My year in books: where literature and designer impostor perfumes collide. Remember designer impostor perfumes? If you like Clinique Happy, you’ll love “Wanna Play?!” That’s essentially how these book reviews work. Let’s get started.
(Click here to read last year’s post if you’re confused.)
(* I get most of my books digitally through the library. An asterisk after a title means I loved a book enough to purchase it and add it to my physical collection.)
I read more YA novels than usual this year, for one reason: I flew a lot. I don’t know about you, but the thing that helps me forget about lost planes and birds flying into engines and emergency landings is a quick story where the worst thing that happens is The Boy ignores The Girl in the cafeteria. If you’re the same way — or if you just want to re-experience that high school crush feeling for a few hours — you’ll love the Anna trilogy (Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (this one was especially helpful because the main character takes a transatlantic flight and describes turbulence as a ship rocking gently. I use that imagery every time I’m in turbulence now), Fangirl (my review) and Looking for Alaska (although that one was darker than I thought it would be).
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories:* Not only will this book make you laugh, it will make you think when you least expect it. I can’t wait to see what B.J. Novak comes up with next.
I Don’t Know What you Know me From: Generally when someone in the public eye writes a book, there’s a clear reason for it — just before or after some huge moment in that person’s career. At first I didn’t I fully understand WHY Judy Greer decided to write a book (and some of the stories didn’t even seem to have a point), but by about halfway through I was like, WHO CARES?! TELL ME EVERYTHING SO WE CAN BE BEST FRIENDS!
I can’t objectively review The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) because it was so fun being back in Veronica Mars’ world that the book could have been terrible and I probably would have loved it. That being said, if you, like me, faithfully turned on the CW every week anticipating the opening notes of The Dandy Warhols and maaaaaybe spent far too much time at your internship reading Veronica Mars message boards, I highly recommend this audiobook, read by Veronica herself (Kristen Bell).
Every blogger and their blanket scarf has talked about Lena Dunham’s Not that Kind of Girl*, but I thought I would add my two cents. The first third or so of the book had me alternating between rolling my eyes and cringing (it was basically a recap of Dunham’s love life, and, like an episode of Girls, kind of made me feel like I needed to take a shower). The rest of the book, however, was full of one-liners and thoughtful paragraphs that I highlighted. I found it worth wading through the first part.
I read We Were Liars after it was mentioned in pretty much every “best of 2014” list, finished it in about three hours, and it still makes me shiver to think about it too hard. Tons of drama, a beach house — actually a beach island— and New Englanders who call their mom “mummy.”
The Book of Unknown Americans* looks at the lives of a group of immigrants that all happen to live in the same apartment complex in Delaware. It’s a heartbreaking and necessary reminder that everyone has a story. This passage stuck with me: “Professor Shields explained that in English there was no ‘usted,’ no ‘tu.’ There was only one word–you. It applied to all people. Everyone equal. No one higher or lower than anyone else. You. They. Me. I. Us. We.”
Also: The Good Luck of Right Now, which is written entirely in letters to Richard Gere from a developmentally challenged man who will steal your heart. If nothing else, google Cat Parliament, because you need to know it exists.
Also: The Geography of Bliss, in which a journalist travels to the happiest and unhappiest countries in the world. I was especially fascinated to read about Qatar, where everyone seems happy because they’re so wealthy, but where the lack of any kind of culture is a problem.
Also: Five Days at Memorial, an account of the days after Katrina inside a hospital. A chilling, thought-provoking ethical case study– and a great reminder that my problems at work are pretty minimal.
Also: Long Walk to Freedom,* by an unknown debut breakout literary wunderkind named Nelson Mandela.
The Opposite of Loneliness* made me want to write. This reaction either means I loved the book (“I want to do that!”) or I hated the book (“I could write something better than that!”). In this case, it was the former–this was my favorite book of the year. Marina Keegan, the author of these essays and short stories, was poised to become a successful writer. Then, she died in a car crash the day after graduating from Yale. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of her best works. There was so much highlighting happening in my copy.
Yes, Please.* Did anyone not like this book?Tip: Listen to this one. Having Amy Poehler talk to me for 8 hours was a pleasure. Plus, it seems like she/her publishers actually cared about audiobook listeners, inserting sound clips and ad libs and multiple readers (Seth Meyers! Her parents!)
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry* was adorable, and the bookstore setting (on a quaint island!) definitely added to its appeal. Warning: sad.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Here’s what I remember thinking about while reading this book, the 20th or so book I read in 2014: Why are there no “good” books about people who are happy? Every main character in every recommended book I’ve read this year has been miserable. That thought has been bothering me ever since. Nonetheless I still liked this book enough to recommend it to Y’s mom, which is an honor I think is similar to the Pulitzer.
Speaking of the Pulitzer, The Goldfinch* doesn’t need my additional thoughts since it was pretty universally acclaimed. If you’re looking for a read that will take you on a years-long ride with one character who you might never be able to forget, check out The Goldfinch.
A few other books I loved:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home: I’ll always have fond memories of my first night in Israel, jet lagged in a fancy hotel in Haifa, staying up all night reading this story of a misfit who loses the only person that gets her. I immediately bought it for a friend after reading it.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: This was cute and sad and quick and there’s a forthcoming sequel!
A few books I wasn’t quite sold on:
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl received so much hype. I enjoyed the plot, and of course the descriptions of food, but something about Reichl’s fiction-writing style ruined it for me. Her dialogue seemed kind of… juvenile.
Landline: I’ve loved everything else by Rainbow Rowell, but this one didn’t quite live up to the hype for me.
Glitter and Glue: This was a quick build-up to absolutely nothing. I was annoyed.. and glad it was short.
Orphan Train: This book flips back and forth between a modern day story and the story of Irish immigrants in the 1920s. I loved the historical fiction storyline; but the modern day story ruined it for me. The 2011 “heroine” is a misunderstood “goth girl” in foster care who has somehow snagged the cool soccer player as a boyfriend — and her character doesn’t really develop any more than that. REALLY? Could that be any more cliche?
& Sons: Either this book was trying too hard or I just wasn’t literary enough for it.
Waiting for Birdy: This book is recommended for new parents by so many sources, but I just couldn’t relate to the author’s “hilarious” and “relatable” anxiety and found myself rolling my eyes. A lot. To be fair, I also laughed out loud a few times.
The Husband’s Secret: Something about this book felt formulaic, like it was the author’s yearly attempt to sell millions of books at an airport — and nothing more.
The Promise of a Pencil: I was excited to read this book about the non-profit Pencils of Promise, whose marketing materials I often seek out for inspiration at work. Here’s what I learned: creating a successful start-up non-profit is way easier when your brother is Justin Bieber’s manager. Okay, that was harsh… there were a lot of lessons about the non-traditional way this non-profit is run that stuck with me, but I didn’t find it inspirational — just a little braggy.
13 Little Blue Envelopes: This was a YA novel recommended to me by some algorithm because I checked out Anna and the French Kiss. I think it might have been one of the worst books I’ve ever read. This girl travels around Europe thanks to some ridiculous scavenger hunt put together by her aunt, and from what I remember it honestly reads like “Then we went to Rome. There was a statue. I looked at it. Then I ate pasta.”
SPOILER ALERT: DOES THE DOG DIE?
If you can’t handle a gruesome — or even a sweet! — dog death, here are a few warnings. In all of the following books, people died and I don’t think I cried.
& Sons: a non-essential dog character dies and it’s written about in great detail. I cried for hours.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: a real-life dog dies IN THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. I cried.
We Were Liars: MORE THAN ONE dog dies. In the saddest way possible. We learn that their tails probably wagged while they were dying. I’m crying just typing this.
Five Days at Memorial: Many dogs were euthanized in the days following Katrina… but so were people (allegedly). I still cried about the dogs.
The Goldfinch: Although everyone else in this book is basically DOOMED, the tiny white dog survives!