LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2014 (part 3)
Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor writers think are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2014.
* Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2014, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.
Phil Jourdan - Co-Founder, Contributing Editor
I found this memoir mesmerizing, perplexing and pretty damned sad. Lasdun’s personal life gets various sorts of screwy when a former creative writing student of his, with whom he had entertained a very mild email flirtation before turning down her advances, decides to ruin his reputation. Antisemitic hate mail, harassing online reviews of his books, allegations of sexual misconduct and plagiarism, and general unpleasantness go on for years. I found Lasdun’s reflections on his own role in the story interesting, and a bit infuriating.
'The Heart of Zen' by Jun Po Denis Kelly and Keith Martin-Smith
If you can ignore an alarming number of typos (which, I’m sure, is a skill required for spiritual enlightenment) then you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff here about the link between growing up — like, really growing the fuck up — and Zen meditation.
'Memoirs of My Writer’s Block' by Jake Chapman
One of the funniest, creepiest books I have ever read. It deserves to be read, but nobody deserves that amount of WTF.
'Make It Stick' by Peter C Brown
I’m a little obsessed with the psychology of learning, expertise, mastery, and all the rest. If it mentions the 10,000 hour rule, I’ve probably read it. But this book is by far the most interesting of the books on learning that I’ve read this year. It practices what it preaches — it is intentionally repetitive, a bit loopy, disjointed — and you’ll come away with a fresh enthusiasm for LEARNING STUFF IN GENERAL.
Leah Dearborn - Columnist
'The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq' by Hassan Blasim
An important and unflinching work from the pen of an Iraqi author. Read it even if it makes you queasy— you’ll thank yourself in the end.
'Beautiful Darkness' by Fabien Vehlmann
This was the most frightening graphic novel that I’ve ever read. The delicate imagery draws you in, then holds you down and feeds you atrocities. Think Lord of the Flies, but with fairies.
'The Supernatural Enhancements' by Edgar Cantero
A purely fun read stuffed full of ciphers, puzzles, and ghosts. I couldn’t have picked a better title to sit down with by a campfire this summer.
'The Weirdness' by Jeremy P. Bushnell
Deals with the devil, writerly angst, weed, and a healthy dose of slapstick humor. What’s not to love?
'Thrown' by Kerry Howley
Thrown made the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2014, and it was definitely deserved. An intellectual literary nonfiction about MMA that doesn’t spare the gritty details. Prior interest in mixed martial arts is by no means necessary.
Daniel Hope - Columnist
'The Martian' by Andy Weir
It's Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but without the horrible racist undertones. Or maybe it's Apollo 13, but even more desperate and bleak. One of the first men to step foot on Mars gets marooned and must survive through what one could charitably describe as "inhospitable circumstances." It's harrowing, respectful of scientific principles, and compelling even though there's effectively one character.
'Ancillary Sword' by Anne Leckie
Last year, the first book in this series (Ancillary Justice) won several well-deserved awards, and the sequel continues to deliver everything that was great about the first. It's got massive spaceships, shared consciousness, living computers, betrayal, and action. It's more than good commentary on what makes us human. It's also fun.
'Annihilation' by Jeff VanderMeer
It's about a place called "Area X"; what's not to love? This book is a sort of science mystery with dark edges. An expedition of scientists is tasked with exploring a place that has killed several previous expeditions. It gets weird, and there are sequels. Get on board.
'Lock In' by John Scalzi
Scalzi branched out from the military/space opera sci-fi he's known for, and it worked. Lock In takes place in the near future, but it feels very current. A virus causes some people to become trapped in their own minds, unable to use their bodies, so they are forced to communicate through a sort of virtual reality social network.
'Cibola Burn' by James S. A. Corey
Just when you think the Expanse series has run its course, the fourth installment takes us to new places and opens up a whole new set of problems. It capitalizes on all the plotlines that were developed in the last three books, and keeps the wonderful characters and thrilling action. If you like spaceships and firefights, you'd better be reading this.
Ryan Peverly - Columnist
'No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State' by Glenn Greenwald
On the real, this is the most important book of 2014. There are better books that came out this year, both fiction and nonfiction, but to exclude No Place to Hide would be doing Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald’s respective nutsacks a disservice. And you don’t disservice the nutsack, people.
'The Martian' by Andy Weir
First published as an eBook in 2011 and then as an audiobook in 2013, The Martian made its print debut this year and wowed me with both its science fiction plot (an astronaut stranded alone on Mars) and its wit (“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.’”).
'The Book of Strange New Things' by Michael Faber
You ScarJo freaks out there might have recently partaken in a viewing of Under the Skin, but did you know it was also a book by one Michael Faber? No? Well, that’s fine, neither did I until I read The Book of Strange New Things. I highly recommend it. So does David Mitchell, if you’re into celebrity endorsements or people who can explain the brilliance of it better than I can.
'Tigerman' by Nick Harkaway
Speaking of celebrities, did you know Nick Harkaway’s father is John le Carré? That has no relevance here, because Harkaway is well on his way to being as much of a success as his father, albeit in a different genre. This is Harkaway’s third novel, and it’s as good as his previous two. Just as imaginative, as well: part superhero yarn, part complex emotional tale, all page-turner. Think Vonnegut hooking up with Stan Lee to make a literary baby.
'The Peripheral' by William Gibson
Listen: William Gibson could smear shit for 400 pages and it’d be mesmerizing.
Christine J. Schmidt - Columnist
'Piano Stories' by Felisberto Hernandez
Earlier this year, New Directions published an edition of this short story collection with an introduction by Italo Calvino. Hernandez breathes life into inanimate objects and paints images more vivid than anything else I've read this year. This collection is just so good.
'The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards' by Kristopher Jansma
Jansma takes the unreliable narrator to the extreme, and I love it. I tore through this book in a night. I especially recommend this book to my fellow writers.
'How Best To Avoid Dying' by Owen Egerton
Do you want to get dark and creepy? These stories will help.
'The Year of Reading Dangerously' by Andy Miller
The only thing better than a book is a book about books. I fell in love with reading all over again.
'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham is her refreshingly honest self. One of my favorite moments of 2014 was listening to her read one of these essays out loud.
B.H. Shepherd - Columnist
'Rudolph! He is the Reason for the Season' by Mark Teppo
The classic children's tale reimagined as a sci-fi action adventure. Definitely the strangest thing I've read all year, and in all the best ways. It never occurred to me that a Christmas story could be so awesome.
'F: A Novel' by Daniel Kehlman
No novel made me feel more conflicted this year. While it was a stylishly crafted character study built on beautiful prose, its chronicle of the failed dreams and crushed hopes of three interwoven lives was almost too well told. Even recalling the story now saddens me.
'Endangered' by Jean Love Cush
The tragic tale of a fifteen year old black boy being brutalized by police and put on trial for a murder he didn't commit, while his young, single mother has to fight tooth and nail against a justice system determined to send an innocent boy to prison for life. Sadly, this story only seems to become more relevant as the year winds to a close.
'Federales' by Chris Irvin
A down and dirty noir adventure full of all the corruption and violence Mexico City has to offer. A debut novel that has me looking forward to Irvin's next work.
'Will O' the Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story' by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson
A great graphic novel for young readers with a clever, well-written female protagonist who doesn't need to be rescued. Full of interesting fragments of old folk tales and hoodoo magic, Aurora Grimeon is a welcome addition to the pantheon of pre-teen heroes.
Phew! That's it for this year, folks! Here's to even more great reads in 2015!
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