travels, books

2014 | The Year in Books

Need a good read? Looking for a Christmas gift? Here are ten books that we discovered, read, and loved in 2014. Note: These 10 books were not all published in 2014, but this past year was when they found their way to us. Hopefully something (or several somethings) below will spark your interest: gangsters, river pirates, artists in Paris, daring escapes, a deal with the devil, and the very funny minds of David Sedaris and Tina Fey.

1. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. The inter-war years in America were never as exciting as in the summer of 1927: Lindburgh's Atlantic crossing, Prohibition, Babe Ruth's greatest season, the birth of Hollywood, political scandal, murder, mayhem and 'The Trial of the Century.' This is what literary non-fiction is all about. Five stars, highly recommended.

2. Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin. Okay, so if this sounds like a kind of a niche-interest book (Mark Twain, reclaimed midwestern history, etc.), well, it is. BUT, it is a remarkable history of frontier America in the years before the Civil War: pirates, river boats, religious orgies, and a haunting profile of the early days of New Orleans. If you have any interest in American history, this book is worth your time. Well researched, brilliant non-fiction prose, I re-read several chapters just to soak in the bizarre beauty of early America.

3. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: Italy in the 1950's, a beautiful actress hiding out in the Cinque Terre, and a whole tangle of lies, secrets, and the fortuitous intersecting of clumsy human lives. This is a beautifully crafted, thoughtful, and simultaneously tragic & wondrous novel. 

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey. Two words: TINA FEY. Ms. Fey's prose is remarkably touching and insightful. You will laugh. You will cry. You will come away from this book with an even bigger crush on Tina Fey than you have right now.

5. The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). If you like crime novels, detective novels, mysteries set in London, then you will like both of these books. Cuckoo is an introduction to the Cormoran Strike series, but you can start with either book. Mr. Galbraith's plots are intricate and well spun and the reader is given a lot of realistic insights into how investigations work. Fan of detective fiction? These are worthy members of the genre's canon. Note: The Silkworm is considerably more graphic / violent than The Cuckoo's Calling.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue. I have never read a book like Room. And, in my opinion, Ms. Donoghue has written a heartbreaking masterpiece. The tragic scenes and imagery from this book are intense, difficult, and, honestly, haunting. Room tells the story of a young boy and his mother who are prisoners inside a tiny garden shed, their strange life inside, and the hope that sustains them. At times shocking, violent, and is also a picture of human resilience, a mother's love, and the need for all of us to open our eyes to the suffering around us.

7. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. To read David Sedaris is to love David Sedaris. His latest collection of memoir-ish, travel-ish, cultural critique-ish essays is splendid and (clearly!) hard to define. Hilarious, reflective, and always self (as well as others)-deprecating, this has to be one of the funniest and sweetest books of the past few years. This is very addictive prose.

8. The Greater Journey by David McCullough. If you liked the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris and you don't mind reading name-heavy, date-heavy nonfiction, then you will probably enjoy this book. Mr. McCullough is an literary treasure - his exhaustive books on American history or legendary (John Adams, 1776, Truman, The Great Bridge, etc.) and The Greater Journey is no different. Focusing mainly on the life and times of Americans living and working in Paris in the late 18th and early 19th century, this is a book about art, medicine, literature and the intersection of early American zeal, European expertise, and the golden yellow glow of the Parisian joire de vivre. 

9. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafrón. Think The Da Vinci Code meets Paul Auster, set in Barcelona of the 1920s. This is escapist fiction, fantastic realism, and supernatural whodunnit all rolled into one. Part of a non-linear series by Mr. Zafrón, The Angel's Game is just as much fun as The Shadow of the Wind with it's chases down crooked Catalun alleyways and mysterious midnight visitors.

10. The New Kings of Non-Fiction edited by Ira Glass (of This American Life). We don't normally pick up anthologies - but since this one was edited by Ira Glass, well, we knew it was going to be stellar. And it is. Consisting of essay selections from a variety of authors writing on a number of subjects from all corners of the human experience, this is an outstanding collection and reads like an in-depth, sound-effectless episode of This American Life. Each essay is remarkable in its own way. Highly recommended.

What were your favorite books of 2014? Please leave us your suggestions in the comments below. We're always on the hunt for the next book.