The best books of the year so far.

Last week I read Nina’s excellent review of her favorite books of 2014. It made me want to write my own. I realize I’ve mentioned several of these books before, but here they are in one place. I highly recommend her picks (some of which are mine, too!) and am eager to hear what you’ve been reading.

We are just past the midpoint of 2014, and here are my favorite books of the year so far:

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. I’m reviewing this for Great New Books in a couple of weeks so I will save most of my commentary, but suffice it to say that Doerr’s book has a firm place in my favorite novels of all time.  Probably top three.  All the Light is that spectacular. I can’t stop thinking of the book’s glorious imagery and can’t recommend it highly enough.

10% Happier – Dan Harris. This is a rare book that both Matt and I adored. Dan’s story is honest, open, convincing, inspiring, funny. I already meditated somewhat regularly, and now I do it with more conviction and commitment. This is a marvelous book.

Euphoria – Lily King.  I could barely put down King’s compelling story of anthropologists in the jungle of New Guinea.  She draws three characters I couldn’t stop thinking about and touches on themes of identity, feminism, love, subjectivity, and power.  I loved this book.

Americanah– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  This book came highly recommended by some of the readers I most highly esteem (I’m looking at you, Lacy) and it did not disappoint.  Americanah is a rich, sprawling saga about otherness and true love, about all the ways that we can be from a place and yet not feel at home, about what America really means.

Love Life – Rob Lowe.  I picked up Lowe’s latest memoir after reading his guttingly powerful essay on Salon about taking his son to college.  The book is similarly moving, and running through it is an intensely familiar sense of the bittersweetness of parenting and life itself.  Beautiful.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell.  I’d heard so much about this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Rowell’s protagonists are fully-felt, deeply-human misfits who are as surprised to find connection in each other as we are.  Nina loved this one too, and her review is wonderful.

In the Body of the World – Eve Ensler.  Ensler’s illness narrative is difficult to read but a compelling page-turner at the same time.  She draws stark parallels between her own female body and the world at large, in so doing crafts a powerful love letter to this dramatic, painful, human, joyful life.

Paradise in Plain Sight – Karen Maezen Miller.  I loved Hand Wash Cold, so was eager to read Maezen’s new book.  She didn’t disappoint: the memoir is full of the plainspoken but deeply resonant writing I now associate with Maezen.  While I’m not a gardener myself, I found myself gladly following her through her own yard, and ultimately coming to see, with her gentle but firm guidance, that paradise truly is right here at my own feet.

Homesick and Happy– Michael Thompson.  I’m a longtime and devoted Thompson fan, and this book hit on a theme that has been central to my sense of myself as a parent from the very beginning.  Helping our children let go, and move away from us, is our most essential parenting task.  Camp is one way that we can help them do this.  Perhaps he was preaching to the choir, since I’m a firm believer in sleepaway camp, but Thompson’s book reminded me of what this endeavor is all about it.  It made me cry  more than once.

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner.  I just re-read this for the fourth time, for my new book club.  It’s the only book that I have ever read four times.  And it just keeps getting better.  This time I was struck by the masterful way that Stegner shifts in and out of the first person as he tells the story. 

What are you reading now and what have you loved lately?  I would love your recommendations as I have some plane flights and downtime ahead!

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28 thoughts on “The best books of the year so far.”

  1. I think I need to listen to the universe and run out to find Elanor and Park. This must be the fifth mention of it that I’ve seen in the past week! Glad you liked it!

  2. I couldn’t get enough of Eleanor and Park. It was one of those books where I wanted to both tear through it as fast as I could and also read really slowly because I just didn’t want it to end.

  3. This year some of our book club favorite’s were Me before You by JoJo Moyes, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbach, and Defending Jacob. Another book I enjoyed, but the book club was split on was The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. I also love to research the backstory after I am done reading the books on the author’s website! It further enhances the book for me knowing the author’s intentions and research into the book!

  4. Thank you for so generously sharing what you’re reading and loving to read. ‘Eleanor and Park’ turned out to be a wonderful idea for a gift to a very savvy coming 13 year old young woman. She’s from Mississippi but visits her dad for the Summers here in our neck of the woods. Around our house we have several favorites from our Spring and Summer reading, ‘Shotgun Lovesongs’ by Nicholas Butler, a debut novel from another one of those remarkable young authors from the The Iowa Writers Workshop. ‘Remember Me Like This,’ by Bret Anthony Johnston, another Iowa Writers Workshop prodigy and a high recommendation from Anton DiSclafani. ‘Silkworm,’ by Robert Galbraith, aka, J.K.Rowling, and finally, ‘California,’ by Edan Lepucki, yet another Iowa Writers Workshop young author. We’ve exchanged a few delightful notes with this author and hope we’ve influenced her to make a signing appearance at our local Indie Bookstore. Thanks to Stephen Colbert, ‘California,’ is one of the hotter debut novels since Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild.’

    Please continue to tell us about your favorite and current reads. You have impeccable good taste that is so often compatible with what we enjoy reading.

  5. So glad to hear you liked “Love Life” – I’ve been thinking of reading that,too. I’ve got “All The Light You Cannot See” on order! I was just looking at Karen Maezen Miller’s book yesterday – now that I know you enjoyed it, I might pick it up.
    Right now I just finished reading the three-part series by Nancy E. Turner about a woman living in 1900s Arizona-loved them. The first one is called “These Is My Words”. I think I’ll next read “The Effects of Light by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “Messenger” by Jeni Stepanek and Amy Tan’s newest, “Valley of Amazement”. Always too many books to choose from! Thanks for your recommendations.

  6. Thanks so much for the shout here! I love reading your recommendations, and I think it’s cool that we have such different books on our lists (minus a few overlapping ones). Can’t wait to read your full review of All the light.

  7. Thank you for sharing you favorites! I love, love, love lists like this. I keep hearing about Rob Lowe’s book. I think I will have to try it out! Some of my favorites so far include We Were Liars and then like you, All the Light We Cannot See. So many books, so little time!

  8. I, too, loved Eleanor & Park! I’ve also heard such great things about All the Light We Cannot See, so l’m excited to see you rave about it. My faves this year so far include The Goldfinch, The Interestings, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I’m currently reading And the Mountains Echoed, as well as The Liar’s Club, and enjoying both. xo

  9. I have some of these on my to-read list (notably, Rob Lowe’s) and the rest sound fascinating. Off to check them out. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I love your reading posts! I have yet to be disappointed by any of your suggestions so thank you for sharing. I just finished Eleanor and Park. I found it sweet and nostalgic. I also recently read The Orphan Train, which was a quick and engaging work of historical fiction. Amy Tan’s Valley of Amazement was not quick, and while not one of my favorite of her works, I did like it. Now I am starting 10% Happier and rereading one of my old favorites…The Poisonwood Bible. I too love Stegner and especially Crossing to Safety. I wish I could get my book club to commit to it.

  11. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson just blew me away. I’m in that sad place where I can’t figure out what to read next, because that book filled up such a big piece of me.

    Also fabulous, completely different: Roz Chast’s Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? It’s a graphic (meaning, there’s her amazing art, not it’s rated R) memoir of her parents’ final years, and it’s epic and heartfelt and just so true.

  12. Chast’s memoir is next on my list and on my bedside table … Can’t wait! Especially now with your recommendation.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing these recommendations. A few of those sound really great and I’m excited to read.
    My highest recommendation right now would go to the second installment in the Medicine Man series by S. R. Howen.
    I have rarely been so totally captivated by a story and it’s characters. Howen did a tremendous job with this series and I’m so excited for the next one. They are Native American stories based on old Blackfeet legends and just beautifully imagined. Top reads for fans of paranormal and horror.

  14. Thanks so much for the recommendations! You and Nina both recommended Eleanor and Park, and so I ordered it! Can’t wait for it to arrive. Also, somehow I have never read that Wallace Stegner so I ordered it too. Thank you!

  15. Since All the Light We Cannot See is absolutely my favorite book not just this year, but in a long time, and I also got a lot out of 10% Happier, and I bought Eleanor and Park for my son (but now realize I must read it myself!) I am excited to read your other recommendations as well! I also was moved by The Book of Unknown Americans, and for a lighter read, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You. The Invention of Wings, Transatlantic, and A Tale for the Time Being are other recent reads I thought well worth it.
    Thank you for these great suggestions!

  16. Oh, such great titles – I haven’t read any of these, and must check them out. Thank you! And I’m so glad you too loved All the Light We Cannot See. It’s definitely on my favorites of all time list too. xox

  17. I can understand four readings of Crossing To Safety. Such a wonderful book, one I know I will read again.

    Recommendation? I recently finished Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. It is a quiet and beautiful read.

  18. Hi! You wrote that All the Light We Cannot See was probably one your top there favorite novels of all time. Wonderng what the other two are!



  19. Thank you for this great list of recommendations.
    If I could add anything to this list it would be To Hold The Sun by Chas Watkins. The author wrote this lovely story as a life guide for his children to teach them that happiness is a choice. The story takes place on the stunning Caribbean island of Roatan. I found this setting and the whole concept of the book to be really beautiful. Highly recommended.

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