I’m pretty proud of how my reading habits changed over the course of this year. As 2014 began, I entered my second semester as an English major and re-discovered an insatiable love for the written word that I had lost somewhere between the end of high school and start of college.
In turn, I found some amazing books this year that were funny, saddening, inspirational, and captivating. While I find it difficult to count a book that I didn’t read back in elementary or middle school as a true, everlasting favorite, 2014 definitely had some contenders.
(These books were not necessarily published in 2014; rather, I read them for the first time this year.)
1. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
THIS BOOK. I think the most effective reading of this occurs after going into the story not knowing much about the plot. It is an epic read, with no consistent or clear storyline, but it is a beautiful book. I’ll keep quiet about the book’s specifics so you have the same reading experience I had. Tip – read this when you know you will be seldom interrupted. I read the majority of it over the course of two long train rides, and that definitely played into how much I understood and enjoyed the story. The first half reminds me of a whimsical, slightly gloomy fairy tale – think Roald Dahl meets Emma Thompson’s screenplay for Nanny McPhee – and the second half introduces a dark reality that snaps one out of the happier blurs of childhood. And I just found out that there’s a sequel about the narrator’s brother?!
2. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
I love books that follow the same characters over many years, and this was one of the best. A group of teenagers meets in the 1970s at a summer camp for the arts, and the book follows them as they go to college, start careers, and fall in love. I loved the insight into living in New York City right as AIDS broke out and how the book displays how friendships change and grow over time. It also addresses whether or not our childhood talents are enough to carry us through an adult career to a point of success. It is definitely not a book for everyone, as it is slow, but for people who love engrossing books about people over time, this is an excellent read.
3. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
Otherwise known as Ryan from The Office’s book of short stories. This was the best book I read over the summer and I went into it with no expectations. I was pleasantly surprised and fell in love with so many of Novak’s stories in this collection. His writing style is witty and true-to-life and, at times, outrageously odd and funny. Yet, some stories resonate so deeply, and I wrote down so many quotes because of how beautifully they were written. My favorites from the collection include “Sophia”, “The Beautiful Girl in the Bookstore”, “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster”, and “The Best Thing in the World Awards”.
4. Something Real, by Heather Demetrios
I found this book so reflective of a society’s tendency to place oversized or unusual families on a pedestal (AKA reality TV). Bonnie Baker – the oldest of the “baker’s dozen” her parents became famous for – chooses to go by Chloe when she is finally allowed to attend an actual school after the original run of her family’s reality show ends. However, her attempts at normalcy are thwarted when her mother decides to invite the cameras back into their home four years later. To my knowledge, the book portrays a slightly more dictatorial TV production team than what you’d find in real life, but who knows! I had a slight issue with the pacing of the book towards the end, but it is a unique story that you definitely don’t come across very often.
5. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
I can’t remember the last time I read a celebrity memoir. The most recent biographical books that I read were about Queen Elizabeth II and Judy Garland…so, public figures who are a bit more established in history than Amy Poehler is. I was expecting Yes Please to be funny, which it was, but I found it even more wise and inspirational. I like to think that Poehler is one of the great feminist role models for our generation and she definitely lives up to this image in her book. At one point, she writes, “That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.” I just loved that and think that it is so true – girls feel self-conscious enough because of what society expects of them and we don’t need more hate from our own kind. This quote reminds us to judge less and love more, and that was only one of the lessons I took away from Amy’s book.
6. Roomies, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
I expected a shallow, unenjoyable story going into this book about college roommates trying to get to know each other from afar during the summer before school starts. Instead, I found a relatable, lighthearted story with two alternating narrators, both of whom I was able to identify with. This is the perfect read for girls going away to college for the first time. I read it the summer after my freshman year, so I definitely noticed some of the characters’ universal feelings that I had experienced the summer before. The book also got bonus points from me for being the most captivating story I’d read in a while.
7. Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska
Fiddler on the Roof meets A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read this for an English class about cities and their influence in American literature, and it was my favorite novel out of the five we read. This book was originally released in 1925, but it is still scarily relevant to today’s world. It is as a strong feminist text about a Jewish immigrant girl who breaks away from her father’s dictatorial hold and tries to succeed in New York City during a time when women were not expected to do more than run a household. Some of Yezierska’s prose summed up how I felt about going out into the world so perfectly. She discusses desire, determination, and not being able to relate to people your own age – all subjects that any college girl can understand.
What about you? What were some of your favorite books this year?