2014 Booklist

My ten favorite books that I read this year, in alphabetical order by author:

tooth fairy

Clifford Chase, The Tooth Fairy 

One of two memoirs I read this year mostly written in succinct, one-sentence paragraphs, Chase’s tome gets the nod over Tamara Shopsin’s (admittedly interesting) Mumbai New York Scranton because Chase is a far more engaging wordsmith. Thematically he jumps around a lot, from the profound effect The B-52’s first album had on him in college to caring for his elderly parents, but his prose holds it together—some of it so deceptively simple that you want to re-read and thoughtfully consider each zen-like sentence.

all families are

Douglas Coupland, All Families Are Psychotic

I’ve admired Coupland’s caustic wit and unique worldview for years, but nothing could’ve prepared me for his sixth novel (which came out in 2001). Not to be hyperbolic, but this tale of a family reuniting in Florida for one member’s launch into space is completely and delightfully insane, even more so than his apocalyptic Girlfriend In A Coma. It reminds me a little of A.M. Homes’ (more on her below) Music For Torching in that it begins with a bang and just gets crazier from there, but without falling apart.

zona

Geoff Dyer, Zona

Best known for But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz, Dyer has written an entire book about his obsession with the Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker and it’s one of the best books about film I’ve read in years. Wisely forgoing an academic approach, Zona is more like an idiosyncratic memoir and perhaps the most convincing argument ever made to check out a bewildering, enigmatic, occasionally sublime three-hour-long Russian movie.

may we be forgiven

A.M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven

My friend Michael suggested this one after I included Music For Torching in my top ten last year. If anything, this makes that book seem as normal as The Da Vinci Code—it begins with a horrific, outlandish event that is the catalyst for everything that follows and remains startling for nearly 500 pages. Hilarious and unsentimental like the best Vonnegut, it turns out to be both a pitch-black comedy and a sincere story of redemption.

king 112263

Stephen King, 11/22/63

I’d never read King before, but I almost instantly got why people love him so much: the man knows how to hold your attention. This mash-up of time travel, the Kennedy assassination and small town narrative is so potentially absurd that I can’t imagine a lesser writer (or possibly any other writer) being able to pull it off. Pray that the inevitable television adaptation gets it right.

my struggle

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book One

I was intrigued from the moment I first heard about Knausgaard’s ridiculously ambitious Proust-like six volume autobiographical novel. Imagine if Sufjan Stevens had made good on his “50 albums for 50 states” project, and you’ll get a sense of what the author is trying to do here. With lengthy, bravura passages about things as gloriously mundane as a garage band performance or a home ravaged by years of hoarding, it’s not a light read but rewarding enough that I plan on devouring the next volume soon.

bone clocks

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks

This is unquestionably a return to Cloud Atlas form for Mitchell. I’m not sure it surpasses that earlier book, and the final section is distractingly tonally different from the five that came before, but Holly Sykes might be Mitchell’s greatest character ever—her book-length evolution from bratty teen to weathered elder is the narrative’s stunning constant, the beating heart in a labyrinth of sci-fi convolutions and visionary imagination.

little failure

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure

Shteyngart’s memoir leaves no doubt of the autobiographical nature of his novels. With a voice as comically distinct as Woody Allen or David Sedaris, he writes mostly and perceptively about his megalomaniacal parents (they gave him the title nickname) and emerges enlightened and amused rather than bitter or broken.

sisterland

Curtis Sittenfeld, Sisterland

Despite loving Prep and American Wife, I initially avoided Sittenfeld’s latest because of its chick-lit cover, and I should have known better. For a tale of two psychic sisters in suburban St. Louis, Sisterland is remarkably grounded and genuine, filled with memorable characters and a fascinating premise regarding a prediction no one wants to see come true. With her fourth book, Sittenfeld has become as seemingly effortlessly great an American fiction writer as Tom Perrotta or Jonathan Franzen.

i loved you more

Tom Spanbauer, I Loved You More

If I had to pick one favorite book of the year, it might be this long-awaited effort from one of my favorite authors. As usual, Spanbauer writes about Idaho, Manhattan in the 1980s, being gay (and an outsider in general) and unrequited love; also as usual, he writes like absolutely no one else. Of his five novels, this might be his most affecting and devastating one yet.

My complete 2014 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):

1. Marcello Carlin, The Blue In The Air
2. Matthew Zoller Seitz, The Wes Anderson Collection
3. Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Holiday
4. Donald Fagen, Eminent Hipsters
5. Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure
6. S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer, Flood (33 1/3 series)
7. Douglas Coupland, All Families Are Psychotic
8. Stephen King, 11/22/63
9. Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires*
10. Howard Sounes, Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney
11. Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
12. Mark Harris, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
13. Saul Austerlitz, Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes
14. A.M. Homes, This Book Will Save Your Life
15. Tamara Shopsin, Mumbai New York Scranton
16. Peter Biskind (ed.), My Lunches With Orson
17. Douglas Coupland, Worst. Person. Ever.
18. Derek Jarman, Dancing Ledge*
19. Natalie Goldberg, The True Secret of Writing
20. James T. and Karla L. Murray, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York
21. Jim Gaffigan, Dad Is Fat
22. Matthew Kennedy, Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s
23. Tony Fletcher, A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga Of The Smiths
24. Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater*
25. Derek Jarman, Sketchbooks
26. Stanley Elkin, A Bad Man
27. Dana Spiotta, Lightning Field
28. Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of An Imaginative Life
29. Ruth Reichl, Delicious!
30. Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed
31. John Waters, Carsick
32. Tom Spanbauer, I Loved You More
33. Geoff Dyer, Zona
34. Bill Bryson, A Walk In The Woods*
35. Curtis Sittenfeld, Sisterland
36. Tom Wolfe, The Pump House Gang
37. Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & His Years of Pilgrimage
38. David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
39. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book One
40. Carol Leifer, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Crying
41. Clifford Chase, The Tooth Fairy
42. David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks
43. Lena Dunham, Not That Kind Of Girl
44. Tom Perrotta, Nine Inches: Stories
45. Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman
46. Dale Peck, Martin and John*
47. Greg Kot, I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway
48. Amy Poehler, Yes Please
49. A.M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven
50. Jennifer Finney Boylan, Stuck In The Middle With You
51. Samantha Bee, I Know I Am, But What Are You?*
52. Paul Harding, Tinkers
53. Tara Murtha, Ode To Billie Joe (33 1/3 series)

4 Responses to 2014 Booklist

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed May We Be Forgiven. It’s a shocking, irreverent satire, but as you said, sincere in its redemptive grace. I was glad to hear there is a new Tom Spanbauer novel. I haven’t heard his name for quite some time. And that Sisterland sounds pretty intriguing as well. I will add them both to by 2014 list.

  2. Oh, P.S. – we will share one book in common on our end of year booklists.

  3. You know, I think I’ve avoided Sisterland for the same ridiculous reason, and also because the sisters are psychic and that is ridiculous. (Says the woman who reads books about vampires and talking animals.)

    What did you think of Stuck in the Middle With You? I’m debating on whether to read it. She’s Not There was one of my favorite memoirs and I’m convinced this one can’t be as good.

  4. ckriofske says:

    Stuck In The Middle… is not as good as She’s Not There (which I now want to revisit), but definitely worth a read. Her self-deprecating humor is great, and the interviews with other authors included throughout are interesting. The best thing about Sisterland is in how it approaches the whole psychic thing with a healthy dose of skepticism from the sister who narrates the book, but it ends up being about more than that.

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