This year I really got into nonfiction. Whether it was personal essays by women I admire or lifestyle observations from experts, I was floored by how much great nonfiction made my list this year. Here are my Top 10 Books of 2014, in very particular order:
While I didn’t relate to most of these essays (she loves Dogs, doesn’t want children, was not devastated by the loss of her mother, and is not a foodie), I was still taken with Meghan Daum’s candid writing. In a year that saw so many amazing essay collections by women writers, this is one that stood out.
These two books are my idea of the perfect beach reads. Smartly written, fast-paced, psychological thrillers, with subtle thematic critiques of society and culture. (Do you like how I sneaked an extra book in here?)
Another fantastic essay collection. This one had me laughing, crying, feeling uncomfortable, and relating. This was the year I got addicted to Lena Dunham’s HBO show, Girls, and the publication of this book cemented me as one of her biggest fans.
Greg McKeown is my new lifestyle guru, and in the spirit of this book, that is all I’ll say.
An incredibly concise and clear-eyed sociological examination of what it means to be a parent in today’s world. For anyone who is a parent, wants to be a parent, or knows a parent.
This is one of those books that I would hesitate to call a “favorite” because it is so painful to read, but definitely one of the best books I read this year. It’s about a woman who is kidnapped and brutally raped in Haiti. The subtlety and insight Roxane Gay brings to this material is impressive. I can’t wait to read her essay collection, Bad Feminist, which she also published this year.
Was this a perfect book? No. Did it live up to my ridiculously high expectations? No. Were parts of it so blindingly brilliant that it still edged into my Top 5? Yep. It is David Mitchell, after all. Even at his worst, he is better than most.
This strange, sad, slim little book left an indelible impression on me. Evie Wyld is definitely one to watch.
I loved Jenny Offill’s sparse, experimental portrait of a marriage. It was an entirely unique reading experience in which I alternated between extreme emotional resonance and awe at her beautiful writing. You can read this one in a day and I highly recommend you do.
Very rarely does a book actually live up to, and then surpass, my over-hyped expectations. This happened two years ago with Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, and it happened again this year with Station Eleven. An exquisitely told story about a traveling troupe of actors and musicians in the post-apocalyptic United States, this book hit all the right notes. Great story (and story within a story), compelling characters, a philosophical treatise on the persistence of art and culture in a desolate world, and beautiful writing. This is one of my new all-time favorites and I can’t recommend it enough.
Honorable mention: The first essay in Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
Yes, this is another way to sneak in an extra book! While I felt the collection as a whole was not quite substantial enough to make it into my Top 10, this first essay is a bombshell. It perfectly illustrates the insipid art of “mansplaining.”
Most disappointing and overrated book of the year: The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
I really do not understand the hype around this book, or why it ended up on so many year-end best lists. Sure, Sarah Waters is a great writer, but really? This book was so underwhelming and cliched.
Books I haven’t read yet published in 2014 that might have ended up on my list if I had read them: 10:04, by Ben Lerner; Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay; A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James; The Secret Place, by Tana French; We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas; Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle; and Yes Please, by Amy Poehler. (I’ll be reading all of these in January and February).
Books I read in 2014 that weren’t published in 2014 that would have made my list if I were willing to include books published in previous years: The Likeness, by Tana French; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler; The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis.
Well, that’s it folks! I’d love to hear from you. What were your favourites this year? Least favourites? Please tell me in the comments, and have a wonderful holiday season! The Top Shelf will be on holiday until the New Year.