Our favorite books of 2014

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Jeva Lange, reader:

NightAtTheFiestas_V4.2 correct.inddI had a slower year in reading than usual, in part because I spent the bulk of my summer combing through manuscripts for work. I’ve been using the past few weeks to try to catch up on some of the big books of 2014; Claudia Rankine’s phenomenal Citizen and Ben Lerner’s close-to-home 10:04 have particularly moved me. And while 2014 holds many great runner-ups, one of my favorite discoveries from this year actually belongs to 2015: Kirstin Valdez Quade’s forthcoming debut, Night at the Fiestas.

 

I had the opportunity to read Quade’s collection of short stories last summer and I was blown away – I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about it since. With prose that consistently chills to the bone, Night at the Fiestas casts themes of girlhood, religion, and race against the unsettling landscape of New Mexico. But beyond being a collection that so perfectly paints a place (I’ve never been to New Mexico, but I can practically feel it in Night), Quade is an author fascinated by character – especially young women who are caught in the limbo between daughterhood and adulthood. And unlike other short story collections, where there are clear standouts and clear duds, every single piece in Night at the Fiestas is gripping, essential, and original; it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. I can’t recommend it enough.

 

(If you want to get a head start, some of Quade’s work is already available in the New Yorker.)

 

 

toveRose Gowen, reader

A few weeks ago, I read the NYBR selection of Tove Jansson‘s stories, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. I read her novels The Summer Book, Fair Play, and The True Deceiver last year, and The Summer Book and Fair Play especially have continued to live in my mind, so I was happy to have more Jansson. Many of the stories in this volume are good; “The Squirrel” is excellent. An older woman, a writer, lives alone in a tiny cottage on an island. She is alone until a squirrel appears. She watches the squirrel, and watching the squirrel, watches herself, and sees her loneliness and the precariousness of her self-sufficiency.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Emma Bushnell, associate editor

cookI think I will always remember 2014 as the year I first read Annie Ernaux. If you’re French and/or a better reader than I then this will be old news to you, but Ernaux is one of the most exciting and insightful living writers. This year I began with her fictionalized memoir of her mother, the somewhat horribly titled A Woman’s Story, and spiraled deep in love with her honest, self aware, and reflective prose. The novel begins at the event of her mother’s death, and follows her struggle to be honest with herself about her relationship with her mother and her anxieties about chronicling what she feels must be chronicled about her mother’s life before she forgets it. It’s an incredible piece of writing, deeply felt without ever once tipping into sentimentality, and if you don’t read it by the end of 2015 then you’re a fool.

 

But there were plenty of excellent novels published in 2014 as well! Maggie Shipstead’Astonish Me, about the tumultuous lives of ballet dancers and the poor regular folk who get swept into their world, was a deliciously satisfying followup to her fabulous debut Seating Arrangements. David Bezmozgis‘ The Betrayers was also a 2014 hit, proving him, once again, to be one of the best dialogue writers currently in the business. And talking of some of the best in the business—is Ben Lerner capable of writing a novel that is less than mind-blowing? That may not be a rhetorical question; 10:04 pretty much answered “no.”

 

Lastly, a shoutout to my favorite debut story collections of the year: Diane Cook‘s Man V. Nature and Shelly Oria‘s New York 1, Tel Aviv 0. Please, go out and buy these massively impressive titles posthaste. And when you do, be aware that  you will likely finish them by the time you return home. The writing in each is just that lively and effortless. Diane and Shelly, please write more in 2015!

 
 

womenDeena Drewis, editor

I hadn’t read any of Helen Oyeyemi’s work prior to picking up Boy, Snow, Bird but after coming across an interview in the London Review of Books titled “Helen Oyeyemi: ‘I’m interested in the way women disappoint one another’” I was already half in love. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the novel, though I’ve always been wary of fairy tale re-tellings—a (perhaps unfounded) concern that the story or novel will defeat itself by getting too clever or cute. But Oyeyemi’s novel is so smart and subtle, her characters so engaging and deeply flawed, and it interacts with the original story in a tremendously powerful way.
 
Speaking of women disappointing one another, I recently finished Chloe Caldwell’s WOMEN. A really moving, bold piece of work. And I loved every component of it—not only the text itself but the cover, the way it feels in your hands. Plus, it’s a novella published by an indie press!
 

Lastly, to join in on the chorus of praise: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. It’s heartbreaking and funny; the precision is astounding. It’s a book for people who believe in marriage and people who don’t, easily consumed in a single sitting or two (which is becoming all the rage, we hear!)