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Librarians and Literary Voices Share Their Best Reads of 2014


In 2014, the Oxford Dictionaries named "vape" their Word of the Year. We said goodbye to The Colbert Report, and the Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl. We also read some incredible literature that will remain important to us far beyond the end of the year. Some of these books helped us connect with our children with dazzling storytelling. Others showed us that the graphic novel has cleared the way for intelligent graphic nonfiction. And then there were the novels that burst with ambition and generosity of spirit. The New York Public Library asked librarians and literary voices to share their favorite reads of 2014. Let the gushing begin.


An Age of License by Lucy Knisley
"One of my favorite books this year was Lucy Knisley's wonderful graphic travel memoir, An Age of License. It'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!" —Susan Tucker Heimbach, Mulberry Street Library

Unremarried Widow: A Memoir by Artis Henderson
"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, Volunteer Coordinator, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
"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, Library Administrative Assistant

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 its 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, Supervising Librarian, Mulberry Street Library

300,000,000 by Blake Butler
"I'm not even sure it's 'the best' because it has flaws and it's exhausting in parts, but on sheer ambition, imagery, and just (as a reader) to be able to see someone willingly push themselves so far in a text, it deserves praise." —Shane Jones, author of Light Boxes, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, and Crystal Eaters

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, Senior Young Adult Librarian, Kingsbridge Library

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, Senior Librarian, Mid-Manhattan Library

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, Managing Librarian, The Children's Center at 42nd Street

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, Spuyten Duyvil Library

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
"It's difficult to describe this novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews without at first resorting to clichés--it is lyrical and devastatingly funny, and truly does break your heart and then mend again it in nearly every paragraph. The story is based on Toews's experience of trying to keep her brilliant, bipolar sister from killing herself, but the author reaches for--and achieves--so much more. AMPS covers vast and rich territory in ambitious and unpretentious prose: the bond between sisters and mothers and daughters and fathers and cousins; leaving small-town religious life (Mennonite) and its strict patriarchy behind for big but often broken dreams in the big city (Winnipeg!); aging, free will, gender warfare; love, sex, poetry and death--all the big themes. The novel gets better as both the writing and the story speed up into a controlled mania that winds down with pathos and elegance. It's my novel of the year, though Lily King's Euphoria is a close second." —Miriam Markowitz, Deputy Literary Editor, The Nation

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 McDonald, Senior Adult Librarian, Kingsbridge Library

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
"This book 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." 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." —Jessica Cline, Mid-Manhattan Library, Art and Picture Collections

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
"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 off as human." —Rosa Caballero-Li, AskNYPL

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial by Candance Fleming
"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's 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's deaths during a truly tumultuous period of Russian history." —Mina Hong, Senior Librarian, Epiphany Library

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
"A strange, beautiful family history by a ceramicist. as told through the story of an inherited collection of Japanese ornamental carvings." —Emily Raboteau, Author of Searching for Zion and The Professor's Daughter

Just Kids by Patti Smith
"This summer I finally read Just Kids (2010), 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 Library

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
"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.  Now how's THAT for a recommendation, eh?" —Elizabeth Bird, Selection

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
"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, Vice President of Library Services

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
"Laugh-out-loud funny and devastatingly sad, Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? was one of my favorite reads of the year. A cartoonist at the New Yorker since 1978, Chast is the author of more than 800 cartoons published in the magazine, and has been described by editor David Remnick as the 'magazine’s only certifiable genius'—a particularly remarkable distinction given the publication’s notable stable of regular contributors. In this engaging and beautifully designed book, Chast takes readers through her parents’ advancing years with wit, intelligence, grace, and an ever-present eye for the absurd and frequently hilarious." —James Yeh, Founding Editor, The Gigantic Magazine

The Sweet Science & Other Writings by A.J. Liebling 
"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 (a bar is a 'dispensatorium'; two men injured in a duel were 'seriously discommoded'), 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, Adult Materials Coordinator, BookOps


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Best Reads of 2014 List Picks

I was so surprised one of the best reads of the library's Summer Reading Challenge: "The House Girl" by Tara Conklin, didn't make this list. I wondered were those surveyed among a diversified cross-section of personnel?

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