Following up on Monday’s musical retrospective, it’s time to award some superlatives to the books that I read in 2014. Straying even farther from release dates than with my musical entry, this list reflects books that I read in 2014, not necessarily books that were released this year.
Most Hyped Book (That I Didn’t Really Like) – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This was a tough call. Snow Crash was certainly a candidate given its importance in the science fiction community and my bland reaction to it, and yet I had to go with Gone Girl. I’ve already voiced my concerns about the book and there’s no need to rehash them here. Admittedly, as was the case for a lot of books that I read in 2014, I am not in the target demographic for Gone Girl. Unlike a lot of those other books, though, I didn’t much care for this one. For what it’s worth, I thought that David Fincher did a solid job transitioning Gone Girl into a film.
Best Atypical Voicing – The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I was late to the party in reading this one but Haddon deserves full marks for his crafting of narrator Christopher John Francis Boone, a character from whom the reader is wholly different and with whom the reader fully relates. That is no easy task.
Most Devastating Final Paragraph – ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ from Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. I only finished reading this book a couple of days ago, so I haven’t yet reviewed it on BQDC and I won’t get ahead of myself by doing so now. I’ll only say that Salinger is an absolute master and that the first story from his Nine Stories is a brilliantly told, character driven piece that belongs with Hemingway’s ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ and Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ on the short list of best American short stories.
Most Cinematic – The Princess Bride by William Goldman. A number of the books that I read in 2014 either already were or became feature films and none of them seemed to have undergone that transition more gracefully than Goldman’s The Princess Bride. I’m probably biased here since Rob Reiner’s film version has long been one of my favorites – long before I was even aware that the film was based on a book, as it were. And yet, reading through The Princess Bride, it’s hard to not feel how cinematically perfect the whole experience is, from the mad genius of Vizzini to the climactic victory of Inigo. That Goldman’s story works so well both on the page and on the screen is a testament to his writing.
Most Surprisingly Educational (and Expectedly Hilarious) – The De-Textbook by Cracked. You’re pooping wrong and eating wrong and essentially everything that you think you know about history is a lie. These are just some of the brutal and hilarious truths that the staff of the brilliant Cracked.com unleash in their De-Textbook which proves that, in our strange world, one of the best places to get your information is a comedy website. Because of course it is.
Best Series (That I Read In Its Entirety This Year) – Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula Le Guin. Yeah, this award is kind of a reach. Really, I just wanted to go out of my way to praise Le Guin some more since I wrote about a lot of books this year and yet rarely touched upon her work. She is a national treasure, people, and should be read by everyone.
Most Rife With Symbolism – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. Yes, this is a totally subjective award. Oh well. You can read more of my thoughts (a lot more, actually) on Chabon’s debut here, but the important part for our purposes today is that each and every word of this book seems to be coated in rich symbolism. Chabon is no slouch.
Most Divisive – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’ve not yet read Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks although it’s on my list for next year, so in the meantime I’ll have to suffice with the strange multilayered world of Cloud Atlas. Some have found the book needlessly complex and pretentious but I found that I couldn’t put it down and that the strange array of worlds and characters that Mitchell introduced fit together in a way that was never tidy but always rewarding.
Most Surprisingly Satisfying Genre – Children’s Books. I have always loved kids books, in part because I firmly believe that – save maybe for books that are for really little kids – they’re meant for adults, too. Without ever really making a point to do so, I read a number of great children’s books this year including A Boy and A Bear In A Boat, The Westing Game, Wonder, and I even started in on A Series of Unfortunate Events. Each of those entries exceed my expectations in a variety of ways. Lesson learned. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll be going out of my way to read more children’s books next year.
Author I Most Invested In – John Green. I had been seeing ads for and reading reviews of Green’s The Fault In Our Stars for a long time before I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. I read the book in February and immediately went out and purchased the rest of Green’s catalog. The Fault In Our Stars is Green’s most heartbreaking work though not necessarily his best. I found that all of his books were enjoyable in their own rights and, despite some claims that he’s a formulaic author, most of his books – while admittedly sharing many qualities – were unique in their own way. Green’s books may not be for everyone but if you are either in the throes of adolescence or can remember when you were, I imagine you’ll enjoy them as there are few authors capable of elucidating the teenage mind the way that Green can. It doesn’t hurt the VlogBrothers series that Green runs with his brother Hank is both decidedly nonsensical and a great way to humanize a public figure. All told, I spent a lot of time with Green’s work this year. I will definitely look back on 2014 as the year of John Green.
Best Books of the Year. This was much harder than the choices I had to make for the music article, and really there are probably five or six other books that could make a strong claim to fall in here, but at the moment, I think these were the three best books I read – or at least the ones that I enjoyed the most – in 2014:
3. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
2. Looking For Alaska by John Green
1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell