Originally published January 1, 2015
It was a good year for reading. But then again, it always is.
There’s both wonder and terror when I walk into a library or a bookstore—wonder at all there is to read, and terror I will run out of time trying to get to it all. This year? I tackled 44 books—sounds like a lot, but I have friends that can best me by double, so I’ll take it.
So here it is—everything I read this year. And you can find my favorites for 2014 here.
(Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams)
A late 2013 release, this book-within-a-book is both a mystery and a love story, almost daring to be defined. The tale of true love through the written word—letters between an author and his translator, and two college students hiding in the stacks. Had I not already put out my “best of” list before I read this, I’d include it.
Friendship (Emily Gould)
Nice break from the heavier stuff, but still thought-provoking. What happens when you outgrow a friendship? Ditch it? Change the parameters? Set new boundaries? For Amy and Bev, life-altering changes force both to look deeper.
Show Your Work! (Austin Kleon)
A great, compact, common sense look at how creative people that maybe-kind-sorta want to me a go of it creatively can do more to get noticed, without feeling like you’ve sold your soul.
All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
Another great book I read after I put up my “Best of” list, Doerr’s story of two young lives crossing paths in WWII made a lot of those lists this year. The tale of Werner and Marie-Laure is sad and beautiful. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this one is worth picking up.
The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
Straaaaaange. Definitely interesting, but not a book you can easily put down and pick up later. It’s a bit of a time investment, and even then, head scratching. Is 15-year-old Holly possessed? Does she know it? What ancient soul has taken up residence in her body? And what exactly is this clan of body snatchers that feast off others? Yeesh.
All Over But the Shoutin’ (Rick Bragg)
What a great non-fiction read. Bragg writes an outstanding memoir that will make you laugh and cry and laugh and want to weep. I became an immediate fan of his work and need to pick up his Jerry Lee Lewis biography, stat.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride (Cary Elwes)
Fun fun fun. Just, fun. First off, Cary Elwes seems like one of those guys that just genuinely seems like a good guy. Not high on himself, but truly humble and grateful and all that stuff. Second, WHO DOESN’T LIKE THE PRINCESS BRIDE? Read it already.
Slowing Time (Barbara Mahany)
Now that we’re back in the throes of winter, I need to pull out Mahany’s love letter to the seasons, and remind myself why winter can be, and is, beautiful. And then daydream about spring. It’s coming. It really is.
Five Days Left (Julie Lawson Timmer)
A novel about the most difficult of choices—when is life not worth the living anymore? Mara is just 42—and Huntington’s Disease is taking its toll. She doesn’t want to be a burden to a family that would see it as anything but, and struggles with the decision of when is the right tie to make a graceful exit.
The Book of Unknown Americans (Cristina Henriquez)
The collective narrative of several families living in the same apartment complex in Delaware—trying to both find grace and live gratefully when circumstances often dictate otherwise.
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man (W. Bruce Cameron)
Another mystery/love story set in the upper side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It’s winter, it’s cold, and all repo guy Ruddy McCann wants is for Alan Lottner, a dead real estate agent, to stop stalking his thoughts, tlaking out loud and taking his sleeping body for midnight jogs.
Rooms (Lauren Oliver)
For anyone who likes their stories a little bit spooky—this one features a pair of ghosts watching over a recently deceased man’s family, wondering if they can straighten up before it’s too late.
How to Build a Girl (Caitlin Moran)
Another one of my favorites this year—teen humiliation combined with a fantastical sense of what a girl can be drives this story of a girl on the verge of becoming a rock-and-roll reviewer in London.
Live from New York (Tom Shales)
Most people I know can tether life’s milestones to who was on the cast of Saturday Night Live at any given time. Eddie Murphy? Middle school. Mike Myers? College. Will Ferrell? Newlywed. Forty years of television history, behind the scenes, in one book.
The Silkworm (Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling)
While I am a big fan of J.K. Rowling, and actively push “The Casual Vacancy” on people, I wouldn’t tell anyone to rush out and buy “The Silkworm.” It was good, but definitely one you can just grab at the library or wait for paperback. I care about that old curmudgeon, Cormoran Strike, but am not waiting in any kind of Harry Potter line for it.
The Children Act (Ian McEwan)
Compact storytelling in this tale of a judge whose on the line for making a life-or-death decision about a minor while her own personal life has hit the skids.
Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay)
A fantastic collection of essays that focus on education, feminism, friendship and competitive Scrabble. Roxane Gay kicks ass.
Landline (Rainbow Rowell)
Not sure if I completely embraced the characters in Rowell’s followup to “Fangirl,” if only because I thought the female protagonist was a wee bit whiny and her husband was a little bit of a wuss. But it was still a fun story and perfect for a quick weekend read.
Arts and Entertainments (Christopher Beha)
Cool beach read that covers what just could happen if you give yourself over to the easy way to make money and the pseudo-fame that follows. Maybe we all are just stars of some idiot’s reality TV show. If so, I’m demanding a rewrite.
Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King)
I still haven’t gotten to “Revival,” but if I was only going to read one King book this year, I’m glad it was this. I feel like he’s hit yet another stride in his decades-long career of fantastic writing, and loved this story for all its suspense minus the gore he’s well-known for.
The Actress (Amy Sohn)
Total guilty pleasure. Loved every page. Soapy, gossipy and easy to daydream about who was the inspiration for Sohn’s wild set of characters.
The Arsonist (Sue Miller)
I’m not sure if Miller will ever catch lightning in a bottle like she did with “The Senator’s Wife,” but this was an engaging look at a 40-something coming home again, still trying to figure out what she wants to be as she watches her father’s battle with Alzheimer’s destroy was he already was.
Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty)
Another guilty pleasure and tons of fun—all about those crazy-ass super moms on the school playground. And a murder. You knew it was going to happen one day.
Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me (Rachel Bertsche)
Meh. Interesting to imagine what it would be like to actually apply celebrity life principles to your own, but it’s never going to be the same no matter how hard you try or how much money you spend. Don’t worry—the author knows that, too.
Me Before You (JoJo Moyes)
Off the bucket list because EVERYONE said it was phenomenal, I really enjoyed it. But—not for someone who can’t handle a controversial ending. Life, death, love … which comes first for a parapalegic and his personal assistant?
Love Life (Rob Lowe)
Of course I read this. It’s the Tao of Rob. Shuddup.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands (Chris Bohjalian)
I’m a Bohjalian super fan, and while this isn’t my favorite book by him (that goes to “The Double Bind” and “The Night Strangers”), I liked this much more than “Secrets of Eden.” A stateside nuclear meltdown orphans a teen. Now she’s on the run, but the question is, from what?
Little Mercies (Heather Gudenkauf)
I think it’s a shame this author seems to fly under the radar of bigger names like Picoult and Weiner. She’s equally talented and her books make for weekend-long reading jags on the couch curled up under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate. This, her third (I think) follows the twists and turns of a heartbroken social worker and a lost little girl.
This is Where I Leave You (Jonathan Tropper)
I wanted to read this before the movie came out and was glad I did—loved “One Last Thing Before I Go” and had meant to read more of Tropper’s work. So damn funny.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt)
Another one off my 2013 bucket list of books I never got around to, but was glad I finally did—a coming-of-age tale for a young girl still trying to process her uncle’s death from AIDS, before they called it AIDS.
Shotgun Lovesongs (Nickolas Butler)
One of my favorites for 2014, it’s a great bromance set in rural Wisconsin, with a Bon Iver-esque rock star, a financial whiz wannabe and a guy just trying to do right by his farm, his family and his wife.
Frog Music (Emma Donoghue)
Donoghue’s followup to “Room” plants its foot solidly in the historical fiction genre, which may scare off a few readers, but I really enjoyed it—a mystery about a murder, and a prostitute determined to figure out who killed her love.
The Good Luck of Right Now (Matthew Quick)
If you enjoyed “Silver Linings Playbook,” give this a try—a simple man sorting life out after his mom passes away. A mom who thought that writing letters to Richard Gere would somehow get her closer to God. Something about that does kind of make sense.
School Board (Mike Freedman)
The kind of story some avant garde filmmaker will turn into the next “Election”—in this case, a high school senior running for a spot on the school board—perhaps first as a joke, but not so much when he catches on to what’s really going down.
The Bear (Claire Cameron)
A five-year-old girl trying to keep her younger brother alive in the woods after a bear chows down on their parents. I know you are thinking “WTF?” but it was mesmerizing.
A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth McFarlane)
The book was written after the movie, but released before the movie came out—goofy, raunchy, not at all what your teen boys should read but so much fun to give to them.
How to Be a Good Wife (Emma J. Chapman)
I noticed recently this was a Target book club selection, which would explain why my earlier review is suddenly getting attention, but honestly, I’ve read better. It’s not baaaad, it’s just a little strange, and frankly, kind of sad. It’s like getting to know someone new, only to find out they’re actually nuts.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Mohsin Hamid)
The book that made me weep this year—written as one man’s “advice” on how to get ahead in a rising society, it’s brutal and sad and full of love—that of a man for his family, and for the one woman that forever holds the key to his heart. What.an.ending.
How Not to be a Dick (Meghan Doherty)
Have teens? Young adults moving up and out? Gift them with this immediately. You won’t be sorry. Etiquette questions answered for just about every social and online situation.
Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)
This was my own follow-up read to Rowell’s “The Attachments” and it was enjoyable—though, full disclosure, I kinda skipped over the fan fic stories embedded in between chapters. I was too interested in Rowell’s own characters to get fully involved in the Harry Potter-esque world one of them had created.
This Dark Road to Mercy (Wiley Cash)
I loved this story of two orphans on the run with their ne’er-do-well, ex-ballplayer dad. Goes to show you that families can form under the strangest of circumstances and even bad guys can have a little bit of heart.
Claire of the Sea Light (Edwidge Danticat)
Fraught with parental anxiety, the stories that weave the poverty-striken and prosperous residents of a Haitian community. Very beautifully written.
Dante’s Poison (Lynne Raimondo)
A great follow-up to Raimondo’s first mystery, Dante’s Wood. I though it was much better suited as a quick, enjoyable read than J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series. And it’s set in Chicago, which ups the fun factor.
The Circle (Dave Eggers)
Eggers’ homage to what ails us all in social media—oversharing to the point of ad nauseum. And in this case, with tragic consequences.