living in the woods, his family turned feral. The social worker who insists on helping the situation is just trying to keep it together himself. If country noir has become a new popular genre, then this is a great literary country noir. Henderson’s characters are tragic; the Montana country is a stark, huge playground for the heartbreak and strife explored here.
3. The Secret Place by Tana French – Another knockout from the best living mystery author writing today, The Secret Place was one of those rare highly anticipated mysteries to live up to its hype. French writes literary mysteries that go a notch above police procedural, and The Secret Place added a dash of schoolgirl hysteria peppered with magic to the well-crafted, analytic drilling of suspects in a schoolroom over the course of a single day.
4. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers – Everyone who reads a bunch has that one book they are surprised no one is talking about. For me, this book with its crazy long title (from the bible, even), is that book. I read so much about The Circle last year, which I didn’t love, but this little 225 page novel, written entirely of dialogue, flew under the radar. Although often described as a book about a guy kidnapping an astronaut, this is a book about a guy so frustrated with American society (the fall of industry, pointless wars, police brutality) that he kidnaps people, asking desperate questions, seeking any sort of answer. This is a small, stern tragicomedy.
5. To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris – Read this to never look at your dentist the same way again. To ask yourself how much control you have over your online persona, or if that control even matters. Read this to wonder what religion means in modern times. Flossing and nihilism, lost tribes and the futility of the workday, it all accumulates here into a bizarre story that no one other than Ferris, with his dark wit, could manage to make readable. To Rise Again At A Decent Hour was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year.
And, because I wasn’t able to read everything, here’s a list of the other lists out there:
- New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2014: This list is like the scoby of Kombucha, because it is the mother-list. Laura Miller wrote a great piece on Salon about the NYT Notable Books List. The New York Times also offers a 10 Best Books of 2014 List.
- Vol. 1 Brooklyn has a great Year in Favorites section up.
- NPR’s Book Concierge offers an almost endless array of recommendations from 2014.
- The Goodreads Choice Awards reveals fan favorites.
I’m already excited about 2015, as there are a bunch of epic releases next year (okay, there are epic releases every year!), including a sequel to Syndrome E by Franck Thiliez and a new novel by Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket).