toptenbooks2014

Last year I committed to slowing down my reading. To sip instead of gulp. To relish instead of gorge.

Reverse psychology must work for me because I think I read more in 2014 than the year before, just without the stress of trying to cross a finish line.

I read a lot of losers this year (you can see them all on my Goodreads list here), but there were 10 that stood out as exceptional–books I’ll either read again and again (see number one) or books I never want to see again but definitely made me think (see number eight).

Here’s my list, with some reviews copped from my Goodreads. Do me a solid and tell me your favorite books you read in 2014!

10. What Happened to Sophie Wilder Ambitious in a quiet way–about faith, about motivation, about where those things get complicated, about who gets to write the ending. I hope this author writes more fiction soon.

9. Ahab’s Wife This book was so rich and occasionally weird and always epic. I haven’t read Moby Dick (I KNOW), so this book was a complete surprise to me. But even if you have read Moby Dick, this only glances at Ahab’s story. It’s not fanfic. It stands alone. And the sentences are often beautiful. BONUS: Longbourne was another good read set in another novel’s universe. For Jane Austen fans, it’s worth it.

8. The Circle If you read my review of this book earlier this year, you might be shocked to see it on this list. But even though the mechanics of the story aggravated me, it made me think harder than any book I read this year. And I read a lot of thinking books this year. In case you’re wondering if time has softened the paranoia this book brought on, it has not.

7. Still Writing I finished reading this in a tea shop in Bozeman, Montana, where my sister had sent me with $5 for a drink and a nudge to write. Maybe she didn’t say it out loud, but she’s so supportive of my dreams and my writing, I knew it was implied. This book is full of practical help (“It’s impossible to evoke an entire world at the start. But it is possible to describe a crack in the sidewalk, the scuffed heel of a shoe. And that sidewalk crack or scuffed heel can be the point of entry, like a pinhole of light, to a story, a character, a universe.”) and the sort of gentle, understanding inspiration I need (“It is the job of the writer to say, look at that.” and “Everything we ever write will be flawed.”). BONUS: Jill also gave me The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as part of my tea shop care package, and that story is a sweet, emotional one. It’s for kids, but read it anyway.

6. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Some writing professor of mine in college spent a bunch of time in our first class explaining how “essay” was a verb meaning “to attempt.” He explained them as exercises in explanation, in form, in cleverness. His class was super boring and it made me stay away from essays for a while. I’ve just recently essayed reading them again this year. (See what I did there?) Ann Patchett is exquisite. This is required reading. That is all.

5. Cutting for Stone Wow, wow, wow. While writing this review I just remembered the slow gut-punch at the end of this book. It was so good. This is a family story set in Ethiopa and New York. I talked to a friend who also read this book and she said, “It’s funny, I don’t remember all the details of the plot, but I can still see it all in my head.” That’s how I feel about Missing Hospital, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and the ad hoc family at the center of this drama. It’s cinematic. BUT FIRST: Make sure you have a source for good Ethiopian food before reading this. You’re going to need it.

4. Bel Canto Ann Patchett again. I know this plot seems a little weird: Opera singer, superfan, and assorted others get taken hostage in a house by terrorists in some Pacific island country. With lots of spare time, they learn about one another. That’s really it. But the characters and the relationships are so detailed, and her writing is so beautiful, I was endlessly interested in this book. When I finished, I just looked at the cover and wondered how she did it. I don’t hand out a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, but this got one.

3. The Giver Can you believe I never read this as a kid? Reading it as an adult was sobering. It’s thought-provoking, horrifying, and hopeful. It’s not just good, it’s important.

2. Unbroken The scope of Louis Zamperini’s suffering–and that of all WWII vets in the Pacific theater—astonished me. Read this, read this, read this. Not because you want to know suffering but because you want to know redemption.

1. When I was a Child I Read Books There is an essay in here about Moses, the Law, and modern-day liberalness that is changing my life. Still. I read it, I bought it, I will read it again and again. I hope it continues to sharpen me.

Honorary Mention: The Wheel by Wendell Berry. YES, POETRY. I don’t know myself anymore, either.

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