Top Ten Books of 2014
First of all, I love book lists. This time of year is my favorite for reading book lists. I love seeing what others read and what they recommend! One of my favorite teacher blogs is Classroom as Microcosm by Siobhan Curious and she writes a top ten book list every year. I always look forward to reading her book list. This year, I decided to create my own list and share it! Thank you for the inspiration, Siobhan!
*Books are not necessarily published in 2014, simply the books that I read. Since I have a tendency to buy books faster than I can read, this year I made a promise not to buy any books, with the exception of professional development. So everything came from the library or my own bookshelf!
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Wow. I was captivated from the first sentence until the last. The language is amazing, breathtaking, and you just do not want the book to end. The setting is France and Germany, the time is World War II, and the characters are trying to survive in a time of tragedy and loss. The story centers on a 14 year old blind girl in France and her father as the two must leave Nazi-occupied Paris and flee to the countryside; and at the same time, a young boy in Germany must make his own journey, while coming of age in the time of Nazi Germany. The layers to this story are abundant, the story is intricate and artfully written. You will stop more times than one can count, simply because a sentence is so beautifully written that you must read it again. I feel as though whatever I say about this novel, it will not be enough. Read this book, and then read it again. (You may also want to check out the Sidekick companion to All the Light We Cannot See after you finish the novel).
2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This book will take you on an amazing, surprising adventure, and I was right there the whole time, waiting for the next move with anticipation. If I described the plot, it would sound unbelievable. But Donna Tartt will move you through this plot without missing a beat, and you will move around the country, to Europe, and follow the fascinating characters on a crazy adventure involving the art world and appearances, thievery and adventure, loss and redemption. Yes, it is 775 pages. Completely amazing.
3. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Of course, every book of Jhumpa Lahiri’s is spectacular, and this one is no exception; in fact this may be my favorite yet. You will find the familiar themes of identity, loss, family, love, unspeakable tragedy and secrets all permeating this original, engaging, and absolutely mesmerizing story. The Mitra brothers are compelling and fascinating, quite opposite in character but with a bond that transforms and shapes their lives as well as those around them. This tale spans Calcutta and America, telling the stories of multiple generations while focusing on two brothers and how their lives unfold on both continents. Quite simply beautiful storytelling.
4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I met Karen Joy Fowler many years ago, and I’ve always enjoyed her books (if you are a Jane Austen fan, then you must read The Jane Austen Book Club). Her most recent book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (winner of the 2014 Pen/Faulkner award), simply took my breath away and made me stop everything – and read. I stayed awake well past my bed time in order to finish this one. I don’t want to give too much away and it is hard to write about the plot without spoiling some of the details. You will want to read this one and let the story unfold with the surprises that Fowler plans for the reader. The story of an intelligent, thoughtful heroine, Fern, this book is also about family, siblings, parenting, what it means to be human, how we create relationships, family bonds, and how we make sense of a world that is both complex and beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful.
5. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Honestly, when I saw that this was a book about moss, I was skeptical. But I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing, so I eagerly requested it from the library and waited patiently. No need to renew the book; I finished it days after picking it up (and at 400 plus pages that says something!). I was fascinated by both the moss and the 19th century heroine, every single character was interesting. I was torn by wanting to read faster (the plot was surprising) and wanting to slow down in order to enjoy the language. I found so many beautiful passages worthy of a post it that I flagged more passages in a single reading than one would think possible. Read this book.
6. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend. It was my first Meg Wolitzer novel. The characters were truly interesting and their adult lives were just as fascinating as the teenage years and “art camp” experience. The relationships were real and multi-dimensional, the characters were beautiful, flawed, frustrating and fascinating. From New York, to art camp in the woods, to Iceland and all around Europe, you will want to follow these characters – even when you dislike them, and sometimes you will – and then you will keep following them – through the years as they evolve, grow and continually surprise.
7. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This book captures a moment in the 1980s – a time where so many things were happening, especially in New York City – and this coming of age novel is pitch perfect in its characterization, setting, and story. The young girls in this book are figuring out the adult world, while their parents also deal with new realities, changing family, loss, grief, and helping their daughters navigate this new space. The metaphors are beautiful, subtle, and the layers in this book will keep you reading. Don’t miss this book. Perhaps even more exciting than reading this book is the fact that this is Carol Rifka Brunt’s first novel. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.
8. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
This book might bring you to tears. It is heartbreaking and also hopeful. The setting is Cambodia, the time of the Khmer Rouge, when the author is only 5 years old. The narrator is a child, and through her eyes we witness the horror and devastation of war, genocide, and the loss of innocent lives. What sets this book apart is the amazing voice, the hope of a child and the exquisite language . I have read multiple reviewers describe the writing as lyrical – and it is most definitely lyrical – told with the voice and ear of a poet. You will remember this book long after setting it down.
9. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
This powerful novel will stun you with its beautiful language in the midst of the harsh war and gritty setting of Iraq in turmoil. Powers captures the complexity of war and the complexity of the men – along with the combat that alters them beyond measure. It is a story of war and everything that war touches in its path. I could not help being reminded of Tim O’Brien, but Powers’ voice is all his own – unique, strong, and memorable. Many books and memoirs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are now out in the world, but this is one book that I think we will be reading for years – it is destined to be a classic.
10. Euphoria by Lily King
I’ve never read anything by Lily King, but with all the buzz about this book, I quickly requested it from the library. The buzz was well deserved. The book is loosely based on Margaret Mead and set in New Guinea. I know very little of Margaret Mead and this time period in her life, but this book inspired me to go out and read more – my very favorite type of historical novel. The trio of characters are interesting and the plot unfolds with many surprises and twists (many changes to the actual story of Margaret Mead) – all of this will keep you on the edge as you read. The story of these three anthropologists living and writing about the New Guinea tribes, their cultural study – and danger that ensues – is thoughtfully and beautifully written. I am looking forward to reading King’s other novels.
What did you read this year? Please share, as I am already planning what to read next and I am always looking for another good book!