Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014

I read a lot this year. Although the year got off to a somewhat slow start due to a crushingly huge work project and eye surgery that left my eyes too tired to read when I finally finished work for the day, work eventually slowed down (not an entirely good thing for someone who makes their living consulting) and reading picked up. I think I'm at 144 books for the year, including quite a few mysteries or other cruddy books that I didn't bother to write up on the blog, which leads me to another reflection. In reading Nick Hornby's Ten Years in the Tub, I was surprised to learn that the journal for which he reviews books, The Believer, does not publish negative reviews, instead focusing on "writers and books we like." Later in the year, I read Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird, in which she describes the ways in which negative reviews have affected her. I certainly do not want to crush anyone's spirit (I'm perhaps overstating here), so I have thought about only including books I liked on this blog. On the other hand, a word to the wise from someone whose taste is similar to your own can save a reader time and money. For that reason, I'm still reviewing both both books I like and those I don't, but I'd be interested in input if anyone cares to weigh in.

So that was a long introduction to this list, which definitely includes only books I like!

Best Novel 
Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. This novel about marriage and a woman's undoing is unlike any other novel I have read.  Presented in a series of brief reflections, quotations, and anecdotes, the book is both harrowing and affirming. It's not for everyone, but it is wonderful.

Honorable Mention:  Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian; Amy Falls Down, by Jincy Willett; A Death in the Family, by James Agee; The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham

Best Short Stories
Nothing with Strings, by Bailey White. I just finished this collection by Southern writer Bailey White. While firmly set in the Southern story-telling tradition, the stories explore universal themes of aging and loss in humorous yet moving fashion.

Honorable Mention: Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III

Best Nonfiction (Two Choices!)
The Warm of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson uses three cases studies to make this history of the later decades of the Great Migration as readable as any novel.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. I'm not sure how Chast manages to be funny while talking about some of the most grueling and difficult moments of life, but she does. You may be laughing and crying at the same time, but you'll definitely respond to this amazing book.

Honorable Mention: Ten Years in the Tub, by Nick Hornby; Sous Chef, by Michael Gibney

Best Mystery
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty. I'm not sure the author would call Big Little Lies a mystery, but there are a suspicious death and an investigation; the reader doesn't know what happened; and it's a bitingly funny satire . . . so I say it deserves this "win."

Best Poetry
The Perpetual Commotion of the Heart, by Norma Gay Prewett. Prewett is a friend whose poetry captures beautifully the poignancy of motherhood, of growing up financially poor but rich in love and noise, of aging, of life. Her poems are moving without being sentimental.

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