The Best of 2014

k2-_9326fbf6-7bcd-40de-8c19-1f8555a20911.v1The One I Stayed Up Too-Late While Jet-lagged For:  Gail Caldwell’s NEW LIFE, NO INSTRUCTIONS.  I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I loved every single word, her honesty, the way she lays it out and holds it back and composes every scene from her very real and not-so-perfect life.  Her great big giant heart.  Thanks to AmyG for recommending this book about 3 days before I was ready to leave for a long trip.  I remember exactly where I was, in the middle of the night, when I turned the last pages, and how I sat there with the light on, under the covers, closed book on my lap, husband asleep, thinking about it ALL.

k2-_84d8fff1-9e91-4800-9b5b-1d0f69135d6e.v1The Memoir I Tried Not to Read:  Emma Brockes’s SHE LEFT ME THE GUN.  Holy hell.  This story is so crazy you almost believe it can’t be true.  Though of course it is.  Aren’t they always?  It’s a roller coaster of what it’s like to find out, little by little, what came before you.  Like, as Joan Didion might say, being “nibbled to death by ducks.”  This book drove me batty, and for good reason.  It’s a story about inheritance; about looking back and moving forward.  Are we who our ancestors were?  What do we carry forward, and what do we leave behind?  What are the mysteries of our mothers, of the women in our families who kept their many many secrets?  If you missed it, you’re missing out.

reconstructing-amelia-1The Mystery I Carried With Me Everywhere:  I picked up Kimberly McCreight’s RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA at the bookstore.  Never heard of the writer and knew nothing about the story, and yet when I pulled it off the shelf and read the first page, I was sold.  And when I say I could not put the book down, I really mean I COULD NOT PUT THE BOOK DOWN.  I had to find out what was going to happen next.  I found out later it was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.  Yes, my friends, this is her first book.  And she’s tall and blonde and gorgeous.  I want to hate her but never ever will — and I’ll read anything she writes from here on out.  You should, too.  (p.s.  I got an email last week from a friend saying, “Have you read RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA?  I can’t put it down!! — so see, it’s not just me).

cover_untamed_stateThe Novel I Read Back in May and STILL Can’t Stop Thinking About:  Roxane Gay’s AN UNTAMED STATE scared the hell out of me.  I had trouble sleeping.  I looked at wealthy fathers and young husbands and mother-in-laws and random, seemingly harmless men differently after I read this book, and I am still, all these months later, thinking about just how f-ing dangerous it is to be a woman in the world.  This book terrified me for me, for my sister, for my daughter, for my nieces.  It put me on guard … in a good way.  This book made me more aware.  More aware of my surroundings, more aware of men the in places I’m simply being myself, a woman, more aware of how easy it is for horrific things to happen to women and what it’s like to try, and try and try and try, to survive.

9780374267704_p0_v1_s600-220x330-2And Then There Were Books About War:  My favorite novel of the year is Roxana Robinson’s SPARTA.  I won’t say much, because I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but nobody writes as beautifully about war — or about anything, really — as Roxana Robinson.  The story is heartbreaking and the writing is just beyond spectacular.  Man, can this writer tell a story.  It’s like you’re sitting on the front porch swing with her and your iced tea glass is empty but you’re afraid to get up for a refill.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  And in other news, I just started reading Phil Klay’s REDEPLOYMENT, a book of short stories about soldiers at war and/or returning from — it’s original and devastating and even, dare I say, funny.  A new voice you have to read.  You just have to.

10daum-cover-blog427The One That Met All of My Expectations … and Then Some:  Meghan Daum’s essay collection, UNSPEAKABLE.  I regularly read Daum’s column in the LA Times, and that’s all I know about her.  But this collection of memoir pieces about so many of the things we think and feel but cannot, in polite company, “talk about” is just beyond the beyond.  Her opening essay “Matricide” is, alone, worth the price of admission, as she digs into the complex emotions she has about her mother and her grandmother, and nothing is ever wrapped up in a big red bow.  Of course there is also an essay about her dog, and you know I loved that!, though it’s not really about her dog at all, in the end.  It never is, right?  Daum’s essays are raw life; they are messy and real and will make you cringe … right before you think, “I feel like that too, but I would never tell anybody.”  Loved that most of all.

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One last note:  I’ve all but given up my eReader.  It’s great for instant gratification, and for reading in bed or on a dark airplane, but I can’t get past loathing its very existence.  One more screen to stare at?  No.  I have enough screens.  And I love paper books:  old, new, hardback, soft-cover, trade paperbacks and regular; books I can hold in my hands one at a time and shove into my purse and stack on my nightstand and litter the house with and page back-and-forth when I’m neurotic about missing something.

What was your favorite read of 2014?

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21 thoughts on “The Best of 2014

  1. J

    Thanks so much for this! Nicely timed for my holiday break beginning next week! For me – Eric Larson – “The Devil in the White City”, Garth Stein – “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, and Nelson Mandela – “Long Walk to Freedom” were the highlights for me this year. I read Reconstructing Amelia too. Haunting Pageturner!

  2. D

    Nice post.

    Adding to my to-read-list 🙂 they are getting long now, I am into biography at the moment so let’s see … I agree with you on your final note — I love the smell of books when turning the pages and when in contemplation of what you just read you put the book to your face and smell the page (crazy right?)

  3. Catherine

    Glad you’re ditching the e-reader. I never even tried.. Great list. I’d be interested in reading Sparta. My best book was one I reread – Ben Okri’s A Way of Being Free. Wonderful essays that have grown stronger with time.

    1. Teri Post author

      Thanks for this recommendation, Cat. I hope you’re having a great holiday season out in the country, and that you get to ski your beloved Dolomites this winter. If there’s a prettier place in the world, I don’t know where it is. 🙂

  4. Downith

    I just bought Reconstructing Amelia so I’m glad to hear it’s good. Best book for me this year hands down was The Art of Fielding (which you recommended quite awhile ago). I still miss it! Close second was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

    Guess what my daughter got for her 11th birthday this year? A Kindle. I felt a lot of angst about that one. I have one for travel but yes I agree with you, I prefer real live made from paper books.

    Have a great Christmas, Teri.

    DXO

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m so bummed I didn’t get to see you this year, D. Hope all’s well there. Maybe I’ll make it across the pond in 2015!

  5. Averil Dean

    Best new (to me) reads this year: The Woman Upstairs by Clair Messud, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

    Sigh. I love books.

    1. Teri Post author

      These are all books I’ve wondered about, and We Are Completely Beside Ourselves keeps coming up again and again. *off to order books*

  6. lisahgolden

    Your post prompted me to look at my Goodreads list. There is something so gratifying about looking at the covers of the books I’ve read this year. Last, year, the year before that…..

    I enjoyed all of the books I read (mostly listened to!), but my favorites were Alan Cummings’ Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir, Alice Close Your Eyes by our own Averil Dean, and A Red Herring without Mustard (my introduction to the light and delightful Flavia De Luce mysteries) by Alan Bradley.

    I got an Kindle Fire for my birthday. I love it. I mostly enjoy it by getting high and playing Scrabble or Solitaire.

    Okay, back to work! xo

  7. donnaeve

    Oh my gosh, and I’ve banned myself from buying any more books until I get my TBR pile below., IDK, 20? It’s sitting around 40+ at the moment. And now I want to READ ALL OF THESE. Books for me this year – well you know I’ve had my fill of McCarthy. LOL! Won’t go there.

    I’d say the book that actually exceeded my expectations was BOYS OF MY YOUTH, by Joann Beard. OMG. I LOVED that book! It made me laugh out loud in places (particularly the part about her doll, Hal) and that voice of hers, with the “we’re not doing that,” and “they manhandled us.” The use of “we,” and “they,” the way she did it…sublime.

  8. Erica Z

    A pleasant surprise was Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. Goodreads sent me a free audiobook and I didn’t know what to expect, but it was tragic and beautiful with a little mystery thrown in. And now it’s showing up on a lot of Best Of lists!

    I also finally got around to reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (the latter just in time for the Lifetime movie apparently??).

    1. Teri Post author

      I’ve also been meaning to buy the Celeste Ng books, so thanks for the reminder, and recommendation. Hope you’re doing well, Erica! We were in school so long ago it seems …

      1. Erica Z

        I can’t even believe how long it’s been! I am doing well (back in St. Louis) and enjoying life. I’ve been reading your blog religiously for quite awhile and am anxious to read your memoir someday as I’m sure are most of your followers!

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