As we pointed out in last week’s issue, all the year-end book lists are out, from the NYTimes 100 Most Notable, to the Washington Post’s 50 Best in Fiction and NPR’s picks -- pretty much every publication that reviews books has weighed in.
I may not be that prestigious, but I once produced a public television show about books and authors (a dream job until the funding ran out) and I absolutely love to read. In my professional life, I read two to four newspapers a day, and numerous web sites and magazines. So when I want to just kick back, I mostly choose fiction. In no particular order, here are my favorites for 2014.
We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
This debut novel is actually included in most of the year-end lists, and deservedly so. It’s a big fat, multigenerational Irish-American family saga centered on a nurse named Eileen Tumulty, born in Queens in 1941. Good name, because Eileen’s an incredibly strong woman whose life is indeed quite tumultuous as she deals with everything from family alcoholism to a husband with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Sounds depressing, but thanks to beautiful writing, it’s not.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Fowler
While this is a similar title to my first pick, it’s a very different family story. At the beginning, we meet Rosemary, “meandering” through her fifth year at U.C. Davis, thinking about the brother she hasn’t seen in 10 years and the sister who disappeared 17 years ago. Her father is a psychology professor who brought his experiments home. Rosemary was an extremely chatty child, probably to make up for her sister’s verbal shortcomings. It will be more fun to read if that’s all you know.
Watch your back. Ten years after the Lindsey Lohan movie Mean Girls was released comes a new study from the University of Georgia that found boys may actually be meaner than girls. "It has long been speculated that boys are more likely to shove you into a locker, while girls are more apt to spread a rumor that you didn’t wear deodorant to gym class. Relationally aggressive behavior is the stuff that Mean Girls is made of -- malicious rumors, social exclusion and rejection -- and it turns out that boys are pretty good at it too," notes Time magazine, summarizing the study. Boys engaged in that relationally aggressive behavior more than girls -- in addition to being physically aggressive. Moviemakers are planning a sequel to Mean Girls and Time came to the same conclusion we did: maybe they should call it Mean Boys.
Why the French are sexier. Maybe because they talk about it a lot more, a lot younger, with -- wait for it -- their kids. A fascinating column in the New York Times by Pamela Druckerman recounts her experience trying to talk to her kids about sex in France, and discovering that French kids don't get a hurried explanation followed by stammering and a brush-off. What they get is The Book, as in, "Here, read this." Druckerman says the "books" she's seen generally stress that, "if you use protection and are in a healthy relationship, sex can be something quite great." She also recounts a museum exhibition on sexuality aimed at 9-to 14-year olds. On kissing: "Do turn your head sideways, especially if you've got a big nose." Not exactly what our parents told us.
Do these pants make my beer look big? Facebook, believe it or not, wants to save you from yourself. The Guardian writes that the social network is developing a technology to determine if the picture you want to post is potentially embarrassing, and then asks you if you really, really want to do that. Eventually, the system may let you know if someone else is about to post a picture of you that you'd rather your boss not see.