The Best Books of 2014

I’m part of a wonderful group of nine women who make weekly reading recommendations–every Wednesday, all year long at Great New Books. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for a good read.

This week, we have our list of the Best Books of 2014. Have you read any? Do you have any to add to our list? Need gift ideas?

Click on the image below to get started!

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Author Road Trip, Day 5 & 6: Bend to Portland

In Bend, Oregon, we stayed with my uncle–the same uncle who has appeared in several of my posts. (Click HERE for one, or the previous sentence for another.)

My husband on my uncle's deck in Bend. He gets to see this view every day.  (This is the same uncle who has appeared in several of my posts.)

My husband on my uncle’s deck in Bend. He gets to see this view every day. I was jealous, too.

With my uncle.

With my uncle

The Deschutes River, Bend

Took a hike along the Deschutes River

We drove north from Bend along Rte. 26.

The pine forests were so magnificent, we pulled off to the side of the road to stare at them.

The pine forests were so magnificent, we pulled off to the side of the road to stare at the trees.

Vineyards in Hood River County, near Mt. Hood

Vineyards in Hood River County, near Mt. Hood

We crossed the Columbia River and drove in Washington for awhile. Despite the rain, the views were magnificent.

We crossed the Columbia River and drove in Washington for awhile. Despite the rain, the views were spectacular.

View of downtown Portland from the Pittock Mansion in the West Hills

View of downtown Portland from the Pittock Mansion in the West Hills

Reading at In Other Words, Portland

Reading at In Other Words. I got to meet some of the other women in The PDXX Collective, a group of feminist writers based in Portland.

Me and my good friend and writer, Melanie Coffee, outside the bookstore

Me and my good friend and writer, Melanie Coffee, outside the bookstore

We made it home Tuesday afternoon, and on Wednesday I traveled two hours away to the lovely town of St. Joseph, Michigan for a reading at Forever Books. It’s a wonderful store; stop in if you ever find yourself in the area.

Me with store owner Robin Allen

Me with store owner Robin Allen

The town is right on Lake Michigan.

St. Joseph is right on Lake Michigan. Sorry for the dirty car window.

Next Wednesday evening, I’ll be in Milwaukee. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you! Click HERE for info.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Photos from the Book Launch

Though The Rooms Are Filled doesn’t officially come out until April 22, the launch party at Barnes & Noble was Wednesday night. It was absolutely wonderful and I am flushed with happiness from the support of family and friends, and their friends who brought more friends. We sold out!

I’m still a bit speechless, so I have absolutely nothing worth reading to say, but wanted to share with you some of that night. The good photos (you’ll tell) were taken by my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Bill Leece, who also introduced me. He had people in tears, they were so moved by his words, as was I. I’m thinking of hiring him to follow me on the road for every reading.

Enjoy!

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Walking in, quite nervous, and my sister makes me take a picture. (I'm glad she did.)

Walking in, quite nervous, and my sister makes me take a picture. (I’m glad she did.)

 

This photo doesn't prove it, but I'm told I seemed comfortable

This photo doesn’t prove it, but I’m told I seemed comfortable

 

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My sister, Katie, sat next to me and offered support

Crowd

 

With Mr. Leece

With my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Bill Leece

 

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The after party with friends and family.

Books I Push on Others

Most people save their Favorite Books of the Year posts for the end of the year, appropriately. But right now it’s Sunday morning and I’m cozied up on the couch with my children, in the glow of a reading lamp; outside, it’s dark gray, chilly, and rainy. This, to me, is fall. And everything about fall makes me want to read and talk books.

I find it harder to lose myself in books like I used to, before I studied the craft in college and grad school, before I’d had enough reading years in me to recognize (what imgresI consider) true skill. For that reason, I’m hesitant to re-read my childhood favorites, like Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, and Red Badge of Courage. These are all classics, so I rest fairly easy that I’d still love them, but I’m not quite sure the risk is worth it. A few years ago, I re-read East of Eden, a book that enthralled me twenty years ago. The second time around, while I still liked it and definitely appreciated it, I thought Steinbeck droned on a bit too much. I simply am not ready to admit that my tastes might have changed with regard to Steinbeck (my first literary boyfriend), and so I will not re-read The Grapes of Wrath.

It’s not the plot I love, usually. A book could be about everything or nothing. It’s the emotion I feel when I’m reading a really good book. Character development, believability, voice, call it what you will. If I make a connection to the book, I’m sold. I’ll tell everyone I know about it, like I did over at Great New Books with The Snow Child, Untouchable, The Best of Youth, and, coming up….well, I’ll wait and let you read my next rec on September 25.

I’ve had other favorites in the last year (I use the term “year” loosely). Here they are, in no particular order, with links to each:

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (okay, in some particular order. I put this first because it came to mind first and it’s the book I’ve told the most people to read this year)

If Jack’s in Love, by Jack Wettaimgres-1

Up From the Blue, by Susan Henderson

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander

Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (I read this about two or three years ago, but just saw it on my Goodreads list and liked it enough that I want to include it here; I’ve been meaning to read more of Waters)

cover-insideSometimes I love a book simply because it’s different, compelling in its writing. A quiet book, about people living their lives. But the writing is gritty, honest, true, and gets at the heart of things. Jim Harrison writes like that. And Denis Johnson. I read their books for the writing. Which is no small thing, by the way. It doesn’t mean there’s no story; there has to be a story. Their writing in particular just makes it so much richer. Besides Johnson’s Train Dreams, this year I read Harrison’s The River Swimmer, which I liked a lot.

I also read Colum McCann for his writing—though he is more epic and sweeping than Harrison and Johnson, but still, for me, it’s the writing with him and less so the story—and even then, it’s less the writing and more McCann’s observations and ponderings on the human condition, and the love for humanity that shines through his stories. He is like Steinbeck in that regard. Smart ones, they. This year, I read McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (good) and Transatlantic (very good).

Right now, I’m in the middle of The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, which may well end up making my Favorites list by the end of this year.

Which books have you told your friends they have to read? Why? Please do let me know.

True Story

True story: I left my laptop in Wales.

I’ll be back soon, hopefully. In the meantime, please check out the newly revamped Great New Books. We’ll share our favorite books one week at a time, plus host guest authors discussing their favorites, and offer giveaways. I have no idea how to create a hyperlink on my phone, so here’s the link: http://www.greatnewbooks.org

If you’re looking for a good book to read (and who isn’t) you’ll want to check it out!