Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass
Given my love of reading and books, I read a lot. Daily, while on the elliptical, in the car pickup line, before bed– and when I’m in the middle of a book I can’t put down, I read and read and walk around with my book, stirring pots of food for my family’s dinner, reading and reading until I can finally turn the last page.
As the years go by, I’m reading a greater variety of books, and, inspired by my friend Nina Badzin, have been setting reading goals for myself for at least the past 5 years. For 2014, 50 books, which I reached a while back. Next year, I’m vowing to read more.
Why? Because I strongly believe that books help us to grow, to understand others, to walk around in others’ shoes for a while and see the world through their eyes. That, over movies and other forms of immediate entertainment, is what makes novels, and books, special. They let us enter the head of another person and experience their world, their choices, their motivations. These literary experiences make life richer, fuller, and open doors, I believe, to a better world.
It’s true. I have some definite favorites. I find many of the books I want to read from multiple book resources: Goodreads, Shelf Awareness, GreatNewBooks.org, Twitter, and through reading friends whose opinion and taste I get and trust.
My 5 Favorite Books of 2014
#1: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
I picked this book up for the gorgeous cover, read a few pages, and could not put it down. It is my favorite book of all time, for its pacing, beautiful characters and writing and imagery, story and meaning and depth. I love love loved it, and have bought many copies of it to give to close friends as gifts. It is good. (I wrote about it here.) It is also a finalist in the National Book Awards this year.
What to know: if you read it, be prepared to be swept away, back into Nazi Germany and Vichy France in the early 1940s, seeing through the eyes of two very different yet compelling young adults.
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
I’ve never been one quick to pick up apocalyptic plots or science fiction, but Station Eleven is more than typical sci-fi. The summary mentions “a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.” Risking everything for art and humanity hooked me. I bought the book, and, like the best books, I couldn’t stop reading. Station Eleven is also a finalist in the National Book Awards this year (winner announced 11/19). I wrote more about Station Eleven here.
It’s taken me a long time to process and try to understand what I feel about this book, I think, because I have teenagers and the topic felt very close to my heart. Everything I Never Told You is the story of a family trying to cope with a tragedy, the death of the teenage girl/daughter/sister in their home. It’s the heartbreaking story of a family of firsts–the first mixed-race family in their area of Ohio in the 1970s, and the effects of being outsiders has on the family. It is well-written and thought-provoking and would make for an excellent book club pick. I had the pleasure of meeting Celeste and taking one of her novel-writing classes at Muse in Boston in May. It is also a debut novel finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards Best of 2014.
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica is one of the smartest books I’ve read. The characters came alive for me by the second half of the book, and then I couldn’t put it down. I’ve heard the comparisons to Gone Girl, and though I liked Gone Girl (super-twisted), I liked The Good Girl even more. The story was less a thriller or a mystery, but more a study of the effects a severely egotistical father has on his family, his work, and the world. And though I could sense something big coming as I read the last half, I was not prepared for the ending. It was, as I said, smart. Brilliant. It is also a debut novel finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards.
Historical fiction, a quiet novel, about the artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt and their relationship in Belle Epoque Paris, I ALWAYS LOVED YOU is about art and the struggle of the artist to balance their passion with life, love, and friendship, and to serve the work which already lives inside their hearts and heads. It is a tribute to those who have overcome the attacks of critics, of those who do not understand art or beauty, and is a testimonial to the brilliance of love in helping us to become who and what we are meant to be.
Books Make the Best Gifts (and they’re easy to wrap!) … let’s give more books this year.
Some of my other favorites from this year:
I did read a lot of classics this year: WAR AND PEACE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, and more. It’s been a good writerly education …
What are your favorite books of 2014? Please leave your favorites in the comments below — I love to hear recommendations!