So many books, so little time.
It’s easy to feel that way when faced with an entire bookstore full of possibilities. How do you pick? How do you know what’s good?
Start here, with the Bookworm’s “best of 2014.”
Let’s start with fiction:
Throughout the year, every time something bad happens, you’re reminded to hug the ones you love. “Five Days Left” by Julie Lawson Timmer, the story of a woman who is at the end stages of a terminal disease, and a man in another state who has fallen in love with a child he’s fostering, will actually make you want to do that. Bring tissues. That’s all I’m saying.
My list wouldn’t be complete without my annual nod to noted lesbian author Emma Donoghue. Her novel “Frog Music,” a big story of murder and lust set in 1870s San Francisco is a 2014 (or anytime!) must-read. It’s a gauzy tale — in fact, it seems at times like a dream, as though the main character, Blanche Beunon has imagined the whole friendship she had with Jenny Bonnet and the reason for Jenny’s death. Bonus: it’s based loosely on a true event.
I almost guarantee that you won’t see “The Last Time I Died” by Joe Nelms on any other “best of” list. It’s here because it was one of those books that just struck me: Christian Franco, a loser in life and love, learns that he can re-visit his childhood by being brought back from the edge of death. Early trauma left him with holes in his memory. Reviving gave him answers. But he had to die again and again and you won’t be able to put this book down until you know what happens.
They say we all have a doppelganger, and “Recognition” by O.H. Bennett is based on that idea: on a rainy night, as a young widow heads home to pick up her son, she sees a beggar who is her late husband’s double. Many years ago, he went missing and was presumed drowned — but did he? You’ll wonder, too.
I loved “Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America” by Rachel Hope Cleves, not just for the story of two lives ahead of their time, but for the way Cleves sets the stage for the tale. We get a good sense of what life was like in the late 1700s and early 1800s, not just for lesbians but for every person brave enough to try to settle a new country, and that’s every bit as interesting as the story of two women who did something that early Americans didn’t think was even possible.
And then there are my non-fiction favorites:
“The Baby Boom” by P.J. O’Rourke will bring back memories for anyone born between 1947 and 1964. O’Rourke recalls the usual things that Boomers will remember — playing outside til dark, getting that first color TV — but the real appeal comes when he finds something you’ve long-forgotten, and he expounds upon it. This book is like time-traveling to your childhood.
This seemed to be the year of self-help books and I can’t come up with a better self-help book than “This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids” by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo, the title of which is delightfully self-explanatory (therefore, easy to remember when you’re in the bookstore). Using a good amount of common-sense and soothing talk, this book has a lot of answers for parents and their kids. And since it sprung from a popular website, you can find more online when you’re done reading.
If you’ve read other “best of” lists this year, you’ve probably found “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande there — and for good reason. It’s about the end-of-life, aging and how medicine perceives both. Gawande urges readers to take charge of the end of their lives. That’s powerful stuff in a powerful book.
And lastly, another tie: “The Removers” by Andrew Meredith, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by Caitlin Doughty and “The Skeleton Crew” by Deborah Halber all deal with bodies. Dead ones. The Meredith book is a father-son memoir in a coming-of-age way; the Doughty book is a memoir about her years working in a crematory and the Halber book is about how everyday people spend their time comparing missing persons lists with online lists of unclaimed bodies. They’re all so effective, I couldn’t select only one to recommend.
Is it cheating to put a poetry book on this fiction list? I don’t think so — especially when it’s poetry that’s as much fun as that in “Artificial Cherry” by Billeh Nickerson. This book is sassy. It’s silly, but spot-on with its observations and is-it-real-or-not essays in verse.