Here are some of the best books we read in 2014. Some are new, some are old. All, we think, are great.
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen has permeated almost every aspect of my daily life. Beautifully honest, unapologetic poems of Rankine’s personal experiences with social, ingrained racism provide a frame for art and critical essays.Released just two months ago, Citizen has rightfully garnered attention from the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and National Book Award critics. Although less focused on activism than on awareness, Citizen reminds us that the personal is almost always political, and that good poetry is often informed by both. As my co-worker so aptly put it, this is required reading for a “post-racial” America. Easily the best book I read this year. -- Louisa
Sixty-two letters from a nameless protagonist comprise this epistolary novel. He writes them to Emma, a woman he sees at a party. Each entry captures the loose, disparate details of daily life, including desires, frustrations, joys, social observations, anecdotes, advice, and the self, as depicted through emotional weather updates.
Charles D'Ambrosio's explores a lot of subjects in his essays--from Salinger to whaling to the aesthetics of prefab houses--but the real subject here are the doubts and uncertainties that assail everyone confronted with the complexities of modern life. D'Ambrosio is serious, but never sententious; funny but never glib, and Loitering is a vital book. I can't recommend it too highly. -- Sparks
Leslie Jamison’s debut essay collection is a remarkable book. Although it deals with heavy issues—pain, suffering, the limits of understanding—it does so with a suppleness and grace that brings to mind one of Calvino’s lectures in Six Memos for the Next Millennium,where he posits a “lightness of thoughtfulness.” This lightness, which serves as an antidote to “the weight, the inertia, and the opacity of the world,” is not easily attained. It takes great technical skill, intelligence and, yes, empathy, for a writer to convey this weight as fluidly as Jamison does here. Whether writing about the West Memphis Three (“Lost Boys”), Morgellons disease (“Devil’s Bait”), or the epic Barkley Marathons (“The Immortal Horizon”), she manages—with a novelist’s eye for detail and scene setting—to come across as a Montaignian figure, full of doubt, heart, and a yearning to expand the boundaries of the fragile self. -- Sparks
Despite a list of previously published books, I hadn't heard of Nicholas Rothwell until Text published Belomor in the U.S. early in 2014. Previously known best in Australia, where he lives, Rothwell is a writer of rare ability. Calling Belomor a Sebaldian set of interlocking stories set in the Outback would be as close as I can get to comparing the book to something, but even then, the comparison falls short. There's an air of mystery hanging over this collection, something I can't quite fathom -- something ancient and wise. -- Sparks
I still have no idea what I just read: I would have to call it a science fiction novel, if pressed. Certainly we are in a subtly other reality, in which a twelve year old nymphet critiques Proust and Joyce in 1884, living in a Chekovian estate in a Russian region of northeastern North America, where cars are driven to picnics. Outside of all the descriptions of incest, I feel that I missed about 90% of what transpires in this novel, because I don't know Russian or French, and because I am bad at anagrams, and because, let's face it, I have a rudimentary understanding of the English language, compared to Nabokov.
All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the 10% of the novel that I "got", and enjoyed the resonances between this and Speak, Memory, out of which whole passages seem to have been lifted. I had the same reaction as I have to much of Fellini: I would hate to be trapped in a room with any of these loathsome characters, but it sure is entertaining watching their interactions.
From the pen of Moyoco Anno comes a stunning tale of self-image and self-loathing. In Clothes Called Fat details the lives of young women earnestly revealing the struggles women may have with their bodies and sexuality.
An unforgettable, sensual novel by "one of the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation" (Mark Rudman).
Rebellious and fiercely lyrical, the poems of C.D. Wright incorporate elements of disjunction and odd juxtaposition in their exploration of unfolding context. "In my book," she writes, "poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so."
love art talk cheap
Much has been made, and rightfully so, of Lerner’s brilliant awareness of 10:04 as “a novel” but those discussions sometimes overlook just how much of a pure, earnest joy the book is to read. It commits to projecting itself towards all possibilities and leaves you in a wonderful space for it.
In Pharaoh’s Army, published in 1994, primarily concerns itself with Wolf’s time spent in an artillery division during the Vietnam War. It is also the most honest account of failures of character on a personal level that I’ve ever read.
On the Dogs in Cars website it asks the reader: "Is there a dog owner in the world who does not delight in the delirium of their four-legged friend on a car ride?" This statement is of course, inherently incorrect. You don't need to be a dog owner to fall in love with EVERY SINGLE DOG pictured in this brilliantly conceived book! Why are they so damn happy? Who knows? And more to the point, who cares! I just wanna be driving away from all my problems and bank debt and lost ambitions in a car with one of these zany mutts. Don't you?
Trying to navigate through Caroline Bergvall’s DRIFT is an exercise in getting lost. It is, however, also a welcome experimental voyage and one which provides an immersive, challenging and ultimately fulfilling reading experience that few authors are able to achieve so effortlessly. The conceit of DRIFT draws its inspiration from the anonymously written 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem, “Seafarer” which Bergvall dissects and studies by weaving together multiple languages and doing away with traditional punctuation. Readers with a penchant for investigating the form and function of language will marvel at Bergvall’s masterful hand.
Joshua Ferris's third novel was short-listed for The Man Book Prize this year and tops the list as one of my favorite books of 2014. It is a fascinating investigation into religion and the basic human hunger for ritual through the eyes of a self-involved, extremely cynical and ultimately very lonely dentist. The wit of this book is unmatched by anything else I have read this year and Ferris's character descriptions can be scathing, but remain sympathetic. Highly recommended!
I am not generally one to be drawn to novels that can be described as "magical" or "mystical," and especially not "feel-good," but all of those words can be applied to The Plover, along with "salty," and even "brilliant." The Plover is the simple story of a man getting onto his little boat and heading out to sea to escape the world, but the world follows him out and keeps him company. It is a beautiful novel filled with extraordinary characters who will carry you away on a journey of solitude, of mysticism and exploration. Books like this don't come along very often, so dive in and enjoy each pleasant surprise.