Best Books of 2014

Here is a recap of another year in reading! I present to you my favorite books read in 2014.

89723Best Book To Make You Gasp Every 20 Pages: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson 

Short stories are not my thing, mostly because I love stories so much that I naturally want them to be long, dense, bulky—to have pages and pages that I can snuggle into and forget myself. Shirley Jackson, fortunately, can do more with a single sentence than many authors can do with a full novel. She will forever have a place in my pantheon of favorite writers. I also read and enjoyed her We Have Always Lived in the Castle this year. It was delightfully wacky, but it’s this brilliant collection of stories that will remain with me. [5 stars]

17292511Best Book About A Sexually Depraved Middle School Teacher: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

So apparently my thing this year was reading books about female teacher pedophiles? Viva 2014! But there’s something so fascinating about how authors choose to depict these protagonists: are they depraved or does something about their gender, about coming from the fairer sex, excuse their otherwise illegal actions? Nutting’s psychological portrait of 8th grade teacher Celeste Price is cutting and terrifying, mostly for how Celeste’s voice is so precise and unapologetic that her normally deplorable actions seem–dare I say it?–occasionally reasonable. [4 stars]

894054Best Book About A Love Lost (And Found) In Translation: The Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Oh this beautiful book that no one has read! Guo masterfully depicts the struggles of a young Chinese woman to assimilate culturally and linguistically to her new life in London, including an older British lover. I consider myself a romantic, but I find it’s the stories where love doesn’t work despite trying so so hard that capture me. I still think of Zhuang and I still worry for her and I still hope that somewhere—in a fictional China—she found a way to be full and happy. [4 stars]

881655Best Book About The Fragile Bond Of Sisterhood: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin is about sisters, yes, but it’s also about so many other things that I had trouble finding a “Best Book…” title for it. Because it’s so vast but it’s so deep too. By casting her net so wide, Atwood has fingered some true feelings here, the ones that hollow out your insides but then fill you up later, months after turning the last page, because truth is forever. [4.5 stars]

17333223Best Book That Shows You How Life Is Tragic But Kinda Okay: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This could also be titled “Best Book That Kept My Brain Moving, Stirring, Gathering For A Week” or “Best Book I Bullied My Sister Into Reading Immediately After Me” or probably just “Best Book I Read in 2014” because this thing just intoxicated me. I still regularly ponder Theo and his tragical life story. But mostly I remember (and tremble at!) all the wonderful things Tartt was trying to say in this chef d’oeuvre. Throughout this monster bildungsroman, she occasionally stumbled and lost her way, faults for which other critics have been extraordinarily cruel, but I think that these many losings all led to findings. Which is kind of the point. [5 stars]

16045140Best Fictional Book That Is Actually An Early 21th Century Anthropological Report On 20-Something Dating Rituals: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

My other favorite protagonists from 2014 are recalled kindly, nostalgically, with a hint of a smile on my face, but dear old Nathaniel P. is recalled harshly, antipathetically, with a clenched fist by my side. I hated Nathaniel P. but I have known Nathaniel P. A keen portrait of a young Brooklynite who is self-assured about all the wrong things and self-doubting about all the right things, this novel embodies an archetype very particular to this moment in time. May the Nathaniel P’s of the world die out, but may Adelle Waldman’s incisive and yet sympathetic biography of them live on. [4 stars]

Honorable Mentions:

Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? by Zoë Heller [4 stars]

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton [5 stars]

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan [4 stars]

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld [4 stars]

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