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A Few Good Reads for 2014

GodofCake copyWhen the New York Times list of 100 notable books of 2013 was announced in December, I was sure that this time I would have read at least one.

Nope.

Even though I used my Kindle liberally and visited our hometown public library dozens of times to pick up new fiction and non-fiction throughout the year, I was amazed that for the fifth year in a row, I had not read a single title chosen by the New York Times. And I had only heard of two novels on their list: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s “smartly written Dickensian novel” about a painting smuggled by a young boy and what it means to him, and Jo Baker's Longbourn, which offers a take on Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the Bennet family servants.

As in years past, I turned to One Thing New readers and asked them to offer their recommendations for my 2014 reading list. I’ve already added The Goldfinch and Longbourn, which seem like worthy reads. Here are some other suggestions, with a few words from our kind contributors on why they’re worth your time.

Everyone's Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby. This is a Kindle single from the author of About a Boy. It’s a short story, not a novel, and won’t take too long to read. It’s very funny and well-written. Although the protagonist's ex-wife writes a newspaper column, it captures our Facebook age perfectly.  

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This is hands-down the best book I read last year. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. Honestly I laughed and laughed and laughed, which I never do! The author is a former writer for the TV show "Arrested Development," so she might know a thing or two about comedic timing. The characters are colorful and there's a whole undercurrent about the private school social scene and the technology subculture that will be especially recognizable to Silicon Valley denizens. 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I liked the characters more than I liked the storyline. It's supposed to be about the nature of talent and ambition, but I thought it was more about the nature of friendship, as the story follows four friends from summer camp through their lives.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James. This is a great story, beautifully written, that offers so much about the history of America during the Depression, Nazi Germany and the wonderful sport of rowing.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. This book is a collection of the essays and drawings that made up Brosh’s entertaining and quirky blog. I read the “God of Cake,” the story of what was going on in her 4-year-old brain as she hunted down and devoured her grandfather’s birthday cake (pictured above), and couldn’t stop laughing. I’m also a big fan of her pain chart, which ranks pain on a scale from zero to “too serious for numbers.”

Divergent by Veronica Roth. Some people have called this the next Hunger Games, and it’s not hard to see why. Like The Hunger Games, it’s part of a three-book series that features a young girl who’s called on to do battle in a post-apocalyptic world. While The Hunger Games’ Katniss used her bow and arrow to best the bad guys, 16-year-old Tris relies on her courage, fearlessness and a genetic mutation to gain the upper hand. I admit it’s not as good a read as The Hunger Games, but it’s still a compelling story.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. This isn’t a new book. It was written in 1975 and is the first in a 15-book series of historical mystery novels. I recommend it because it’s a great read with a great main character – a Victorian spinster turned amateur Egyptologist named Amelia Peabody. She’s smart, funny, confident, and resourceful, with a devil-may-care attitude that leads her into one adventure after another. Peters, who herself became an Egyptologist at a time when it was unusual for a women to do so, died in August 2013 at the age of 85.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. This look at the Nazi theft of Europe’s art treasures from museums, churches and private collectors during World War II might seem daunting due to its length -- 457 pages -- but the chapters are short and Edsel is a breezy writer. You won’t realize how much historical material you’re absorbing because it’s so fun to read.  At its heart, it’s the story of unlikely group of men -- archivists, conservators, sculptors, architects, gentlemen scholars -- who had the courage to go to the front lines to help save art and cultural artifacts.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. This is a glimpse at what one possible future of our hyper-connected world might be. It is a dark dystopian drama rife with real insights about how things might be working in our tech future. Eggers claims he never visited Silicon Valley work places, but having been to several of them I would say he has gotten the lay of the land with perfect pitch. You have to remind yourself as you are reading that this is a novel. It posits a sobering world, and one I’m not sure I would want to live in.

If you like to read books before they’re turned into movies, you might want to read Divergent and Monuments Men first. There are a whole slew of other books being turned into films this year, including Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, John Green’s The Fault Is in Our Stars, and A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Enjoy! And feel free to send me thoughts about other books to add to the list. -- Connie Guglielmo

January 15, 2014

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Image from "The God of Cake" by Allie Brosh, courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half  

 



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