recapping 2014: ever so slightly closer to the year of the pony

Hello everyone.

Somehow we crept right out of December and into January, and now it’s APRIL, and surprisingly cold in my office, and the cat wants to sit on me ALL THE TIME, and the other cat wants to sit near me ALL THE TIME, which would be lovely except that they loathe each other. Outside it looks like it might some day be spring, although the dogs and I are not convinced.

Meanwhile, I lost track and didn’t get my end-of-year post, and so you get this weird spring post about last year instead. I did a lot of reading and a lot of writing in 2014. Not to mention: Signed with an awesome agent! Got to meet some amazing people in person at SCBWI or different book events or social Things. Came out as pro-Taylor Swift. 2014 began and ended in Nags Head, with ocean at one end and owls on the other, which I consider a very fine auguristic bookending indeed.

Also, as I said, I read a lot. So here are my favorite things I read in 2014, in no particular order, with a reminder that 11 is still my favorite number:

1. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. By the end of the second page I was so nervous and unhappy that I almost had to stop, and then I didn’t, and I am so glad. This is a marvelous book about what holds a family together, and what doesn’t, and what can’t. The language is precise and quietly astonishing.

2. Thunderstruck & Other Stories, by Elizabeth McCracken. In my 2013 recap, I wrote this: “This year, I also encountered a handful of ARCs, and I can tell you right now that one of them is definitely going to be on the top reads of 2014. Not just mine, but everyone’s. It’s crazypants good.” That book was Thunderstruck, which is on several top book lists this year and was long-listed for the National Book Award, so I am feeling pretty smart about that.

3. If Roxane Gay wrote something, I read it, and all of it goes on this list. Let’s start with An Untamed State and Bad Feminist. Both are necessary, both are raw, both demonstrate the incredible talent and intellect of one of our most important voices. In the former, Gay tells the story of a woman who is taken, used, brutalized, and eventually freed, but the novel is about the cost of that theoretical freedom as much as is about the horrifying things that happen to her in captivity. Bad Feminist, meanwhile, is a collection of essays (some of which I think I included in my Best Of 2012) about love, sex, music, violence, race, feminism, food, and Channing Tatum. It’s compulsively readable, but its importance lies in Gay’s willingness to speak about what most of us are too nervous to say. I’ve been saying all year that both of her books are crucial, especially in a year that has been extraordinarily terrible for women in the media and elsewhere, and I stand by that.

4. Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby, is raw and haunting as well. I don’t end up with ARCs all that often, but someone lovely was kind enough to share this one with me, and I nearly swallowed it whole. This book is gorgeous, and came out properly last month. The main character… Ugh. He is going to break your heart wide open, and so are the people around him. Just brace yourself now, and then go read this impossible, incredible novel.

bonegap

5. Elizabeth Strout’s Burgess Boys. I loved Olive Kittredge, being a right-thinking person, but I think I maybe liked this one better. It moved differently, and shattered things differently, but the piece of life this book surrounded was both larger and smaller than Olive Kittredge. I am not explaining it well. I loved it a lot. And the Burgess boys themselves… They made my chest hurt.

6. If you are not reading Daniel Jose Older, I am sad for you. First you should read his short story collection, Salsa Nocturna, and then you should get the books he has coming out in 2015 (Half-Resurrection Blues is available now), and THEN you should find his short stories online or wherever, and following that you should read his essays about books, perhaps especially this one about books and justice and life. Or any of his other essays. He is a BFD.

7. Sofia Samatar’s novel A Stranger in Olondria is only one of many reasons to love her writing. The award-winning novel is beautifully written, and the world building is astonishing (the first page is a clinic, really). Setting and character in this book are so good that they work properly to support the story, like a perfect score in a gorgeous film. I recommend Stranger and all of Sofia’s work very, very highly.

8. Anything Anne Ursu ever does, whether it’s her books or her posts about writing, feminism, or anything else. Just read her, please.

10. Everything Ashley Ford ever writes. She posts essays and lists and ideas, and they are all so important and good. Eventually she will have a book and/or take over the world, and I am really excited about that. If you’re not reading her, you’re missing out.

11. Poetry, generally. Poetry is always lovely and important, but 2014 saw the release of some incredible books that I think are incredibly necessary. Louise Gluck won the National Book Award for poetry with the luminous Faithful and Virtuous Night. Jackie Woodson won the NBA for Kid Literature for her extremely beautiful, extremely valuable Brown Girl Dreaming (yes, it’s a memoir, but it’s a memoir in a fluid, mesmerizing verse structure). Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric may have been the most prescient and necessary book of the year. Also, a friend introduced me to the work of Jericho Brown, whose poem “Pause” has one of my favorite final lines ever, and Saeed Jones, whose poetry I love extremely, saw the release of his first major book, Prelude to Bruise (it has been a finalist for some major awards, because Saeed is an astonishing poet). And then of course there were all the other poems I read and loved, and the ones I revisited (perhaps most of all various work by Anne Carson and then Ilya Kaminsky’s “Author’s Prayer”).

Anyway. That seems like enough for now. And I would like to stop noodling around with this and get it POSTED, and then I can go back to being months behind on whatever the next post will be.

Pax, everyone. I hope you are having a wonderful spring.

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