The Best Books Read in 2014

Another year, another barrage of best-of lists for us all to wade through; here’s one more, just in time for Christmas.

You know, if you pay enough attention to these lists, you can zero in on a handful of titles that have coalesced into establishment favorites. Such titles this year might include Richard Flanagan’s Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. I am sure these are all excellent books, and I look forward to getting to each of them in time. (I tend to reflexively hold off on reading books at their hypiest so as to avoid getting drowned by it.)

So you won’t find any of those consensus favorites here. This year I read somewhere around 70 books — not bad considering I lost nearly six full weeks to a move — and this list of the 12 best reflects I think a librarian’s curiosity, zig-zagging from new to old, fiction to non, one genre to another, whatever seems appealing on a given day.

I have chosen the first 11 books in random order, saving my favorite read of the year for last.

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#17: A Death in the Family (1957), by James Agee

That’s what they’re for, epitaphs, Joel suddenly realized. You can feel you’ve got some control over the death, you own it, you choose a name for it. The same with wanting to know all you can about how it happened. And trying to imagine it as Mary was. Andrew, too. Any poor subterfuge’ll do; and welcome to ’em.

ADeathintheFamily1stEd

I.

One of the great side effects of reading a lot is that you can’t help but bring all the books you’ve previously read into anything you read next. Different books about different subjects can actually start talking to each other.

After finishing James Agee’s A Death in the Family last month, I picked up David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service, a staggering piece of immersive reportage about the “after-war” many of our returning troops are fighting and the withering toll it’s taking on their families. With the Follets still fresh in my mind, I read Finkel’s account of a woman named Amanda Doster, whose husband was killed in combat. Here, she recalls the day the doorbell rang:

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