Thursday, July 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014 (so far)

Here's a depressing thought: it's nearly the end of summer.  What a bummer.  I don't know about you, but I haven't soaked up as much Vitamin D from sun rays as I'd hoped by this point.  There's a good reason for that: I've spent a lot of time indoors reading.  Also, it rained at near Noah levels for a couple of weeks here in Butte, Montana.  And then there was the WTF?! day it snowed.  In June.

It's a good thing I had some first-rate books to calm my seasonal nerves.

Mid-summer gives me the opportunity to take a brief pause and look over my shoulder at some of the very best, the creme de la creme, of my reading stacks these past seven months.  I don't know which 2014 books will eventually end up on my year-end "best of" list, but these are some strong contenders.

(I should mention this list is shorter than I'd expected it to be; my impression is that I read a lot of books between January and July.  That's true....but when I looked at the list, I realized the majority of the books I read were published in 2013 or earlier.  That's how it seems to go with me: I'm always lagging slightly behind the crest of the wave....)

Demon Camp
by Jen Percy
Part memoir, part investigative journalism, Demon Camp tells the troubling story of a soldier named Caleb Daniels who turns to a "Christian exorcism camp" in Georgia as a way of getting rid of "the Black Thing" which has plagued him since his return from Afghanistan.  In her debut, Jennifer Percy has delivered a book that's haunting, empathetic, and crackling with beautiful sentences.

Be Safe I Love You
by Cara Hoffman
Lauren Clay has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in time to spend Christmas holiday with her father and younger brother Danny.  All seems fine on the surface, but—as with Caleb Daniels in Demon Camp—there are some rough seas building inside Lauren.  Be Safe I Love You is populated with engaging characters and carries an urgent message about how we treat our veterans returning from war.

by Phil Klay
This is the third of the trio of books about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I read this year (I'm currently enjoying a fourth: Brian Turner's exquisite memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country).  Phil Klay's short stories put the Iraq War and its lingering after-taste right in our laps—which is exactly where the war needs to be.  Want to know what it was really like to fight a troubling, complicated war?  Read these stories and you'll be there in the sand with Klay's characters.

Thunderstruck and Other Stories
by Elizabeth McCracken
Sentence-for-sentence, Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection of short stories (her first since 1993’s Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry) is the best value for lovers of fine, funny writing.  The stories can also break your heart with sadness (see, for example, the title story in which a family's trip to Paris is interrupted by their rebellious daughter's risky behavior; or “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey” where the now-dying subject of the documentary tries to turn the tables on the filmmaker years after their relationship was ruptured by betrayal).

All the Light We Cannot See*
by Anthony Doerr
A simple plot synopsis—blind French girl and Hitler Youth boy communicate via radio during World War Two—doesn't do Doerr's new novel justice.  This is a 500-page page-turner whose story lives and breathes at the sentence level.  Every word is a gem, placed with a pair of jeweler's tweezers into its place on the page.  Anthony Doerr is a master craftsman and, as both a writer and a reader, I am in awe.

As a bonus, I'll add two other novels which haven't yet been released (but you would be a Smart Reader if you pre-ordered them now for your collection):

Painted Horses
by Malcolm Brooks
Set in Montana in the mid-1950s, Painted Horses gives us an American West on the cusp of change.  Catherine Lemay is a young archeologist hired to survey a canyon in advance of a major dam project; her job is to make sure nothing of historic value will be lost in the coming flood—a task that proves to be more complicated than she thought after she meets John H, a mustanger and a veteran of the U.S. Army’s last mounted cavalry campaign, who’s been living a fugitive life in the canyon.  Together, the two race against time to save the past before it is destroyed by an industry with an eye on the future.  Painted Horses is unlike any “western” I’ve read; it refreshes the genre while nodding back at its roots.

The Remedy for Love
by Bill Roorbach
Take two strangers—Eric, a small-town lawyer, and Danielle, a former schoolteacher turned homeless squatter—put them in a cabin in the Maine woods, spice it up with a little romantic tension, stir in the wreckage of past love affairs, sprinkle liberally with sharp, funny dialogue, then add the Storm of the Century which buries the cabin in huge drifts of snow, and—voila!—you've got The Remedy for Love, one of the best novels of this or any year.  I'm not a doctor, but I'll be prescribing Bill Roorbach's novel to readers sick of blase, cliched love stories that follow worn-out formulas.  What we have here is a flat-out funny, sexy, and poignant romantic thriller.  The Remedy for Love is good medicine which most readers will want to swallow in one dose.

Other promising 2014 books clustered near the top of my To-Be-Read list include An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, Wynne's War by Aaron Gwyn, and Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett.

And what about you?  What are the best 2014 books you've read so far this year?  Share your joy in the comments section below.

*I'm cheating a little bit here since I'm only halfway through the novel, but I'm confident it will end up on my "Best of 2014" list.  The writing is simply sublime.

1 comment:

  1. Damn it, David, you make all these books sound so good. My "to read" list is already ridiculously long. My husband teases me about the teetering stack of books on my nightstand. My eyeballs hurt! Oh what worlds are these, that tempt us so!