Page Turners

The Best of 2014: Books


December 22, 2014 Culture : Books By
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A hundred years ago, James Joyce published Dubliners. A collection of Bram Stoker’s stories was published (though he’d died two years earlier). L. Frank Baum’s eighth book in the Land of Oz series, too, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core, and a collection of D.H. Lawrence short stories: all were released to the public to be read and reread, bolstering each author’s place in the writers’ pantheon. Literature has changed plenty in those hundred years, but important authors (and ones who have yet to, but will become important) are still publishing books that’ll matter in a hundred years. Here are our picks for the best of 2014.

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Mr. Mercedes

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By Stephen King: One of our era’s greatest writers (deny it though some people will) takes a crack at the hardboiled detective novel. King does it his own way — less straightforward heroics from one troubled but ever-victorious private eye, more unlikely heroes and twists of fate. $11

Redeployment

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By Phil Klay: The New York Times said Klay’s set of 12 stories about the Iraq War was “the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls”. They also compare it to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, one of the best books on the Vietnam War ever written. Like O’Brien’s masterpiece, Klay deals in the shattering of humanity, and what people involved in war do with its pieces. $13

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

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By Roz Chast: The illustrator for The New Yorker strikes deep at the heart of a scary topic — caring for, and being driven insane by, aging and dying parents — with her graphic novel. It’s poignant, sad, funny and discomforting, and the alternative style of storytelling is, obviously, right in Chast’s witty wheelhouse. $17

The Last Illusion

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By Porochista Khakpour: Khakpour’s second novel is a wide survey of misfits at the dawn of the new millennium. In brief: an albino born in a small Iranian village is raised like a bird in his mother’s aviary, then rescued and brought Stateside as a young adult, where he is seen as a “Bat Boy”-esque curiosity, then taken in by a psychologist and, later, a group of outcasts. In lesser hands, it would read like a Tim Burton B-side — but Khakpour makes it soar. $12

All the Light We Cannot See

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By Anthony Doerr: Set in WWII, this novel about the intersection of a blind girl in the French Resistance and a young Nazi soldier falls short in some places, but otherwise it’s an absolute page-turner. Doerr is a fantastic storyteller, and his pointed, short chapters are the perfect meal for the avid reader. $11

Thirteen Days in September

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By Lawrence Wright: Wright’s account of the enormously successful 1978 peace talks between Israel and Egypt frame Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy heroics with an immense depth of history and the clash of personalities — fittingly, as the peace accord the two nations reached has been one of the few major victories for peace in the Middle East in modern history. $13

The Corpse Exhibition

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By Hassan Blasim: Blasim’s latest focuses on the Iraqi casualties, physical and otherwise, of the Iraq War — from the perspective of an Iraqi. Blasim’s oft-nameless characters face down horror and absurdity in vignettes that paint a bigger picture of a country’s tragedy. $12

Limonov

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By Emmanuel Carrère: Limonov‘s author calls the book a “pseudobiography”, which is entirely apt: Emmanuel Carrère fills in the absurd details of the Russian writer and political dissenter as best he can. But then, Limonov himself wrote a “fictional memoir” called It’s Me, Eddie — and true or not, Carrère’s details are gripping. $14

Five Came Back

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By Mark Harris: Mark Harris continues to uncover film history, telling the story of how Hollywood altered WWII and how the war returned the favor. The Entertainment Weekly veteran’s book follows the lives of five famous directors as they prove to Washington that Hollywood is anything but un-American, at a time when its critics were saying just the opposite. $14

The Martian

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By Andy Weir: What started out as a self-published novel in 2012 has slowly snowballed into the next great sci-fi story. Crown Publishing acquired the right to Weir’s debut novel, which follows one stranded astronaut’s struggles to survive on Mars, and rereleased the book in 2014. It’s also the next film project for sci-fi directing great Ridley Scott and is scheduled to star Matt Damon. (Hopefully it doesn’t turn out like his most recent book-to-film adaptation.) $10

Bark

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By Lorrie Moore: Eight stories filled with Moore’s unique style: darkness draped in wry humor. Moore plays with language (similes, metaphors, and exclamation points abound) in a way that’s poetic and sometimes maddening; if her stories, which are largely centered on the various guises of dead-end love and absurd tragedy, are sometimes difficult to read, they’re still entirely worthy. $12

A Brief History of Seven Killings

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By Marlon James: Marlon James’ fictitious novel takes on very real Jamaican history, from Bob Marley and politics to savage gang violence in Kingston. The story spans three decades and brings its cast of characters from Jamaica to New York and ultimately back to their home, in one form or another. $19

Fourth of July Creek

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By Smith Henderson: A social worker who’s adding skeletons to his closet — drinking, an estranged wife and daughter — finds a feral boy, the son of a fundamentalist recluse, in the tough, nasty wilds of Montana. The New York Times compares Smith Henderson to Cormac McCarthy; that’s a damn good sign. $12

Hotel Florida

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By Amanda Vaill: “Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War” sounds like a very corny college seminar — but add in Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro (among others) as stars and you’ve got one hell of a group biography. It’s named after a hotel that each character spent time in while covering the Spanish Civil war from 1936 to 1939. Vaill moves month by month, spending time on each character and moving toward those three pillars of her book’s subtitle. $15

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