Here at Red Brick Reads we like to remind our readers that we know better than the big review sites that will purport to tell you what the best books of the year were. Sure, they have access to authors, writing staffs large enough to review all of the significant publications in a given year, the respect of most readers, and money. But we make up for all of that with jokes about Kanye West and the investigative ability to crack one of the biggest book conspiracies of the year.
May this list help guide your holiday shopping, even if you’re just buying books to read during your winter hibernation. If nothing else, maybe it will help you sound well-read at your spouse’s awful company Christmas party.
10) Us, by David Nicholls.
Nicholls brought it this year with his sad, funny follow-up to One Day. The story of a man struggling to keep his wife from leaving him and his son from hating him, it’s not
the most complex book on this list but it does use story structure in an interesting way and include a few moments of real sincerity.
9) Colorless Tsukura Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Murakami shocked audiences by stepping (slightly) away from his trippy talking cats and delivering a complex fan fiction take on the hit 2000s television show Gossip Girl. Tsukura Tazaki was a sad and mysterious book about the fate of a cast of teenage friends after they grow up. It alienated some hardcore Murakami fans but attracted a new group who were eager to catch up on the exploits of Blair Waldorf and company.
8) Casebook by Mona Simpson
Now that we’re three books in I can see there’s a theme developing. Follow-up books by beloved writers that were deemed disappointing by their biggest fans. Simpson described Casebook as a love story that she couldn’t write straight on. As a reader, I felt it was a story about the relationships within a family – complicated in a very different way than romantic love. Like Us, it’s a melancholy account of a personal betrayal. Read these books together if you want to question the strength of your own marriage this Christmas (I know I do!).
7) Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Just when you thought I was being a total bummer, here’s Gawande’s book about the realties of aging and dying. It’s not sad, I promise! RBR didn’t get a chance to cover this book in 2014, but I did rave about Gawande and provide a list of some of his best articles. If you’re not sure you want to invest time in a non-fiction book about modern medicine check out the articles first. This book will be the most interesting thing you read this year and will make you an interesting conversationalist by extension.
6) Circus by Claire Battershill
Fuck. This book was so good. When putting together this list I skimmed my notes from all the reviews posted this past year and I relived all those feelings I felt the first time I read Circus. This is one of two short-story collections on the list. I don’t know what it is about short stories but they deliver a rush of emotion that novels sometimes can’t. I can’t wait to read what Battershill puts out next.
5) 2am at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Bertino is on the list for two reasons. The first is because this list is loosely tied to the holidays and I said when I first read it I would revisit the book on Christmas eve. The second is the quality of her prose, which reads like poetry. Bertino’s is one of two books I read aloud this year (the other was My Antonia) and I was delighted by the music-like sensation this book gave me. Makes sense, as the story revolves around a jazz club.
4) The Other Language by Francesca Marciano
Marciano’s is the other short story collection on the list. Her stories are bigger than Battershill’s; her characters travel all over the world, they experience more, but the same wallop of emotion is there. I wrote the review several days after reading the book and said that one story, “Chanel,” was still stuck in my head. Several months have passed and I have yet to recover from its effects.
Ooh, top three. Are you getting excited?
3) The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
When I first covered this book I suggested that you think of it as a collection of short stories, to get over the idea that essays are boring and not as pleasurable to read as fiction. I’m sure you took my advice and then read the book immediately. If you haven’t, please know this is one of the ‘biggest’ books on the list and everyone at your spouse’s Christmas party will be talking about it.
2) A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier
Brockmeier’s book is a return to the “something different from a beloved author” genre. Filmstrip is a true account of the year Brockmeier is in seventh grade. He’s bullied and loses friends, has his first kiss, grows pubic hair, all the expected stuff. The top two books on the list are books that might have been classed as Young Adult if they were written by a different writer but instead fall in this genre-less place where you just have to tell people to trust you, and read them. Please just trust me, and read this book.
1) Echo of the Boom by Maxwell Neely-Cohen
You get a lot of points around here for doing something unexpected and doing it well. You also get points for falling somewhere in the weird intersection of my personal interests (literary fiction, high school romcoms, hip hop). That adds up to a lot of points. When I read Echo of the Boom I thought there was a chance it would grow to be Fault in our Stars-big. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be because the book is just too weird, but it’s captivating and brilliant and RBR’s favourite book of 2014.