I read a lot of books this year. As of today (12/19), I have read 58, which may not seem like much, but take into consideration the fact that I did most of that reading between August and now. I read some pretty terrible books, but I also read some great ones. Some were published in 2014 and others weren’t. I re-read old favorites and gained new ones. I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked, but we’ll call this year an intake year, a learning year. Without further ado, I present to you the best books I read this year.
The Funniest and Most Thoughtful
Yes Please– Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler is hilarious. We all know it. We also know that she is exceptionally thoughtful and intuitive as well as a grade-A badass. Her book, Yes Please, testifies to that in a grand way, but it doesn’t feel like something we’ve heard before. She writes serious essays, joke-y essays, and talks a lot about how much she loves her children and her friends. She writes about her time with the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and the in-between times. She writes about the difficulty of going through a divorce as well as the importance of a strong work ethic. I love her. Many funny books are not as thoughtful as this; she’s the greatest.
The Best Self-validating and Encouraging Book on Feminism
Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is another book that is both funny and thoughtful. She talks about rape, Beyonce, the Bachelor, playing Scrabble, race, and prejudices. She acknowledges the ways in which she “fails” as a feminist, which is the takeaway message of her book. I blogged about it here.
The Best Book about Adult Female Friendships
Friendship – Emily Gould
Okay, a lot of books exist on this topic. Many are good. Many are incredible. However, this one gets the intricacies of female friendship more right than many other similar novels I have read. The main characters, Bev and Amy, are ridiculously close and dependent upon each other, but they aren’t constantly braiding each other’s hair or talking about boys like the stereotypes lead you to believe. I don’t know, maybe some best friends do do those things, but Friendship felt much more similar to any friendship I have had.
The Best Book by a Mountain (the band, not the animal)
Wolf in White Van- John Darnielle
To be fair, I haven’t read any books by actual mountain goats and John Darnielle is the only consistent member of the band the Mountain Goats, but this really was one of the best books I read this year. There’s always a worry when someone you love crosses over to something else, but I wasn’t that worried since he is such an accomplished songwriter. His book, though, feels different than his music. Sean Phillips, the protagonist, is quiet and closed-off, rarely divulging his emotions even as he describes tragedy after tragedy. Read my review here.
Best One about a Family
Everything I Never Told You– Celeste Ng
I read a lot of books about families, so this is an important one. Some creep at the library asked me what books I like to read. When I said fiction, he said, “Oh, like Tom Clancy or John Grisham?” I wasn’t concerned about being a book snob, but I didn’t want to tell him what I did like. If I had, I would have said something along the lines of “dysfunctional families/complex relationships.” Ng tells the story of a family’s unraveling after the favorite daughter dies in a mysterious accident. Her prose is so precise and poetic that it feels like an intrusion upon something sacred. Read my review here.
Best One about a Sad Kid
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets- Evan Roskos
This is another favorite topic of mine. Do you remember the first time you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? How Charlie’s pain was both so exquisite and precise, and how his joy was laden with trepidation? Roskos’ book has all those same feelings. However, it doesn’t feel like another Chbosky novel (but when can we get one of those?). I want to give this book to high school Christina so she feels validated or at least less alone in her emotions and her obsession with dead poets.
Best Non-required Required Reading
I am Malala- Malala Yousafzai
This book is so important. It gave me an quick education on Pakistan and Middle East issues as well as the selflessness of Malala. I suppose we all already knew how selfless she was, but I had no idea that she and her father had been speaking out in favor of education for a long time. It would be easy to just call her brave, and while she is that, she is so much more. She loves her home and her people, and she believes that they deserve the best. She is doing incredible things.
Best Book about Fanfiction (by my favorite author)
Fangirl- Rainbow Rowell
If I could marry any writer, it would be Rainbow Rowell. She is the most incredible at capturing frustration with relationships and oneself in a way that feels so real it’s like watching your life play out on the page. In this book, she tells the story of Cath and Wren, twin sisters once bound by Harry Potter-like fan fiction whose college experience tears them apart. Where Wren acts out, Cath retreats. All of Cath’s expectations about college turn out to be cruel fantasies; pretty soon, the only thing she can do without feeling like a failure is write Simon Snow fan fiction.
P.S. In the book, Cath is working on “Carry on, Simon” which is her own full-length fan fiction novel. Bits of the story are included at the beginning of each chapter. WELL……Rowell is publishing a book next year called….Carry On. I am so excited. I’ve never read fan fiction, so I kind of feel like a phony, but I love her.
The Best Book about Angry Teenage Boys
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe– Benjamin Alire Saenz
I didn’t know what superlative to give this one. The “angry teenage boys” bit is somewhat misleading. Only one teenage boy is angry (Ari). Dante is sometimes sickeningly happy. When Ari and Dante meet the summer after sophomore year though, they hit it off. Ari learns important lessons about love and honesty from Dante, and his incremental release of his anger feels so, so significant. Also, I love reading books where the parents aren’t just Charlie Brown adult-type characters. Ari and Dante’s parents are just as complicated and just as integral to the story as the boys themselves. This book was so good. That is all I can say before I start crying.
The Best Book that Dismantles the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” idea
The Beginning of Everything- Robyn Schneider
For the record, I hate the phrase “manic pixie dream girl.” I think it’s a way to diminish girls who are feminine, cute, and funny as weak. Being feminine, cute, and funny is cool. So is being feminine, hot, and serious or not as feminine, beautiful, and sarcastic. All variations of women are great. Except murderers. I digress. In this book, Ezra Faulkner (named after Ezra Koenig, GUYS) is in a car accident that renders him unable to play tennis. In turn, his friends abandon him. When he meets Cassidy Thorpe, she helps him to realize important truths about himself. Except he didn’t really need her to realize those things and she has her own issues to deal with. So BOOM, YA fiction trope busted.
The Best other Book by my Favorite Author about Landline Telephones
Landline– Rainbow Rowell
Remember the good old days of landline phones? Despite what old professors think, I have used many such phones in my lifetime (YES, I KNOW WHO THE BEATLES ARE). In Rowell’s most recent book, she tinkers with the idea of a failing marriage in a unique way. No, she doesn’t cheat on her husband. No, she doesn’t leave him to travel to India and do yoga with guys in puka shell necklaces. After her husband Neal takes the kids to his parents for Christmas without her, workaholic TV writer Georgie falls into a slump, staying at her parents’ house in her high school bedroom. One night, her phone rings and it’s Neal. But not Neal. It’s Neal from the past. This premise sounds silly, but again, Rowell wins at depicting complicated, loving relationships without relying on common stereotypes. I could read this every day.
The Best Book about Haiti
An Untamed State- Roxane Gay
Again, to be fair, this was the only book I read about Haiti. Gay’s first novel tells the story of Mirelle, a Haitian-American who is kidnapped when she visits her parents in Haiti. The following weeks are difficult to read and, eventually, devolves into a kind of numbness that mirrors Mirelle’s own numbness. This book was hard to read, but in an important way. Gay makes the bad even worse by pairing it with reflection scenes in which Mirelle’s tenacity, stubbornness, and love are apparent in ways she cannot express during her kidnapping. Phew.
The Best Book about Nigerian Immigrants
Americanah- Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Well, we all know Adiche now because of Beyonce’s sampling of her in “Flawless.” But did you know that she is actually flawless? And she was never even a member of Destiny’s Child. In her book, she follows Lagos teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze as they fall in love and grow up, grow apart, and move around the world. Although Ifemelu moves to America, she never feels quite American or accepted, and she can never escape the memory of Obinze, the man who was supposed to follow her but never made it. I would rank this book up there with Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland in the way it captures the difficulties that immigration and differing ideals can have on a relationship rooted in the same upbringing. Although I’ll never know how Ifemelu feels, I caught a glimpse of her difficulties. As such, I would recommend this to anyone and everyone looking to expand upon their own experiences (which should be everyone, right?).