Monday, March 9, 2015

Best books I read in 2014

2014 was a good year for books. HP had a great routine for most of the year with regular naps, which equaled many hours of reading. The start of this year has been a different story and I am struggling to make it through even one or two books a month. But back to last year! Here are my favorites in alphabetical order, all of which I felt merited four or five stars:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
If I had to pick one book as favorite work of fiction from the year, this would be it. I am still processing my time living in West Africa and this novel provided a new lens to look at that experience. The main character grows up in Nigeria, but then moves to the States in early adulthood. Adichie follows her life in the States and her eventual return to Nigeria. I highly, highly recommend it.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This was a book club read from the fall. It was one of those books where I wanted to read slowly just to soak up the language. Beautifully written and an interesting look at human nature and how we respond to extreme situations.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
I was not a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but Committed struck a chord with me. She did have one incredibly offensive passage about women who stay home and how we need to "construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families can prosper without women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it." But otherwise, a lovely book. I enjoyed looking at something so personal (marriage), in a historical and societal context.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I know, it's young adult distopian novel--as if there aren't enough of them in the world. But this one came to me at a time in my life when I just needed to get lost in a book, and it delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book of the trilogy, but found the next two comparatively disappointing.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another young adult read. I wasn't sure about this one at first, but then I got sucked it. Rowell accurately captures what it is like to fall in love as a teenager. So many feelings. Park and Eleanor are both charming and believable. Teenage love. The best.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
All-around quality fiction. I did not find it easy to identify with one of the main characters, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. In fact, I found it a good kind of challenging to think differently about the situation and try to see it from another point of view. Bonus, I learned a lot about Indian history.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Hands down, best non-fiction read of the year. Schulte explores why we (Americans, and parents in particular) feel so busy. What are we busy doing? How can we reclaim that time for ourselves? Why are women in particular struck by a constant feeling of "overwhelm"? I put this book on par with Susan Cain's Quiet, which is saying a lot. Well-researched and well-written, I recommend it to all.

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
This was a book club choice from early in the year. The writing was beautiful and the issues at stake are thought-provoking. What does it mean to live a good life? What is fate? How do we face death / impending debility with dignity and grace? I loved it, but fair warning--almost no one else in my book club did.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Burnt
Burnt explores the fear surrounding homosexuality and AIDs in the 1980s through the voice of a young girl dealing with the death of her beloved uncle. This book came to me at a time when I was in a reading slump. Every book I picked up was just... meh. Then along came Brunt's novel, restoring my faith in quality fiction.

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam
I have to admit how ignorant I was of the history and reality of foster care in this country before reading this book. Beam seamlessly weaves together the stories of foster families and the history of the foster care system. The subject matter was not always easy to read, but I am glad that I did.

Honorable Mention:
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap!) by Tammy Strobel

Phew! Glad I finally published this even if it took me until March. It's been taunting me from my drafts folder for two months.

In case your interested, here are my lists from 2012 and 2013.

Happy reading!