Posts Tagged Best of 2014
1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Riverhead]
clever, stunningly gorgeous novel about race.
2. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott [Doubleday]
If you grew up in Massachusetts like me, you likely went on a Lowell Mill tour at some point during an elementary school or junior high field trip. I went twice because when my Aunt and cousins visited from Texas they wanted to go. While you rode on a boat along the Merrimack River listening to a guide speak about girls and young women leaving their families from all over New England to work at the Lowell mills it was easy enough to disassociate from it yet dreadful to think about the harsh conditions these women faced back in the 19th century.
Like the Salem witch trials the industrial revolution and bitter working conditions for Lowell mill girls happened essentially in my backyard and I feel particularly close to the plight of the mill girls depicted in this novel. It’s only the second five-star rating I’ve given to any book this year. Kate Alcott vibrantly brings the stories of the Lowell mill girls to the page as she creates strong, outspoken female characters enduring adverse situations that dare imagine and dispute better working and living situations.
3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Penguin Press]
Anything I write will never be enough to convey the power and magnificence of this debut novel.
4. Fallout by Sadie Jones [Harper]
Fallout revolves around Luke Kanowski, a young man with a mother living in a mental institution and a a former Polish POW father who remained in England after the war. Both parents rely tremendously on Luke. Living in a rustic northern town, Luke escapes the familial strain and dead-end choices through a passion for theatre. He reads everything and remains updated on all theatrical goings on. One night he meets aspiring producer Paul Driscoll and theater student Leigh Radley who will influence his future in myriad ways
5. Visible City by Tova Mirvis [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
Author Tova Mirvis writes with a melancholy gorgeousness about connectivity and disparity. When we imagine others’ lives we never expect what we eventually discover to be true. Perfection masks insecurities. Contentment hides dissatisfaction. What is happiness? Our ideal is never another’s ideal. How something looks from afar rarely looks as virtuous once you start to delve into the grit and imperfections.
6. Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen [Viking]
Author Bich Minh Nguyen writes about a Vietnamese-American family and its connection to the beloved American Ingalls-Wilder family as seen through the eyes of a savvy, inquisitive young woman. Almost everyone remembers reading the Little House on the Prairie books about Laura Ingalls and watching the television show.
7. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce [Doubleday]
One of the best novels in a while about finding your way and developing a sense-of-self in your twenties.
8. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman [Berkley Trade]
When I’m thinking about a novel for some time after reading it, I know it’s remarkable. Think you’ve heard all the stories about WWII. Think again. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman focuses on the Italian Resistance. Elodie, a young student and cello player, becomes involved in the Italian Resistance when artists and teachers at her school become targets for Mussolini’s Fascist regime.
9. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill [Vintage]
10. All Days are Night by Peter Stamm [Other Press]
A popular television news reporter wakes up severely disfigured by a car accident. The novel beautifully traverses past and present. Stamm writes in an effectively laconic and melancholy style. He’s exploring appearances from various angles. It’s a gripping read about art and connection.
11. Life Drawing by Robin Black [Random House]
stunning writing. brilliantly explores marriage in all its nuances.
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant [Scribner]
This is the story of the education of Addie Baum. Jewish daughter to immigrant parents Addie grew up during the mid-1900s in a one-room tenement house in Boston. In telling Addie’s story, author Anita Diamant covers a lot of history: prohibition; 1920s flappers and artists; WWI; The Great Depression; illegal abortions, birth control and Margaret Sanger; the Spanish Flu; women’s education; women’s careers; journalism; civil rights. Like The Red Tent, Diamant depicts history through a feminist eye. Intelligent, resourceful and intellectually-curious Addie is a wonderful feminist character. I probably truly fell in love with this novel when Diamant mentioned Simmons College, my women’s college alma mater in Boston. At one point, Addie discusses her goal to attend college but that she fears many won’t accept her because she’s Jewish. [“There’s Simmons College,” I said. “They even accept the Irish if you can imagine.”]
1. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer [Grand Central Publishing]
–As a feminist and a Boston-based music journalist, I love everything about this memoir. It’s absolutely engrossing. I liked Boston’s The Dresden Dolls and always appreciated Amanda Palmer for her outspoken nature, her feminism and musicianship. Now I truly admire Amanda Palmer and feel we’d be friends if we ever met. I’m wondering if we were ever at a party at the same time at Castle von Buhler—my artist friend Cynthia von Buhler’s former Boston home. The Art of Asking illustrates the importance of making lasting connections through art, love and creativity.
2. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff [Knopf]
–Everything about this memoir appeals to me from the font to the cover to the 90s setting to the tone. It begins in winter with sections by season, then chapters with titles such as “Three Days of Snow,” “The Obscure Bookcase,” “Sentimental Education” and “Three Days of Rain.” Memoir as literary recollections. It’s lovely and immensely engrossing because we’ve all experienced periods of doubt, periods of reflection, periods of development, our twenties or the 90s (for some of us, our twenties and the nineties were all of that).
3. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek [Scribner]
–a medical examiner’s residency in New York. detailed, gory and completing engrossing.
4. Cured by Nathalia Holt [Dutton]
–Berlin patients. painstakingly researched and explained.
interview with Nathalia Holt
5. Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny [Bloomsbury USA]
6. Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe [Pulp]
7. The Fall by Diogo Mainardi [Other Press]
–This is a love story. A moving, clever memoir about a father’s relationship with his son Tito, born with cerebral palsy. It’s clever because Mainardi writes in 424 steps like the steps that his son has progressively taken over the years as he grows stronger and more confident in his movement. A poet and journalist, Mainardi writes lyrically as well as in a scrupulously researched manner. It’s beautiful and fascinating.
8. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay [Harper]
9. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [Metropolitan Books]
–so much respect for Dr. Atul Gawande and his ability delve into particular medical issues, like aging and death, that prove difficult to discuss. thoughtful text and interesting case studies.
10. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast [Bloomsbury USA]
–amusing and sad: appropriate in describing the aging process.
“I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly “done,” there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium or heroin. So you became addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?”
In 2013 I had a list of 30 best albums. I’ve managed to take it down to 20 this year. There are a lot of women on my list. 17/20 female-fronted bands or female artists. Female vox, darkness and swirling rhythms appeal to me. That’s why I adore Field Mouse so much. Lana Del Rey, Zola Jesus and Lykke Li are dark and dramatic. While I never liked The Pretenders all that much, I appreciate Chrissie Hynde and listened to her powerful solo album over and over. Megafauna is heavier rock than what I generally listen to but with a female singer– a feminist and lawyer– it’s kick-ass. Some are more electronic dance music [EDM] like Banks, Yaarrohs, Phantogram and FKA Twigs. Paloma Faith and Lilla incorporate world music, vibrant beats.
1. Field Mouse, Hold Still Life [Topshelf Records]
2. Dum Dum Girls, Too True [Sub Pop]
3. Lykke Li, I Never Learn [Atlantic]
4. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence [Interscope Records]
5. Banks, Goddess [Harvest]
6. Zola Jesus, Taiga [Mute]
7. Phantogram, Voices [Republic]
8. Morrissey, World Peace is None of Your Business [Harvest]
9. Paloma Faith, A Perfect Contradiction [Epic]
10. Bee vs. Moth, Shelter in Place [Aggraveire Music]
11. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager [Warner Bros.]
12. Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm [Caroline]
13. Lilla, The Awakening [Lucky Records/karisma music]
14. Megafauna, Maximalist [Danimal Kingdom]
15. Karen O, Crush Songs [Kobalt]
16. Yaarrohs, Flesh and Blood EP [Glass Air Records]
17. The Kooks, Listen [Astralwerks]
18. FKA Twigs, LP1 [XL Recordings]
19. Jen Wood, Wilderness [Radar Light, New Granada]
20. o’death, Out of Hands We Go [Northern Spy Records]