I don’t know if it’s because I’m an insomniac, a bookaholic, or a library employee/student, but I read A LOT in 2014. I read to the point that my children made up a song about how much I read, and my adult friends and family just assume that if I’m meeting them for lunch, they should bring a magazine at the very least. (Both stories are true, btw.) Not all of what I read was published this year. Some great reads were from 2013 (The Bunker Diary, Longbourn) and some were from much earlier than that (LM Montgomery’s The Story Girl, Jeff Smith’s Bone series), but 2014 had its share of great books. Here are my favourite reads from 2014 (alphabetical by title):
Above the Dreamless Dead edited by Chris Duffy*
Best for: Readers curious about WWI; poetry fans; graphic novel fans; history buffs
What’s the appeal? For me the appeal wasn’t just the poetry (which was powerful) or the artwork (which was moving), but the way the two synergized to create a magical reading experience. The poems work as individual entities, but the volume as a whole paints an arresting portrait of World War I.
Best for: Readers who love complicated relationships
What’s the appeal? Blood Will Out is not the kind of book I am normally attracted to. I found the story of Clark Rockefeller compelling, but even more interesting than that was the relationship between Kirn and Rockefeller and Kirn’s grappling with how frustrating it is that he will never truly know his longtime friend.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill*
Best for: Readers who appreciate concise writing; fans of Reynolds Price
What’s the appeal? This clear-eyed look at the inner workings of a marriage is both unflinching and wise.
Best for: Readers looking for something slightly quirky; fans of Alice Sebold
What’s the appeal? It’s a beautifully odd book. This tale of life on death row, ably balances mundane bleakness with moments of fancy.
Best for: Readers looking for a good survival story; Matt Damon fans (read on!)
What’s the appeal? The Martian is a smart, fast-paced novel about Mark Watney, an American astronaut mistakenly abandoned on Mars. Does Watney have what it takes to survive? Will NASA rescue him before he starves? This page turned is soon to be adapted for the silver screen with Matt Damon (drool…) as Watney.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff*
Best for: Salinger enthusiasts
What’s the appeal? Working as an assistant for Salinger’s agent, there is one thing young Joanna Rakoff must not do: deviate from the form letters she sends to Salinger’s fans. Slowly, she begins sending personalized responses. This book perfectly balances the well-meaning enthusiasm of youth with the fading glamour of the pre-internet publishing industry.
Best for: people looking for a gripping holiday read
What’s the appeal? I wasn’t looking to get into an 800 page book when I picked this one up. I thought I’d read a chapter or two and move onto something else. Couldn’t. Loved it. The book had so many interesting threads: small town politics, complicated history, father-son tensions, forbidden loves. I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for the sequel. Get writing, Mr. Iles!
Best for: Readers who love dark Children’s Lit; families to read aloud together
What’s the appeal? The Night Gardener explores the difference between stories and lies against a Gothic backdrop. Irish Orphans Molly and Kip find work in an isolated manor in England. They are servants of the Windsor family. The family mysteriously declines in health and Molly and Kip trace it to a tree growing against the house. The tree is tended by the spectral night gardener. Even the supporting cast of this novel is well-drawn, particularly Hester Kettle, a wandering storyteller. The Night Gardener is one of those rare books that are both deep and a page turner.
Best for: Fans of Ann Enright; those who don’t need a happy ending
What’s the appeal? I read a lot of fiction set in WWII, and this book stands out. The Undertaking in question is a marriage of convenience that offers each of the main characters something they need to survive the war. Unflinching and bleak.
My favourite 2014 read…
Best for: Adult fans of Narnia and Harry Potter (but please promise you’ll read the first two books first!)
What’s the appeal? Quentin Coldwater and his friends are normal, messed up people trying to make it in a magical world. Their adventures are exciting and unforgettable. Grossman’s writing is spot on, making allusions to fantasy works we all know and love and introducing his own world, Fillory.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for providing ARCs of these titles.