Life has been busy. When is it not? I’m just about six months into motherhood. Pureed foods are happening. Em wants to stand without yet knowing how to crawl. My yoga practice is coming back to me, and I can successfully do poses like eka pada koundinyasana again. Plus we just made our way through the holidays (well… one NYE party left to go) relatively unscathed.
More than that, though, I’m finding my writing groove again, churning out articles for AASECT, blogging for mom.me, and getting essays published on sites like Bustle and the Billfold. I’m editing old essays. Writing new ones. Sending out submissions again. It feels good.
As busy as I am, though, there’s always time to read, even if it’s just in the hour before I go to bed, or when stuck in a room with uncomfortable seats while doing jury duty.
And because reading is one of my favorite things ever (aside from cats and Emily and yoga and food), I thought I’d make this Ringing Endorsements post all about the best books I read this year.
Note: Not all of these books were published in 2014. I just read them this year. Because lord almighty, my TBR list is so goddamn long I could never possibly get through all those books in a timely fashion.
1. Tana French’s The Secret Place. I’ve always been more into horror novels than crime (I get my crime fix through a slew of television crime procedurals), but there’s just something about Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series (the creatively creepy premises, mostly) that keeps me coming back for more. And French’s latest (pub date: 9/2/14) manages to scratch my supernatural itch with the dash of magical realism she’s thrown in for the first time in the series. I’ll admit: her books had started seeming formulaic to me. But this one—about an unsolved murder at a girls’ boarding school—feels fresh, and its focus on early female friendships and high school life has an authenticity to it I immediately connected to.
2. Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. It’s been said to be the year of Roxane Gay. Not only has she written for all the It literary magazines (and co-edited one as well), but she’s launched The Butter, and has published two books that consistently appear on every best-of list ever (or at least it seems that way). An Untamed State (pub date: 5/6/14) is different from most of the stuff I read (I trend toward horror, yoga, war lit, and wanderlust-y memoirs, which is a weird mix, yes, I know). But I was immediately sucked in to this beautifully written but horrific story of a woman who is kidnapped for ransom, held for 13 days, and then released, only to suffer more as she struggles to come to terms with what happened to her. And when the book was over, I just felt shell-shocked.
3. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Of course Gay’s other, completely different book (pub date: 8/5/14) is on this list. So aside from being Wonder Woman, Gay is also a cultural critic. And this book is a collection of essays in which she casts an eye on various bits of culture, from competitive Scrabble to Sweet Valley High to racism in both TV and film. It’s all fascinating, both the light and the heavy, but what I like most about Gay’s collection is the picture it paints of feminism… a feminism that is slippery and hard to define. The feminism that Gay espouses is one in which people are constantly knocked off their pedestals, yet their claim to feminism remains no less strong. This is a feminism I can relate to: flawed, imperfect, but still very much real.
4. Josh Malerman’s Bird Box. And now back to my first and truest love: horror. I’ve mentioned this one in a previous Ringing Endorsements post but, just to recap, Bird Box (pub date: 5/13/14) is a story in which people lose their sanity after seeing… something that the readers themselves never get to see. And so, people start walking around wearing blindfolds and they lock themselves up in their houses, patching up the windows with blankets and mattresses and wood until the streets are empty of everyone but these unseen creatures. Read more about it right here.
5. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. Man, it was a good year for horror, amiright? This one pubbed in 2013 (pub date: 7/21/13), but I didn’t get to it ’til this past year. And thank god I did because it was one of those books I ended up reading in a ravenous rush because the story was just that all-consuming. Night Film is a thriller-horror hybrid focusing on an investigative journalist who is looking into the death of a horror director’s daughter. Is there something supernatural afoot? We never really find out for sure but, as is usually the case, not knowing is the most terrifying thing of all.
6. Adam Langer’s The Salinger Contract. This is another one from 2013 (pub date: 9/17/13) on which I once bestowed my ringing endorsement. It’s about a successful author who ends up making a deal with the devil that has him fearing for his life, and for the lives of his family members. Fast-paced and fun, it let me imagine, for just a little while, that my writerly life could possibly be this exciting.
7. Joe Hills’s NOS4A2. My favorite horror writer when I was young(er) was Stephen King. So it’s only fitting that his son has ushered in for me a new generation of amazing horror lit. From the time I was about 20 to the time I was about 30, I was unable to find all that much in the genre that I enjoyed. And so I read mostly memoir and contemporary literary fiction. Then I found Hill’s 20th-Century Ghosts and Horns and, finally, NOS4A2 (pub date: 4/30/2013) and, suddenly, I was once again surrounded by awesome horror. This one’s a tough one to describe. Gifted folks who travel effortlessly through time and space. A big baddie who kidnaps children, transforms them into monsters, and takes them to Christmasland. It all fits together. I swear. Read it.
8. J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S. For the extra intense word nerds out there, there is S (pub date: 10/29/13). You might especially enjoy this one if you also enjoyed Mark Danielewski’s experimental House of Leaves (which I did). More than a series of overlapping stories, S. also serves as a piece of publishing art. From the book description: “A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.” But I write more about the book itself as an object of fascination over here.
9. Matt Haig’s The Humans. This one (pub date: 6/9/13) is a recent read, and slipped into my best reads of 2014 list just under the wire. A fast-paced novel about an alien who inhabits a human’s body in order to carry out a very specific mission, Haig brilliantly uses the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope in order to better explore humanity itself.
10. Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series. Okay. This one’s an odd duck. I’ve always shied away from mass market romance, the sort featuring long-locked women and shirtless hunks embracing on the cover. But then Book Riot put together a Quarterly package highlighting the various genres at which people usually turn up their noses. MacLean’s erotic romance, A Rogue By Any Other Name (the first in the series), was part of the mailing and, since then, I’ve sailed through all four books. The latest, Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover, just came out this past November. I don’t know what to tell you guys. They’re hot.
And there you have it. Now to dive into the latest batch of books I received for Christmas. Books: best gifts ever.