To celebrate the year in books, our editors compiled a list of favorite titles we reviewed in 2014. Of course, this only represents a tiny slice of all the wonderful releases this year. Cheers to the books of 2014! Here is a look back at our highlights.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
This is why I love novels. You get a chance to be inside someone’s head, to understand their mistakes, even when you can’t condone them. Wolf is dark dark dark—it revolves around a wrongful death suit filed against our narrator, the survivor of a botched suicide. But Sean’s fertile imagination and resilience remind us of the beauty that can grow in the darkest places. I’ve already bought copies of this for other people; it’s one of those.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; October
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio
I bet Charles D’Ambrosio is terrific at Scrabble. I mean, I don’t know if he’s quick to the corners or bingoing with power tiles, but I had to keep a dictionary handy while reading Loitering, an updated collection of his nonfiction output. There’s a lot of big guns here, ten-dollar words that had me questioning the net worth of my diploma. Then I investigated these mystery words and realized they are PERFECT CHOICES. And it happens sentence-after-achingly-well-crafted-sentence. He is so precise, so articulate, that every clause seems to achieve maximum expression. I’m looking forward to rereading this the first chance I get.
Tin House Books, November
Thrown by Kerry Howley
Hands down, this literary nonfiction book is the one that I’ve wrestled with most in the past year. And although “wrestle” feels pun-tastic given the mixed martial arts subject matter, I have spent an embarrassing amount of time debating this one in my head and with friends. Howley’s use of Kit, a fictional narrator, to profile two MMA athletes called into question, well, everything about the NF category: If Kit’s fake, how fake? Is she a complete fiction? Why do I equate fake with nonfiction but not with fiction? It had me questioning my views on entire floors of the library. Did I mention it’s also the sweatiest, bloodiest, most gut-wrenching book I’ve read in years? It is, and now I’m a believer. Damn you, Kit. Thank you, Kerry.
American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt by John Beckman
Beckman’s history chronicles the fun bits of the last four hundred years, from the Boston Tea Party and the trickster Br’er Rabbit to drug culture and underground music clubs. The author posits that participants in provocative fun are active and their actions spontaneous, which provides the rebellious and sometimes destructive nature of joyous revolt absent from the homogenous and corporate versions (PT Barnum, Playstation, Broadway, etc.) hoping to make a dollar off of you. The lines are a bit blurry on what it means that “fun” can sometimes lead to evil or murderous acts. And how from there, it’s only a small leap to the debased humor of modern day lulz-seekers. But he never did say that fun has to be innocent. It’s also a thrill to know that there were early colonists who pulled pranks on the Puritans. Thomas Morton is now my spirit animal.