Flavorwire Staffers’ Favorite Books of 2014


We’ve already published our official lists of the best novels, poetry books, and nonfiction books of 2014. Not everything that stuck with Flavorwire’s writers made it onto those lists, though — which is why we’ve collected our personal favorite reads of the year for your perusal. From Hollywood histories to graphic memoirs, here’s what the Flavorwire staff couldn’t put down in the last 12 months.

Adam, by Ariel Schrag

I don’t have a favorite book of 2014. I read so many different kinds of stories this year, and no clear frontrunner emerged. Hey, it happens. So I’ll go with the one that surprised me the most — not because, as a reader of the comics she wrote in high school, I doubted Schrag’s talent, but because post-binary sexual orientations and gender identities are such ambitious issues to tackle in a book meant to be accessible to teenagers. Adam doesn’t just pull it off; it makes the whole mess funny, without sacrificing any of the complexity. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Tomboy, by Liz Prince

Liz Prince has always been one of my favorite artists, so when I heard she was releasing a graphic memoir, I immediately snatched it up and read it obsessively — twice in a row without stopping. It’s honest, it’s funny, and it’s so eerily relatable that most of it is like looking in an angsty, punk, tomboy mirror. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a book of poetry as formally elegant as T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and as painful and correct as the writing of James Baldwin, is the best book of the last several years. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, by Will Chancellor

In a year filled with some wonderful fiction debuts, I loved the sheer ambitious energy and weirdness of this one, which also had the scope and heftiness of a dog-eared John Irving paperback. A young man, Owen, bound for the Olympics in water polo, loses his eye and runs away to Berlin. From there, the story takes off to tackle themes of fathers and sons and the very nature of art itself, as rich with intelligent allusions and references to heady, beautiful ideas as your average Gilmore Girls episode is laden with obscure pop culture references fit for a Catskills comedian. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, by William J. Mann

I wrote about it at length here, but no book this year gave me more pleasure than William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood — nor did I read anything that painted as evocative a picture of an era that I’m fascinated by and thought I knew all about. Mann entertainingly combines the film-history text and the true-crime page-turner, resulting in something like James Ellroy by way of David Thomson. The focus is the still-unsolved (though Mann posits a credible theory) murder of actor/director William Desmond Taylor, but Mann uses that story as a prism through which to view a film industry in flux, as the wild free-for-all of Hollywood’s early days builds toward the PR-savvy machine that it became (and, in many ways, remains). A great read, and not just for movie freaks — though they won’t want to miss it. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill’s second novel consists of evocative bursts of prose that require self-assembly. Its common subject matter — a marriage failing in slow motion — benefits from this aesthetic choice that weaves together stray thoughts, events, and conversations with those outside the relationship. The way Offill tells the story is specific in its more crucial moments, but uniformly nondescript throughout; this could be anyone’s once-shimmering love and beautiful baby daughter. I’m simply obsessed with the way she puts together her prose, obscuring and changing angles until the full picture comes into view. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, by Courtney Maum

An adultery novel set in Paris featuring a British man, his French wife, and his American mistress. It begins right after the mistress has thrown our protagonist over, and he’s pining. Throw in an antiwar art installation that is his attempt to win his wife back, a family house in Brittany, and a trip home to the English suburbs, and you have a delicious read that also has a lot to say about contemporary marriage. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

Sadly, a good chunk of my reading in 2014 was spent catching up with books I should have read in 2013 (here’s to you, Flamethrowers!) But when I heard enough rants and raves about The Empathy Exams, I knew I had to make time for this essay collection in which Jamison applies an endlessly flexible question — How do we relate to the pain of others? — to situations from working as a mock patient for doctors-in-training to watching her brother attempt an ultramarathon. The result, while uneven, is an ideal stocking stuffer for your friend who still doesn’t think personal writing can be “real” literature. — Alison Herman, Editorial Assistant

Things to Do With Your Mouth, by Divya Victor

Victor did a great interview that explained some of the ideas behind the work:

During the late Middle Ages, German-Jewish women who were accused of witchcraft and of eating children were hunted and executed by vigilantes who were afraid that their flesh would be devoured by women with excessive powers of speech and discourse. Before executing these women, the murdering fearful (“faithful”) would allow the accused woman to atone for her chatty, witchy, baby-eating ways if she told them a way to stop her dead comrades from eating flesh from their graves. The fear was that these women continued to have the use of their mouths even after they died. So, one accused woman suggested that they fill the corpse’s mouth with gravel as it laid in its grave. Another woman suggested that they drive a stake through the coffin, right through the corpse’s open maw, until it pierced the skull and went through, pinning the woman to the earth. The fear of speaking women obviously has a very long history, but the resourcefulness that we’ve shown in silencing these women has not always been as metaphorical as it is now. Fleshy solutions were it. So, for poetry today to approach its feminist purpose, it must address the vocalizing and silenced mouth — it must reorganize the work of this opening. I therefore wanted to make a book that did this to the most minimal degree. The work of this book of poetry is to repeat, recant, and endlessly say again what has already been said. Because it can. Because it doesn’t mind being a corpse with a mouth full of gravel.

— Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, by Patricia Lockwood

This is not a perfect collection of poetry, but it’s not trying to be. But, the point is: it’s trying. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses. “Rape Joke,” the piece that put Lockwood on the map of the mainstream, is an indisputable powerhouse of a poem, maybe more for its timely heft than for its actual quality, but still. This book is a force, and with a poem like “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” it’s a sickly fun one. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice

Prelude to Bruise, by Saeed Jones

In his collection of poetry tied together by the narrative of Boy, Saeed Jones examines the connotations of the word “Boy” as it relates to both race and sexuality. While elucidating a world of bigotry, violence, exploitation, and desire around the simple, monosyllabic word, he traces the character’s journey through the thicket of people’s projections, bringing him from boyhood to adulthood as Boy slowly begins to slash away at the identities other people want him to assume. This is the type of book that merits clichéd hyperbole: because it will actually “leave you floored,” “feeling naked” (together, that’s almost a Natalie Imbruglia lyric!), and “gasping for breath.” — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor