2014 kicks off with the promise of cold and snow for many of us, making it the perfect time to just stay indoors and read books. Some of you might want to get caught up on the books you saw featured on the best-of lists that popped up at the end of last year, but the first month of the new calendar also offers a crop of great books. Here are some of the best to pick up now, or risk falling dangerously behind.
A Trip to Echo Springs: On Writers and Drinking, Olivia Laing (Out now, Picador)
Olivia Laing’s exploration into the lives of six of the most well-known literary drunks technically came out on December 31, 2013, but that’s basically January 1, 2014 in our book. A Trip to Echo Springs got a huge, well-deserved boost thanks to a front-page feature on the cover of the New York Times Book Review . Of course, its subject matter (John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and of course Ernest Hemingway) pretty much guaranteed the literary establishment would take notice, but the style in which Laing presents her subjects is earning the book extra acclaim.
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova (January 3, Viking)
We don’t normally go around recommending how-to books — but we couldn’t resist one that explains how we can start thinking like the greatest fictional detective ever. Psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova’s book has been getting rave reviews thanks to its smart look at Sherlock Holmes-style problem solving, but falls just short of making us all look like Benedict Cumberbatch.
Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart (January 7, Random House)
Our favorite Russian-Jewish immigrant tells us his own story in this book that, in true Shteyngart style, delivers equal doses of sweet and sad. The author begins with his early life in Russia, eventually moving on to his days trying to figure out how to break into the writing world, in one of the best literary memoirs you’ll read this year.
Leaving the Sea, Ben Marcus (January 7, Knopf)
When Ben Marcus issues a collection of stories, the literary world quakes. This latest collection, coming off the heels of his 2012 novel The Flame Alphabet, shows why the imaginative Marcus’ uncompromising style has earned him such respect — especially among his colleagues.
Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah (January 7, Sarah Crichton Books)
Ishmael Beah gave us a classic in 2007 with A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Now, one of Africa’s most important contemporary writers returns with this novel about life in postwar Sierra Leone.
Last Train to Paris, Michele Zackheim (January 7, Europa Editions)
For those of you looking for a little more history with your fiction, Michele Zackheim’s riveting novel about an American foreign correspondent in Europe on the eve of the Second World War, and the choices she must make before she flee, is required reading.
Foreign Gods, Inc., Okey Ndibe (January 14, Soho Press)
On the surface, Foreign Gods, Inc. is a heist book about a Nigerian cab driver in New York trying to steal an ancient statue from his village in Nigeria. But Okey Ndibe’s novel delivers far more than that description suggests, tackling everything from tradition to trying to make it in America, and the way Western countries view the rest of the world.
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, Rachel Cantor (January 14, Melville House)
Does it count as a dystopia if fast-food corporations rule the world? As far as we’re concerned, all signs point to “yes” — and Rachel Cantor’s brilliant and often madcap novel, which tosses off plenty of mystical and philosophical nuggets for you to bite down on, is the entire reason we’re imagining a Planet Earth where Papa John’s is in charge.
Shovel Ready, Adam Sternbergh (January 14, Crown)
Speaking of dystopias, Adam Sternbergh comes busting out of the gate with this gritty noir set in a future New York City. Shovel Ready tells the story of Spademan, a futuristic assassin whose crude methods and dark backstory make us think more of a Philip Marlowe than some slick killer for hire.
The Human Comedy, Honoré de Balzac (January 14, NYRB Classics)
We should all be enriching our lives with the seedy and strange characters Balzac created, and that’s why this new publication of The Human Comedy is such a necessary purchase.