Friday, December 5, 2014

Best books of 2014

Now, as some of you might know, last year I started my best books read in the year 2013. Now I'll try to add best books read in 2014 to start a tradition of sorts. As all people know, this doesn't mean that the book was published this year. Merely that it was something I read this year and enjoyed this year. I'm of the opinion that books—the good ones especially—more than any other story-telling form, tend to be more timeless (and can reach across epochs to speak to us). Thus my stance against the idea that books should only be considered from one year. A very odd sentiment indeed [1]. So without further ado, I present the best books I've read this year:

For the better part of the year, I fell in love with the essay. Everywhere I saw opportunities arise (as a writer) and the world was expanded in a different way. This idea of having an essay or a review and turning it into something more was also a result of reading Borges and having his writing plant that seed in my mind. As you can see from this blog and (for those subscribed) from my email that I send out, this has affected me greatly. Now I try to add to the essay and expand it by mixing it with fictional elements. We will see how well this works.

This list will reflect that need and wont to find out more through the essay. But there is fiction as well, mind you. Without further ado, here it is:
An American Album: 150 years of Harper's Magazine. This collection is beautiful, and brings to mind a time capsule. From Melville to Woolf, to Porter to Baldwin it perfectly encapsulates the  spirit of literature (American, of course) and as you move through time, you can feel yourself attached to the history and to the minds from across time. It also (it's a mixture of fiction and essays) manages to convey all real political and humane senses from the times, as well as reaching out to today. I highly recommend this, if only because of its ability to cast a wide net (you'll find something you like, most likely), many of the pieces speak to today by helping us see what the perspective during historic times was, what it looked like, so that we can step back from our own 'making of history'.

Notes of a Native Son by Baldwin. I only read this because I loved his novel (see below). I sensed, from that piece of fiction, that he had something more to say. That he was full of energy and perhaps anger. And when that was combined with his eloquence, I had to read his essays, as they seemed like they would have some great insight. They did. The title essay and "The Stranger in the Village" have some of the most incisive, heartfelt, and wry words ever put to paper. It was inspiring in many ways too. As a writer I was moving towards including more essays in my repertoire (the fictional kind, or the non-fiction that turned into fiction) and this book invigorated that idea. Read it (and given what has happened today with regards to Ferguson and New York, it is still very relevant). I highly recommend it.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil. Not much to say about this classic. It's well thought out (not without it's holes, and one should definitely read the counter points to what she says here) piece on what evil is. Mainly, it's a joy to read Arendt and gain access to her thought process. It is this that inspires one to at least think outside the normal track. And though there are no Nazis out there today, given the strife it should be noted that it doesn't take much to lurch towards evil (and thus our need to be vigilant).

A Universal History of Iniquity. I'm a huge Borges fan, so reading this was a no-brainer. It's even more concise than his other works, and perhaps a little less fantastical. But it's worth the ride. And as a writer I always find some inspiration in his words. The way the stories are pruned, the way they show a large section of the world, makes this a global and multicultural novel. In that sense, it makes it relevant to today.

Heart of a Dog.  This is a short and perhaps bitter book by Bulgakov. If The Master and Margarita is too long to get into. It shows how sometimes one cannot change the heart of a.... Just give this one a try. At the least it will show how no amount of technology can change humans drastically.

A Canticle for Leibowitz. One of the best sci-fi books of our time. Spanning several thousand years, the book centers around a post-apocalyptic world where monk hold on to the treasures of the past (us, now) and try to build something. Sure, you might think that nuclear wars ending all seem a little too 60s or 50s, but I think the book is still relevant to today. It simply does an amazing job of showing the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, and shows how fear and cowardice can lead us to war or to not trusting (and thus war).

The Son. This book has been over looked, I think. Not exactly easy to digest, it has some hard angles to look through as it goes from one century to another following a Texas family from the time of the Comanches to now. A great writer, Meyer at least attempts to grapple with the tougher questions facing us today.

No Longer at Ease. The second in Achebe's Things Fall Apart Trilogy. This is a perfectly written (so concise it hurts) story about the fall into corruption of one man. Try it. The prose will melt and you can finish this in a few days.

We. A precursor to 1984, this book has a badge of honor as being the first book the Bolsheviks banned. Perhaps not as elegant as 1984, it does at times seem more universal. The writing can lend a sense of being lost. The world painted is horrific. Worth a read as it's still relevant today.

Go Tell it on the Mountain. I was inspired to read this book when I saw a quote by Baldwin mocking his government for their reaction to the Palestinians. I knew then that such a contrarian would at least have bold words (better than most these days, isn't it?). I was not disappointed. In fact this book will be added to my greatest of the 20th century list soon enough (it has to sit a little more). 

The Sorrow of War. The Vietnam war as told from the other side. Raw to the point of excess. Can't say much more than that. But it should be read for the experience alone.  

[1] Though not without its needs. Being that the world requires some level of churn, with regards to products, with regards to getting money to pay more people, I don't begrudge the publishers and the critics for having such formats. That being said, I would appreciate it if they would at least look back ten years and see which books filtered through time better than others...


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  1. I like this list. I think you should add other books from this year though. What do you think of Redeployment by Klay? Or perhaps even some of the books on the NYtimes list? Always hard to make such a list, but it's nice to add to them. I think you should add to them.

    1. Hi, Anon (I like to think of you as a masked hacker with multiple personalities). I agree, Redeployment was a great book (collection of shorts). Let me think it over and I might end up adding it.


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