25 Great Books You Might Have Missed in 2014


The end of the year is approaching and you’re looking for a little extra present: a stocking stuffer? A Secret Santa gift? Or perhaps you just want to read off the beaten track? Regardless of your reason for book-consumption, here is a roundup some of our personal favorites, some titles that you might not find on the big end-of-year lists but which we think you should absolutely check out anyway — whether they’re from indie presses, or they cover taboo topics, or they’re a cookbook in a novel-saturated world.

Doll Palace, Sara Lippman

Lippman’s debut collection is all brutally observed short stories that put new twists on families falling apart and coming back together. — Sarah Seltzer

The Pat Boone Fan Club, Sue William Silverman

The fearless Jewish memoirist muses on identity, tracing her obsession with squeaky-clean pop icon Pat Boone as an escape from childhood abuse. — Sarah Seltzer

You Feel So Mortal, Peggy Shinner

A stunning essay collection of pieces “on the body” that use jumping-off topics like noses and feet to wander through the realms of family, mortality, and social identity. — Sarah Seltzer

Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, Maya Schenwar

Our prison and justice systems have failed us, Schenwar argues in a late-year release that is particularly relevant at this moment of national protest against state violence. — Sarah Seltzer

Playing the Whore, Melissa Gira Grant

Grant has written an important reconsideration of sex work and the politics around it. — Sarah Seltzer

The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert

A domestic, feminist speculative tour-de-force with a unique structure and style. (Rickert shared her ideas about gender and genre with Flavorwire this past summer.) — Sarah Seltzer

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, Masha Gessen

Masha Gessen, a journalist you should always pay attention to, details the lives and politics of the young women who played a punk song in a church and sparked international headlines and outrage. — Elisabeth Donnelly

The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, Joel Beckerman, Tyler Gray

A fascinating look at how sound can be used for emotional manipulation in the most capitalist way of all: to serve the brands that need our money. — Elisabeth Donnelly

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, Dan Barber

It’s absolutely unfair that Stone Barns chef Dan Barber is as good of a writer as he is a chef (and he is a very good chef). He’s put onto paper his curiosity about where food comes from around the world, writing nimbly about what our meals will look like in the future. — Elisabeth Donnelly

The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks, Illustrated by Canaan White

Using White’s brutal, visceral imagery, World War Z genius Brooks shows us how real life heroes the Harlem Hellfighters — a pioneering, all-black regiment in WWI — succeeded against ridiculous, awful, racist odds. Still resonant today. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East, Nathan Deuel

Duel went to the Middle East with his wife, a foreign correspondent, and while she reported on the front lines of international strife, he took care of their daughter. A truly unique memoir about family and strife in extraordinary times. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes From New York’s Most Creative Bakery, Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga

A heavenly little bakery in Brooklyn, Ovenly makes — a rarity! — amazing gluten-free treats out of beautifully simple ingredients. The bulk of the book is deliciously devoted to flour, however. All are yummy. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Ever Yrs, Nance Van Winckel

A boundary-pushing novel in the form of a family scrapbook. Hybrid fiction is the best. — Sarah Seltzer

A Cup of Water Under My Bed, Daisy Hernandez

Herndandez’ widely-praised memoir covers her family background and her own journey towards understanding her immigrant family’s istory and her own gender and sexuality. Bonus: the section her time at the Times is an extremely pertinent discussion of race and journalism. — Sarah Seltzer

You Were Meant for Me, Yona Zeldis McDonough

A foundling tale for our times: woman finds abandoned baby on subway platform. Heartbreak and, of course, affirmation ensue. — Sarah Seltzer

Street of Thieves, Mathias Énard, trans. Charlotte Mandell

The follow-up to Énard’s Zone, now widely considered a great novel; this one is, I would argue, equally as great. In fact, it covers its terrain — from Occupy to the Arab Spring — so painfully well that for 265 pages I couldn’t remember another novel. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Tales of Two Cities, ed. John Freeman

There are a lot of recent attempts to cross section the vicissitudes of life in New York City in an essay collection. This is the best of them, and, perhaps, the only one that succeeds. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Critique of Everyday Life, Henri Lefebvre

If you care at all about the rhythms with which you in live in the space in which you live them, then buy this box set released from Verso Books this year. This is one of the smartest books of the 20th century, if you believe in such a thing. — Jonathon Sturgeon

E! Entertainment, Kate Durbin

There is something slyly ingenious about this book from Kate Durbin. It is one of the most sophisticated renderings of the constantly fluctuating neutral state between cinematic documentation and unreality that I’ve ever encountered in a book. Durbin, like Nathaniel West, seems to have translated American fantasy life into an enthralling, neutral dream state. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Texas: The Great Theft, Carmen Boullosa, trans. Samantha Schnee

This tense, fantastic border novel, which covers the Cortina Troubles, or the 1859 invasion of the United States by Mexico, is the first book from the deeply promising publishing house Deep Vellum. I should add that Roberto Bolaño considered Boullosa that greatest Mexican woman author. — Jonathon Sturgeon

The Fun We’ve Had / The Face of Any Other, Michael J Seidlinger

I’ve only recently discovered the writing of Michael J Seidlinger, whose work is beginning to remind me of a kind of 21st century David Markson. He’s prolific and talented and we should all read together to try to figure him out. — Jonathon Sturgeon

The Interior Circuit, Francisco Goldman

Francisco Goldman, whom I never read before this year, has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary authors. This great work of literary nonfiction begins after the tragic death of its author’s wife and moves forward as a variegated chronicle of Mexico City. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Tristana, Benito Pérez Galdós, trans. Margaret Jull Costa

This novel is the basis for the film Tristana by Luis Buñuel, which is, as you might know a masterpiece. The book, which details the sexual predations of a man named Don Lope, is at once elegant, humorous, and disturbing. — Jonathon Sturgeon

The Temple of Iconoclasts, J. Roldolfo Wilcock, trans. Lawrence Venuti

I cannot believe that I’d never heard of this irreverent masterpiece until this year. Like another one of my favorite books of the year, The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure, this book is a series of fictional biographies of insane iconoclasts. Only this book was originally published in 1981 and republished this October. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Ardor, Roberto Calasso, trans. Richard Dixon

A brilliant, fascinating, and idiosyncratic (so, literary) reading of the Vedas by a singular critic. This book will reshape your understanding of Western truths by swiftly rendering them untruths. — Jonathon Sturgeon