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NYPL's Best Books of 2014

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We asked our staff here at the New York Public Library to tell us about the best book they read this year. Here is what they had to say:

The best book I read in 2014 was I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Words to describe this novel: breathtaking, dazzling, vivid, electric, magical, lyrical, a complete tour-de-force. It's the kind of novel that pulls you in, makes you weep, and then punches you in the gut it's so good! A story of sibling rivalry, family, love, art, betrayal, perseverance, death and dreams: it filled my soul with hope and humanity and made me a better person. It made me fall in love all over again with the power of books and reading and everything a YA book can be. Simply put this is a masterpiece of character, theme and writing. I've never read a YA book like it and I doubt I ever will again.  —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

The best book I read this year would be An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay. The experiences that Mireille goes through as a kidnapped victim, physically, emotionally, and mentally, absolutely broke my heart. It really gave me chills to read what she resorted to doing just to survive such traumatizing events.  —Sherise Pagan, Grand Concourse

Unremarried Widow: A Memoir by Artis Henderson left me feeling like I could not breathe. Oh yes, it's achingly sad, but it is a beautiful love story that in spite of the heartache, leaves you smiling. —Maura Muller, Volunteers Office

The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Journal is Francisco Goldman’s (latest) gift to the world. It’s at once a deeply felt love story, an elegy, political study and meditation on home. I savored the writer’s vivid and poetic descriptions of place (from the "megacity's stunning enormousness” to the barrios)—all locations teeming with life. —Miriam Tuliao, Selection Team

One of my favorite books this year was Lucy Knisley's wonderful graphic travel memoir, An Age of LicenseIt's about a trip Knisley took to Europe and Scandinavia when she was in her late twenties, single, and figuring out what to do with her life ("an age of license").  With lovely and evocative illustrations, it perfectly captures the fun of traveling as a young person, while also touching on the anxieties that come with being a twenty-something.  I'm in my late thirties and definitely feeling a bit more encumbered by responsibility these days, so this was a breath of fresh air to read!  It made me nostalgic for when I was foot loose and fancy free, but it also made me feel grateful to be past my tumultuous twenties. :)  I enjoyed traveling with Lucy! —Susie Heimbach, Mulberry Street

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. This graphic novel is an evocative coming-of-age tale that perfectly captures the innocence of feeling small when experience reveals that the world is a much larger and darker place than the familiarity of summer suggests. Exceptional for its insight, but even more so for the artist's masterful use of line work, panels and perspectives. This is the type of story that leaves you both wanting and changed. —Daniel Norton, Mid-Manhattan

My favorite book of 2014 was Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.  It mixes a far-out premise (giant insects start taking over the world) with a solid bedrock of character development and an unusual storytelling style.  Austin Szerba is a great character and a fascinating narrator, and we follow him down surprising paths as his mind takes leaps backwards and forwards in time to tell this story.  Reading this book was like a brain-stretching exercise—when I was done reading it I felt exhausted, but in a really positive way.  It's a young adult book, but it would be an exciting and challenging read for teens or even grownups! —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Vampires, witches, time travel, romance—what's not to love? The best part is the rich historical detail that makes it oh so credible. Think Diana Gabaldon meets J. K. Rowling at midnight in the Bodleian Library. Or Nora Roberts channels Anne Rice. I'm already halfway through the second book in the trilogy, Shadow of Night. The third volume, The Book of Life, was published this year. —Lois Moore, Mid-Manhattan 

The best book I've read this year has to be A Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson. It's the culmination of Robert Jordan's fantasy masterpiece,The Wheel of Time. It was continued by Sanderson after the master's death. Seeing so many character stories wrap up, others end in tragedy and saying goodbye to favorites you've followed over the course of fourteen epic novels was a bit wrenching. I'm not afraid to admit there were tears. —Joshua Soule, Sputen Duyvil

The book that stood out for me this year was Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Particularly memorable was the chapter about the time when she was a child and she really wanted to have a piece of cake, but was forbidden to have it. So here's this kid who will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to get the cake, and predictably hilarity ensues.  In part I can relate to her utter desperation for the cake, and then there's the part where I appreciate her total honesty in pointing out her own flaws. It was smart, funny, and book that made the rest of us feel normal. —Rabecca Hoffman, Kingsbridge

I have two greats for this year, both a few decades old. The most amazing fiction book I read this year is Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Every sentence is vivid. I felt the leaves build up in the corners of my rooms and paint began to peel on my door frames. In non-fiction, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown opened a door to another point of view on American history and I am a more conscientious person for it. It is also a great conversation starter, many people have strong feelings about reading this book. —Jessica Cline, Mid-Manhattan Library

The best book I read this year was The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, whose writing transported me to 1899 New York City. Wecker does a wonderful job of mixing genres (fantasy, romance, mystery, historical fiction) in an epic story that documents the immigrant experience of the two unlikely title characters. It is hard enough being a stranger in a strange land—imagine what it would be like for two fantastical mythical creatures trying to pass as human. —Rosa Caballero-Li, AskNYPL

I cannot choose one. I have to choose two. So I will be brief. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters satisfied every part of me as a reader. The setting is rich, the characters captivating, the writing inspiring, and the story! The book turns from fascinating historical fiction to thriller. It’s amazing! I have loved every Sarah Waters novel I have read. This one was heads above the others and that is saying a lot. I also loved Miranda July’s The First Bad Man. It was so funny and fresh. The narrator is socially spastic. She will make you cringe like Larry David. I haven’t read a book that surprised me as much since Magnus Mills’s Restraint of Beasts—Lynn Lobash, Readers Services

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham. This fantasy adventure reminded me just how much fun it can be to plunge into a world of deliciously awful villains, mysterious rogues and fearsome monsters with a group of undaunted young protagonists.  Can't remember the last time I missed so many subway stops because I just didn't want to stop reading! —Stephanie Whelan, Seward Park

The novel I enjoyed the most this year is Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, about a young girl and boy, on opposite sides of a war, inexorably closing in on each other as each must solve life-or-death puzzles lying beyond the realm of mere eyesight.  It's not just that characters are finely drawn, the path Doerr sets them on left me thinking for days afterward about the people I meet and the paths and puzzles that draw us together, for whatever reason, for however long. —Christopher Platt, Sites and Services

Although it wasn’t the best book I read this year, The Sweet Science & Other Writings by New Yorker staff writer A.J. Liebling was the book that I enjoyed reading the most (and that's an important distinction).  The collection is part of the estimable Library of America series and comprises five works, the best of which are “The Sweet Science” (about the boxing world in the 1950s), “The Earl of Louisiana” (a masterful analysis of Louisiana politics circa 1960), and “The Jollity Building” (a composite profile of grifters, loan sharks, bookies and “grade z” talent agents plying their trade in Midtown in the late 1930s).  Liebling’s deftness at turns-of-phrase, his inventive word choice—two men injured in a duel were “seriously discommoded” and a bar is a called a “dispensatorium”—could there be a more perfect name for a hipster bar in Brooklyn?) as well as his wry humor and trenchant analysis make him—for my money—one of the best writers the New Yorker ever published.  His “Jollity Building” piece alone is worth picking up this collection.  Imagine if Damon Runyon’s “Guys and Dolls” stories were as well-written as they are entertaining.  That’s how good “The Jollity Building” is!  —Wayne Roylance, Selection Team

My favorite children's book of the year was Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. If you want a fun, art history mystery for kids, this is it!  The story is set in New York City and introduces readers an array of fascinating residents.  Think art, science, WWII, celebrity kids, Monuments Men, gardening and super cool librarians all rolled in one. —Louise Lareau, Children’s Center 42nd Street

This summer I finally read Just Kids, Patti Smith's eloquent memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their development as artists. It was wonderful to see the New York City of the late 1960s and 1970s through her eyes. I wonder if any of our future poets are sleeping in city parks like she sometimes did when she first arrived in New York. —Elizabeth Waters, Mid-Manhattan

My favorite YA book this year was Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Fleming interweaves excerpts from diary entries of peasants and shop girls with descriptions of the Romanovs' lives of excess and grandeur. In a less skilled writer's hands, this could easily have been a list of grievances against the Romanovs. Instead, Fleming humanizes the Romanov Family by highlighting their personality quirks and playful affection for one another. This is a suspenseful and juicy read (one of the princesses has a romantic encounter with her guard) that reveals the chilling circumstances surrounding the Romanovs' deaths during a truly tumultuous period of Russian history. —Mina Hong, Epiphany

My best read of 2014 was The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. That's a book that wormed its way into the crevices of my brain, set up house, and will NOT be evicted for a very long time. I can feel tendrils of it affecting everything I do even now.  —Betsy Bird, Selection Team

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Best Books of the Year

I read three extraordinary books this year. A first novel, "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing", by Mira Jacob; another novel, "& Sons", by David Gilbert; a scholarly work of great imagination, "Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst", by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. I cannot pick just one. I reject the premise. I've read many excellent books, and I am celebrating these three as the three best books most recently read this year.

Patrons

It'd be interesting to see what patrons read and what their favorite books were. Possibly even a graph of the genres that were particularly unique to them.

I notice that of the 20

I notice that of the 20 recommended books, 16 are recommended by women. I am neither complaining nor criticizing. But I do believe that much non-fiction today is by women for women. Of the four books recommended by men, I long ago read and enjoyed A.J. Leibling -- and the other three suggested titles don't really intrigue me. Can someone recommend any other good reads for a guy?

Great read for a guy

How about RICKEY & ROBINSON by Roger Kahn? It's the story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and how they broke the racial barrier in baseball, by a terrific writer who knew both men.

Thanks for the input. I know

Thanks for the input. I know Roger Kahn's work well (Boys of Summer), and like it. As a retired sportswriter, I also know the Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Story quite well. So I;ll pass on this one. I'm looking for something new or new-ish that's anything like Vonnegut or Salinger or Leon Uris (esp. QB VII) or another To Kill A Mockingbird by anybody. Read recently through all of Amy Semple, Suspended Sentences, All The Light We Cannot See, The Alchemist--all good not "great." Want to try one more for me?

You might like retired AP

You might like retired AP news editor Bruce DaSilva's mysteries -- Rogue Island, etc.

I personally really enjoyed

I personally really enjoyed "The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair"; it was entertaining from beginning to end and consistently had a twist.

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