Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Yes, the Internet abounds with “best-of” lists, but that doesn’t stop us from adding our own picks to the mix! Here are our staff’s eclectic choices for the best books we read in 2014. We hope one (or more!) of our titles speak to you, and we wish you a very happy new year full of books and reading!
Deborah Z Porter, Founder and Executive Director
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
I just finished Fourth of July Creek, a debut novel by Smith Henderson. It is a story of contemporary America, the American West to be specific. The West’s legacy of individualism, lawlessness, and violence is visible in the story of a decent but flawed man who, as a child welfare worker, strives to save unlucky children from their hapless, deranged, and dangerous parents but who has failed his own child. The story is reminiscent of Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, but its plot is more complex and touches on many troubling aspects of American society. The prose is beautiful and evocative, precise and at times devastating. It is always tempting to say that the last book I’ve read is the “best,” but for 2014, this actually may be the case.
Norah Piehl, Deputy Director
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
First, a couple for the kids. Absolutely Almost is an almost perfect book, the kind of poignantly funny story you’re going to want to give to (or, even better, read with) any kids you know who have to work just a little bit harder than everyone else to make it through the day. It can be easy for kids and adults alike to overlook or devalue the kinds of talents Graff’s protagonist possesses—which include being a first-class expert on New York City as well as being, in his mom’s words, “caring and thoughtful and kind.” Absolutely Almost offers the much-needed (and totally non-preachy) message that there are things to be proud of that don’t involve fastest times or perfect scores.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Another remarkable book for young readers published in 2014, this novel offers an gut-wrenching dog story (no, the dog doesn’t die, but you’ll still want to have plenty of Kleenexes nearby!) and a protagonist whose singular voice and strong sense of right and wrong offer readers a new model of what a hero can look (and talk, and think) like.
How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman
From dawn to dusk, historian Ruth Goodman walks readers through exactly what a day would be like for typical Victorians, both upper- and lower-class, urban and rural. If you enjoy reading Victorian literature or are just fascinated by nineteenth-century life, you’ll be enthralled by the intimate details Goodman provides—and deeply appreciative of how much we still owe to our Victorian forebears' inventiveness and ingenuity.
Sarah Howard Parker, Director of Operations
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The 80s! Slow-burning teen love affair! Red-haired protagonist! This book has it all. And, I must confess, it was my first foray into YA (which it turns out is just another name for “good books that people read”). I loved it.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
This is an autobiographical comic (a tragicomic as the front cover tells you) about the author’s upbringing and changing relationship with her family. Really poignant and surprisingly relatable, even given the extreme circumstances detailed within. I’ve been meaning to read this for years, but recently remembered due to the recent press for the upcoming Broadway musical. Fun Home fun fact: the author is the originator of the “Bechdel test.”
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
I haven’t actually read this book yet, but I have read some of the earlier incarnations of the texts on Ortberg’s brilliant site The Toast. It turns out I will read anything she writes, even if it sounds trendy or can be categorized as a “humor” book (another genre that has always frightened me). What am I afraid of? Laughing?
Mackenzie Kuester, BBF Intern
The Smartest Kids in the World (And How They Got That Way) by Amanda Ripley
I’m a bit of a fanatic about the education system. Going through the International Baccalaureate program, being a “gifted kid,” doing a huge finals project on unschooling … I’m well-versed in the subject of schools. In this book, Ripley manages to deeply analyze the United States’ culture on learning, as well as Finland, South Korea, and Poland. All of these are done with accounts from kids who have studied in both the US and the various countries, giving this research-supported study a narrative arc. The conclusions she draws are legendary and will make you want to do more than just volunteer for the PTA.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
From a plastic bag of toy ponies gifted to her by ex-boyfriends to a menace of a first boss who used staplers as ammo, Crosley leads you through pieces of her life with a whimsical voice and whip crack sense of humor. This collection of essays is up-front, self-effacing, and somehow both snarky and heartwarming. A great read for anyone willing to repeatedly burst out laughing while reading in public—not that I’m speaking from firsthand experience …
Niki Marion, BBF Intern
Gaston written by Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Christian Robinson
My favorite picturebook this year, and one I truly hope gets a Caldecott nod. DiPucchio’s story of Gaston, a French bulldog who ends up with a family of French poodles, is a smart and comprehensible approach to the nature/nurture debate and a heart-warming tale of adoption, but Robinson’s illustrations steal the book for me. His evocative details—the telling eyebrows of the main pooches in one spread in particular—enhance the personalities of the dogs with deliberate thought. A perfect pairing of art and text makes for a gently funny and comforting read.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I had never read Card’s 1985 science-fiction novel and was so delighted to have the opportunity to rectify this deficit for a course this year. Card packs so much into fewer than three hundred pages of text, and the rich characterization and self-reflection of the individuals drives the plot forward. Religion, politics, gender and power dynamics, constructions of childhood, psychology, and more combine to make this a truly multifaceted narrative, with potentials to find countless new discoveries upon each rereading. And you will want to reread it.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Newcomer alert! Emily Carroll is a Canadian comic book artist with lots of deserved buzz. Her first graphic novel is a compilation of five short horror stories, complete with bone-chilling cliffhanger endings. Just her cover, with its textured black forest, blue and red accent colors, and reliance on recognizable fairy tale imagery, immediately piques the reader’s interest. Carroll also just made an appearance at the 2014 Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo in October, and meeting her in person made me even more excited to see what she thinks up next!
Melanie McFadyen, BBF Intern
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Okay, I’ll admit, this was my third reading of of this book in as many years. This story follows Kathy, a student at Hailsham, a private school that shelters its students from the rest of the world. Told in retrospect from an older Kathy’s point of view, the novel shares the story of her upbringing with her friends Tommy and Ruth, as they gradually discover the “open secret” of their future. Beautifully written, with deceptive simplicity through Kathy’s compelling narrative voice, Never Let Me Go is a story that (if you’ll excuse the pun) I will never be able to let go of.
World War Z by Max Brooks
The zombies are coming, and they look nothing like Brad Pitt. In World War Z, Max Brooks presents a compelling look at how our world would react to a zombie apocalypse in a series of interviews with survivors from all across the globe. Based on real events that have happened throughout history, Brooks raises the all-important question of how can we avoid repeating our own history. If you’re a fan of zombies, or Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide, you’ll enjoy reading this account of the hypothetical zombie war to come.
Afterworlds_ by Scott Westerfeld
Okay, so I haven’t actually been able to read this yet, but I am so. excited. about. it. Scott Westerfeld’s most recent novel, Afterworlds tells two different stories: the story of Lizzie, a teen who drifts between our world and the “Afterworld” when she escapes there to survive a terrorist attack, and Darcy, the teen author behind Lizzie’s story. Dedicated to the writers who participate in “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month), this story pays tribute to the struggles of a young writer attempting to finish and publish her first novel. As a past participant in NaNoWriMo, and as a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s novels, I cannot wait until winter break when I can finally sit down and read Afterworlds.
Posted by Norah Piehl on 12-03-2014 at 12:00am