After a very strong start, my 2014 reading year fizzled out. My year as a blogger was sporadic at best. Still, I wanted to post my Best Reads of 2014. I read/listened to 89 books this year, even with basically not cracking a spine for most of November and December.
According to Goodreads, it was total of 23,418 pages, with most of my choices rating 4 or 5 stars. There were a few dogs and several titles I gave up on, but I don’t want to focus on the negative.
My “Best of” list consists of the best of what I read in 2014, not necessarily books released in 2014, so you’ll find a mix of old and new, fiction and non-fiction, and even some poetry.
#1 — the very best of the best of 2014…
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
5 stars, read in April 2014
Denfeld so deftly balances the horrors of Death Row with lyrical storytelling that I often found myself breathless. How did she create something so beautiful out of people and situations so ugly? Without preaching or excusing or solving, she lays bare this Enchanted place in a way that broke my heart. Read more.
My soul left me when I was six. It flew away past a curtain over a window. I ran after it, but it never came back. It left me alone on a wet stinking mattress. It left me alone in the choking dark. It took my tongue, my heart, and my mind.”
#2 My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
5 stars, read in June 2015
Ruth Ozeki writes with such precision and honesty that I found myself walking alongside her main character Jane Tagaki-Little, completely immersed in the story rather than viewing it objectively. Ozeki takes this novel from sharp-witted and playful to emotional and honest seamlessly. Her writing shines in the descriptions of each of the families Jane profiles, adding layers of richness to the main story. Read more.
“I chose to ignore what I knew. Ignorance. In this root sense, ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge had become synonymous with impotence.”
#3 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
5 stars, read in May 2014
Doerr has created something exquisite in the way he crafts his characters and brings World War II to life. Because the main characters, Marie Laure and Werner are both so interested in the changing world, we are too. Through their eyes we explore science, radio, friendship and patriotism. A very special book with top-notch writing, complex characters, an interesting plot and honest emotions. Read more.
“Don’t you want to live before you die?”
#4 Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
5 stars, read in January 2014
David Mitchell captured my soul from two different directions in this novel. First of all, he evoked coming of age in the 1980s perfectly. Secondly, as the mother of boys, I read this book as a sort of primer. He delves so beautifully into the thoughts and emotions of a pubescent boy. Read more.
“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”
#5 Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
5 stars, read in March 2014
Oh sweet, beautiful, wonderful, heart-breaking young adult fiction. This novel lives up to all its hype. An honest, tragic love story told from the alternating perspectives of the title characters in 1986. Read more.
“She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
#6 Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
4 stars, red in August 2014
I found this memoir emotionally disturbing in all the right ways. This could easily have been me or someone I love. The author’s medical crisis came on fast, with no explanation, for seemingly endless weeks, with little hope of remedy. Susannah went from a capable, outgoing, ambitious woman to a victim of her own body almost overnight. Read more.
“We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear, go with it.”
#7 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
4 stars, read in July 2014
I can’t get the creativity of the story out of my mind. To me it’s Harry Potter meets Dan Brown thriller meets book nerds all set against a backdrop of Google-era hackers. It’s mysterious and funny and fresh and charming. Read more.
“This girl has the spark of life. Thus is my primary filter for new friends (girl- and otherwise) and the highest compliment I can pay. I’ve tried many times to figure out what ignites it — what cocktail of characteristics comes together in the cold, dark cosmos to form a star. I know it’s mostly the face – not just the eyes, but the brow, the cheeks, the mouth, and the micromuscles that connect them all.”
#8 How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
4 stars, read in March 2014
This debut novel is brilliantly psychotic! Marta is a wife, an empty nester, definitely on the verge of some kind of psychological breakdown; but that is just the beginning of this dark, twisted, thriller. Who can we believe? Read more.
*I recommended this book more than any other to casual readers this year.
#9 The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
4 stars, read in June 2014
This book wants to be a lot of things – love story, issue-oriented novel, independent essays – which should make it a mess, but somehow all work together to make a book that really touched my heart. I was touched and moved by the small stories and the central families is this lovely novel. Read more.
“I felt the way I often felt in this country — simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore.”
#10 The Round House by Louise Erdich
4 stars, read in March 2014
Dark and disturbing, but not without beauty. A bit of a mystery; a complex moral dilemma without clear answers; and, oh, a brave tragic, entangled, unresolved ending. Read more.
“I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?”
And what list would be complete without Honorable Mentions?
I’m blessed to have read so many great books this year. Without hesitation, I would also recommend: Aimless Love by Billy Collins, Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, Hyperbole & a Half by Allie Brosh, Golden State by Michelle Richmond, Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement, My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff, We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride, The Painter by Peter Heller and A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob.
12 thoughts on “Best of 2014: The Books I Loved”
Great list! There are several on here that have been on my list for a while, but I haven’t read yet. And, 89 books is awesome, even with the fizzling out! Happy reading in the New Year! 🙂
Thanks Naomi. It was a good exercise to look back and remember how passionately I loved some of these books. I hope that energy carries me into the new year.
I haven’t read any of these! I need to get busy in 2015! I did not read nearly as much as I had intended to, but life gets in the way of my plans sometimes.
You’ve got that right! It has a tricky way of getting in the way.
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Almost all of these are on my list to read, but My Year of Meats is right at the top after I loved A Tale for the Time Being this fall! I hadn’t heard anything about it though, so I’m glad to see you loved it! I hope next year brings you just as many great books !
Oh yes!!! I actually liked it even more that Time Being, as hard as that is to believe. I can’t wait to hear what you think.
HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY! Great list. As I read some of these mini-reviews I was brought back to when I first read your reviews of some of these great books earlier this year. You were single handedly responsible for my running out and buying All the Light We Cannot See, a definite reading highlight for me this year.Hopefully next year I get to some of these other books you loved. Happy New Year!
Hello my friend. Sorry i dropped off the face of the literary earth, but I’m so grateful for the feedback. Hoping to read something that inspires me as much as the books on this list. I dont have the energy to force the writing, but i think that itll come natuarally when/if i read great stuff.
I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s not as much fun to write about things that you’re not excited about. There’s much more going on in your life that if you’re not inspired, then it’s not worth the time away from everything else. I’m glad to ‘see’ you now and hope that the new year is a good one for you and your family! Here’s to great books!
What a great batch of books! I was so happy to see My Year of Meats on your list! It’s been many years since I’ve read it, but that’s one of those books that I constantly recommend and include on my “best” lists. Happy New Year!
Ozeki is brilliant! Shes made my best list two years in a row. I hope she’s working on something new.
Thank you for the list! The Enchanted seems good!