Category Archives: Book Recommendations

Best Books 2014

Jonathan Yardley’s favorite books

This is not a “best books of the year” list:

As longtime Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley retires this week, he lists some of the books he’s cherished most during his 33-year tenure with Book World. Some of the titles here he reviewed for The Post, and others he read for the first time over those years.

Yardley chooses his favorites of both fiction and nonfiction.

Sound Off: What book influenced you the most?

This also is not a best books of the year list:

The holiday season is when many books are given as gifts. We asked member of the Times-Union/Jacksonville.com Email Interactive Group which book, besides the Bible or other essential religious work, has had the most influence on them and why?

Our picks for the best books of 2014

From the book reviewers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The best crime and thrillers of 2014

From the U. K.’s The Guardian:

Louise Welsh’s dystopian tale of plague in London and Tom Rob Smith’s Swedish family chiller are among the highlights in this year’s roundup

Best fiction of 2014

From The Boston Globe. There’s also a link to the newspaper’s complete list of the year’s “top picks for children, teens, and adults, for fans of fiction and nonfiction, lovers of sports and thrillers, devotees of poetry and all things New England.”

The Best Fiction for Christmas: Literary novels of 2014

John Boland on a dozen literary novels that made this year special

The best biographies of 2014

The Guardian strikes again.

Best Books 2014

The best biographies and memoirs of 2014 

From the U. K.’s The Guardian: “ this year’s roundup of life writing.”

The best poetry books of 2014

Also from the U. K.’s The Guardian

Best Books 2014: Slate Staff Picks

Slate’s columnists, editors, and bloggers pick their favorite books of the year.

Our Favorite Books of 2014: Newsweek Staff Picks

Though far from exhaustive (our apologies, Monsieur Piketty), this 20-book list is meant as a small glimpse at the books we read and loved in 2014. It’s an eclectic grouping, ranging from scholarly tomes about tax policy to National Book Award winner Phil Klay’s war vignettes to blog-to-book offerings from The Toast’s Mallory Ortberg and Pitchfork Reviews Reviews’ David Shapiro.

Books of the year 2014: Literary memoirs

From another U. K. publication, The Independent. This article includes a link to the publication’s other Best Books of 2014 lists.

Page turners

The Economist offers its list of the years best books in politics and current affairs; history; economics and business; science and technology; culture, society, and travel; and fiction.

Best books of 2014

Newsday’s books editor and regular reviewers highlight their 10 favorite books of 2014.

Ayelet Waldman Rages Against the New York Times Notable Books List. Here’s How the Sausage Gets Made.

Not everyone is happy about these “best books of 2014” lists:

The New York Times unveiled its annual roundup of “100 Notable Books” Tuesday, throwing a flattering light on 2014’s top fiction and nonfiction offerings. But one author did not come off in a flattering light: Ayelet Waldman stormed Twitter to complain that her novel Love and Treasure wasn’t on the list, despite a favorable review from the Times back in May. (For what it’s worth, Waldman’s skin seems to have unique, flattering-light-repellant properties. She’s a provocateur who has detailed the trials of perhaps not loving her children enough and of being the only mother in her social circle to enjoy a passionate, consuming sex life.)

Waldman’s opening shot:

”I am really not dealing well with having failed to make the @nytimes notable book list. Love & Treasure is a fucking great novel IISSM.”

According to this article, Waldman has deleted her tweets, but there’s a link to a site that displays them.

Why shouldn’t Ayelet Waldman complain?

Rom Charles of the Washington Post offers his take on the Waldman affair.

Best Books 2014

The “best books of the year” lists will be coming thick and fast. I’ll try to keep up with them here.

Writers pick the best books of 2014: part one

It’s been a year of calls to action. Naomi Klein tackled climate change, Owen Jones got to grips with class politics, and Russell Brand preached revolution. Writers from Hilary Mantel to Lena Dunham recommend the titles that leaped out at them this year.

From the U. K.’s The Guardian.

Writers pick the best books of 2014: part 2

From Britain’s brilliantly inventive Ali Smith to America’s master storyteller Richard Ford, from Michael Lewis’s cautionary tale of Wall Street renegades to Henry Marsh’s candid account of neurosurgery, writers, our critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2014. Plus, what they hope to find under the Christmas tree.

A companion piece to the one above.

Goodreads: Best Books of 2014

The Amazon-owned site says that 3,317,504 votes were cast in this compilation of readers’ favorite books in 20 categories.

The Best Books Of 2014

Editors at Huffington Post discuss their choices.

100 Notable Books of 2014

The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

Amazon.com: Best Books of 2014

2014 Best Books of the Year: The Top 100 in Print Format

via Amazon.com: Best Books of 2014.

Yes, the Best Books of 2014 lists are beginning already.

The link here features Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng as top book of the year.

If you click around this page a bit, you’ll find Amazon’s other lists (e.g., best cookbooks, best mysteries & thrillers).

The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State | Brooklyn Magazine

Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible.

via The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State | Brooklyn Magazine.

What’s your state’s representative book on this list? And do you agree with the selection? Let us know in the comments.

Monday Miscellany

Open Library

Open Library is an open, editable library catalog with an attractive facade and a lofty mission. The mission? To build an online catalog with a web page for every book ever published. The best part? You can help. From the homepage, click Sign Up, then create a free Open Library account in two simple steps. From there, add new books, write descriptions, manage lists, and generally enjoy contributing to one of the most exciting library projects on the web. Of course, you don’t need an account to browse the site, with its 20 million records (and counting). Simply click Authors, Subjects, Recently, or Lists to search the site by category, or type a keyword into the general search function.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

How Dennis Lehane’s ‘Drop’ screenplay became a novel

Cover: The Drop, Dennis LehandDennis Lehane, a master of the contemporary crime novel, has seen many of his books brought to the screen: “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone,” the upcoming “Live By Night.” But none have had such adventurous a transformation as “The Drop” (now in theaters), which began life as an opening chapter of a novel, then became a short story, then a screenplay … and now, finally, a novel.

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald describes the strange story of how a group of characters continued to haunt writer Dennis Lehane until, in a reversal of the usual order of things, the film became a novel.

MURDER, THEY WROTE, USING THIS DOCTOR’S INGENIOUS IDEAS

From The Los Angeles Times, a look at cardiologist Douglas Lyle, who divides time between seeing patients in his cardiology clinic, writing crime novels, and answering “other crime writers’ questions about how to end their characters’ lives in weird — but scientifically plausible — ways.”

Tana French’s Favorite Books About Secrets

In her Dublin Murder Squad series, Irish writer Tana French reveals how secrets haunt the “the tumultuous inner lives of her characters, both cops and culprits.” Her latest novel, The Secret Place, is the fifth in the series.

“Big secrets transform everything and everyone around them—often in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways—and I’ve always been fascinated by books that explore that ripple effect,” French says. Here she recommends five novels that fit that description.

Finding our Literary Mothers and Sisters in Time

This post is from April 2014, but I just found it.

Sharan Newman, a medieval historian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, describes efforts to place women in their proper place in literary history and in the literary canon:

Today we might say that female authors have a secure place in literary history. But one thing I know as an historian is that the pendulum always swings. We need to leave a legacy not only as skilled writers but as accurate observers of aspects of life that are too often ignored. Looking back at my own long and somewhat checkered career, I realize that the desire to return women to their rightful place in history was what impelled both my fiction and non-fiction. Oddly, perhaps, I’ve found that a more honest portrayal can be created through fiction. This is due to the lack of solid information on the lives of ordinary women and men throughout time.

The ‘sexiest meal’: what a character’s breakfast reveals about them

And this piece is from February 2013, but I just found it.

Seb Emina, coauthor with Malcolm Eggs, (yes, really) of The Breakfast Bible, discusses breakfast in literature:

breakfast is the ideal barometer of normalcy, the meal that tells us who a person really is. An example: in the fifth chapter of Moby Dick (simply called “Breakfast”), Melville offers a morning scene at a bar-room in a whaling town, as a way of painting us a picture of Queequeg, a Pacific islander who “eschewed coffee and hot rolls” – savagery! – and “applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare”. And in The Hobbit, Tolkein reveals much about the implicitly decadent nature of Hobbithood when he has Bilbo Baggins consume a second breakfast – an occurrence that has somehow become one of the most recounted parts of the entire book.

This article is worth reading just for the description of Hunter S. Thompson’s preferred meal.

Monday Miscellany

SEPTEMBER 2014’S BEST BOOKS: 12 FICTION MUST-READS FOR YOUR IMAGINATION TO RUN WILD THIS FALL

Cover: The Bone ClocksIt’s fall—the start of a new school year and the time for a new reading list. Morgan Ribera’s got you covered with a list of a dozen books to be published during September that will keep you reading at least until winter break.

My own copy of one of the books on her list, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, just arrived yesterday. I’m also looking forward to another of her recommendations, The Secret Place by Tana French.

Celebrity writers pack the shelves as shops predict an autumn bonanza

The Guardian offers the U.K. outlook on this fall’s bonanza of novel publications.

A back-to-school reading list of classic literature

I expected a simple list of books from the folks at Oxford University Press, publisher of the Oxford World’s Classic series.

But they surprised me by using an “If you liked …, you might like …” Format. See what works of classic literature they recommend if you liked these books:

  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

N.Y.C. Chancellor Pushes for Schools to Reinstate Independent-Reading Time

Education Week, the go-to source for information about teaching, reports that “Carmen Fariña, the new schools chancellor in New York City, is bringing the specifics of classroom reading instruction back into the public eye.”

At issue is the inclusion of independent reading, also known as sustained silent reading (SSR), in the school day. Writer Liana Heitin here reports that there has been little research into and little media attention on the question of whether SSR is effective in improving reading achievement since a 2000 report by a national panel. This article includes a short history of the issue and links to other online resources.

The Inspiring Stories Behind 15 Classic Novels

According to Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” London himself took the inspiration for The Call of the Wild (1903) from his time spent living in Canada and Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush when high-quality sled dogs – like those that feature in the book – were in impossibly high demand. The stories and inspirations behind fifteen more of literature’s most memorable titles are explained here:

An interesting list, ranging from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds.

46 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read In A Day

The end of the year is approaching. If you’re worried about meeting your GoodReads challenge, BuzzFeed has a list of books that weigh in at around 200 or fewer pages each that will allow you to pad your stats.

Cut it out, Ian McEwan: there are plenty of great long novels

Author Ian McEwan caused some consternation with a recent statement that “”very few really long novels earn their length.” In The Guardian Alison Flood points out:

It’s the Americans McEwan appears mainly to be blaming for this – our friends on the other side of the Atlantic “still pursue the notion of a great American novel and it has to be a real brick of an object”, he says …

Flood disagrees with McEwan and offers her list of “novels that might weigh as much as a brick, but to which I’d never take a blue pencil”:

  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. 864 page
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. 656 pages
  • A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin. 1016 pages
  • The Stand by Stephen King. 1,200 pages
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 992 pages
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. 608 pages

Here are some I’d add to her list:

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. 514 pages (paperback)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 514 pages
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot. 794 pages (paperback)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce. 732 pages (paperback)
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. 568 pages
  • The Brothers K by David James Duncan. 645 pages (paperback)
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo. 827 pages

I don’t mind a long book just because it’s long, but I do get annoyed by a book that’s longer than it needs to be. Moo by Jane Smiley is my illustration of this category. The hardcover weighted in at only 414 pages, but it should have been cut by about one-third.

Monday Miscellany

Tragic fiction may leave you emotionally upset

Woman with KindleIt might seem logical that reading a sad fictional story would be less upsetting than reading a less sad but true story. But new research suggests this is not the case:

“Consumers may choose to read a tragic fictional story because they assume that knowing it was fictional would make them less sad than reading a less dramatic but true story,” said study authors Jane E.J. Ebert from Massachusetts based Brandeis University and Tom Meyvis from New York University.

This result makes perfect sense, though, to anyone who has ever been fully transported into the world of a well written novel.

”Our results suggest that while emphasising realism may increase sales, it does not necessarily increase satisfaction,” the authors concluded in a paper appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

THE 6 REACTIONS BOOK-LOVERS HAVE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T READ

You know the scenario: You’re chatting with someone you’ve just met, and you naturally ask what the other person likes to read. And he or she replies, “I don’t read.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often. But when it does happen, here are some animated GIFs that illustrate your possible reactions to someone who doesn’t engage in an activity that you consider second only to breathing.

Marine Turned Novelist Brings Brutal, Everyday Work Of War Into Focus

“Every inch of that place, every grain of sand, wanted desperately to kill us.”

That’s a line from a compelling new novel about the Iraq War, written by former Marine Michael Pitre.

Pitre was a history and creative writing major at Louisiana State when he joined the Marines after Sept. 11. He became an officer and served two tours in Iraq’s Anbar province working in logistics and communications.

NPR interviews the author of the new novel Fives and Twenty-Fives, which follows an American road repair crew and bomb disposal team in Iraq.

Oldest Public Library in the Nation in Danger of Closing

For more than two centuries, the Darby Free Library has remained both a vital part of its community as well as a historical landmark. Built in 1743 by Quakers, it remains the oldest public library in the nation. But a financial crisis has left it in danger of shutting down by the end of the year.

10 Books You Should Read Before Graduating College

Note:
The former English teacher in me cannot refrain from commenting: You don’t “graduate college”; you “graduate FROM college.”

When I was in college, I didn’t have time to read much of anything that wasn’t required for one of my classes. But Radhika Sanghani, author of the novel Virgin, did: “I have a few books I’d recommend. All of them helped me through the student-to-adult transition when I left college a few years ago, and I still re-read them for pleasure, comfort and some good old-fashioned perspective.”

Why does she recommend these books?

Because, college is a bubble. Whichever one you choose to study at, chances are your entire life becomes based around the same people, lecture halls and bars. For me, reading was the best way to get out of that bubble and remember there was a wider world out there that I was just about to enter and should probably know a little bit about.

So check out her list, which she describes as “a mixture of good classics, contemporary reads, and a little bit of self-help for a time when you really need it.”

Monday Miscellany

Required Reading: 10 Books We Read For Class That Will Change Your Life

Cover: Civilization and Its DiscontentsAs summer winds down, many students turn with desperation to those lists of required summer reading that they put aside a couple of months ago. But not all assigned reading is dull and unfulfilling, the editors at Huffington Post say:

Sometimes reading books we’re assigned to read, rather than those we would pick up on our own, can be a blessing rather than a curse. It can lead us to unexpected treasures, introduce us to unfamiliar and unexpected points of view, and challenge us in surprising ways.

There are some pretty good books on this list. Look especially at what Maddie Crum has to say about Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud.

More Than a Century Later, Sophia Tolstoy Has Her Say

In her long and often turbulent marriage to Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Andreevna Tolstoy put up with a lot, but “The Kreutzer Sonata” qualified as special punishment. Published in 1889, the story presented Tolstoy’s increasingly radical views on sexual relations and marriage through a frenzied monologue delivered by a narrator who, in a fit of jealousy and disgust, murdered his wife.

According to William Grimes, Sophia wrote in her diary:

“I, too, know in my heart that this story is directed against me, and that it has done me a great wrong, humiliated me in the eyes of the world and destroyed the last vestiges of love between us.”

Sophia wrote two novellas, “Whose Fault?” and “Song Without Words,” that set forth her views on a woman’s experience of love. Those stories lay lost in the archives of the Tolstoy Museum until their recent discovery and publication in Russia.

Grimes writes that “Michael R. Katz, a retired professor of Russian and Eastern European studies at Middlebury College, has translated both stories into English.” Those stories will be included in a volume titled The Kreutzer Sonata Variations that will be published tomorrow by Yale University Press. Grimes calls this book a significant part of “a flurry of recent work appraising Tolstoy’s wife as a figure in her own right.”

In this article Grimes describes the discovery of these works by Tolstoy’s wife and their historical and literary significance.

Alan Gibbons: why YA fiction is crucial for shaping our attitudes to subcultures

Author Alan Gibbons was inspired to write his book Hate after the murder of teenager Sophie Lancaster. Here, Alan shares why he thinks YA books are important for improving our understanding of other people’s identities

Gibbons provides a good look at how reading can help adolescents in discovering and accepting their own identity.

Samuel Beckett’s articulation of unceasing inner speech

undoubtedly the most ubiquitous sound in Beckett’s work is that of the mysterious voices buzzing, murmuring or whispering within the heads of his characters. To borrow from the narrating figure in The Unnamable (1953), the narrative core of Beckett’s dark universes seems to be “all a matter of voices; no other metaphor is appropriate”. The question is: to what extent are voices in Beckett’s fiction just metaphorical presences?

Contrary to all those jokes about people who hear voices, cognitive science has taught us that we all hear inner voices. Young children talk out loud to themselves as they’re playing and as they’re performing actions they’re working to learn, such as tying their shoelaces, in a process called “private speech” or “private talk.” As they grow older they stop speaking out loud, but all of us talk silently and frequently to ourselves.

Here postdoctoral research fellow Marco Bernini points out:

If inner speech is the raw material for hallucinatory phenomena, it is also at the centre of our imaginary engine – supporting our simple need for, as the homonymous text by Beckett portrays, an intimate Company (1980) in the inaccessible dark of our subjectivity.

In the works of Beckett we find yet another example of how literature imitates life.

10 Great Books by Irish Women

Here’s a historical list that includes books published between 1929 and 2010.