50 BOOKS I READ IN 2014, IN ORDER OF HOW INTERESTED I WAS IN SLEEPING WITH THEM BENEATH MY PILLOW (STRONGEST CANDIDATES FIRST), AND HAIKU DISCUSSION
01 little failure (gary shteyngart). this memoir is boss: / it's funny, bitter, tender, / and features short pants.
02 mr. fox (helen oyeyemi). demure helen o. / has magnificent monsters / at her fingertips.
03 all creatures great and small (james herriot). i cried on the train / as i read this. why wasn't / i a vet, again?
04 the thin man (dashiell hammett). glorious old sots, / nick and nora. their new york's / got its own logic.
05 five came back: a story of hollywood and the second world war (mark harris). directors' wartime / experiences traced through / their careers. brilliant.
06 white is for witching (helen oyeyemi.) helen has nightmares / as she writes her books. that makes / a lot of sense here.
07 updike (adam begley). biographies this / good are dangerous: i went / on to read couples.
08 daughter of smoke & bone [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #1] (laini taylor). art student collects / teeth for her foster demons. / YA at its best.
09 days of blood & starlight [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #2] (laini taylor). taylor doubles down / on smoke & bone's heartbreak; i'll / save this for nieces.
10 dreams of gods & monsters [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #3] (laini taylor). the romance...is, but / the rest of this finale / doesn't disappoint.
11 gone to new york (ian frazier). jamaica kincaid / loves frazier more than i do, / if that's possible.
12 the fault in our stars (john green). fine, i sniffle when / i see an "ok? ok." / shirt on the subway.
13 the secret history (donna tartt). this is why she's loved! / clean, confident, well-structured / fucked-up privilege.
14 the magician's land (lev grossman). atoned for book 2's / sins, sort of; quentin still bugs, / but this arc ends well.
15 on such a full sea (chang-rae lee). sly dystopian / fic narrated by a "we" / closer than most "i"s.
16 the art of fielding (chad harbach). an un-baseball book / lyricizes corpse-dumping. / i was deeply moved.
17 astonish me (maggie shipstead). black swan + freedom? / a strong, well-researched saga.
/ not canadian.
18 cooking with fernet branca (james hamilton-paterson). a goddamn brilliant / comedy of manners: take / note, ye food writers.
19 new jersey (betsy andrews). a book-length poem / of the turnpike, the city, / and their detritus.
20 NW (zadie smith). white teeth with veneers. / still waiting for zadie smith / to wow me again.
21 annihilation [southern reach trilogy #1] (jeff vandermeer). if lovecraft's your jam, / this trilogy's a great read / (NOT AT BEDTIME, CHRIST).
22 authority [southern reach trilogy #2] (jeff vandermeer). a mysterious / zone eats research teams, psyches, / and bureaucracies.
23 acceptance [southern reach trilogy #3] (jeff vandermeer). little is explained; / much is made permanently / creepy. no mean feat.
24 couples (john updike). updike terrifies / '60s america with / tales of his sex life.
25 california (edan lepucki). post-apocalypse, / siblings and spouses dirty / each other with fear.
26 the changeling (kenzaburo oe). i was with oe / 'til weird cannonball torture, / which lost me, sadly.
27 the goldfinch (donna tartt). this is highbrow doge: / much dickens...so overwrite... / drug reference; wow
28 all things bright and beautiful formulaic, but / a formula i'll read all / day. like a warm bath.
29 the dinner (herman koch). fancy dinners are / always rotten at the core, / right? i trust the cheap stuff.
30 adiós hemingway (leonardo padura fuentes). atmospheric noir / (hemingway in cuba!) with / an older man's pulse.
31 MFA vs. NYC (chad harbach ed.) not sure how it is / that i've no dog in that fight, / but here i, L, am.
32 happy all the time (laurie colwin). generous and twee / thirty years before twee was; / a calm, safe new york.
33 tender at the bone (ruth reichl). so much nicer than / RR's novel! personal / stuff i'll read all day.
34 comfort me with apples (ruth reichl). ruth r. the daughter / is as honest as ruth r. / the critic. lovely.
35 my misspent youth (meghan daum). she's great, but her more / recent essays pack more punch / for me. here's to...time?
36 friendship (emily gould). i prefer essays / from emily, but i liked / this, and wish it well.
37 the last days of california (mary miller). these teens are vivid, / this apocalypse well-drawn. / a good road trip book.
38 all things wise and wonderful (james herriot). i wish he'd written / more about his war service, / but i forgive him.
39 pretty in ink (lindsey palmer). former colleagues write / the most disturbing accounts / of our world! deep sigh.
40 what i talk about when i talk about running (haruki murakami). i started writing / an essay about running / that should surpass this.
41 the o'briens (peter behrens). CANADA SAGA / ALERT: trees will fall, hearts freeze. / reader lids will droop.
42 why have kids? (jessica valenti). when i pitch you my / tepid womb-related book, / sock me in the spleen.
43 delicious! (ruth reichl). the tale's pivotal / cake recipe is...not great, / which weirded me out.
44 a dangerous liaison: one woman's journey into a world of aristocracy, depravity, and obsessive love (sheri de borchgrave). most fascinating / memoirist i've crossed greenland / beside, for damn sure.
45 the bear went over the mountain (william kotzwinkle). this satire's targets / (publishing et al.) deserve / a better takedown.
46 joss whedon: the biography (amy pascale). a coronation / so bald i turned on whedon / for balance's sake.
47 subtle bodies (norman rush). middle-aged coitus / in smug, nightmarish detail. / what an awful book.
48 the book of life (deborah harkness). worst use of nazis / since frankenstein's army. oof, / deborah harkness. oof.
49 medium raw (anthony bourdain). bourdain's posturing / remains wheezy, unwinning, / and super-lazy.
50 half bad (sally green). YA's getting weird; / this race-y tale of witches / is somehow tone-deaf.
(previous list here.)
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 what was the best book you read last year?
02 would you be willing to help exhume a corpse, if circumstances called for it?
03 could you recommend a sweeping canadian saga that won't bore the crap out of me?
04 do you enjoy nonfiction about whether one should or shouldn't have children?
05 if you were to write a post-apocalyptic novel, what would cause the apocalypse in your story?
06 who's the most interesting stranger you've ever sat beside on a plane?