I’ve always wanted to make a top 10 list. So why not? Let’s do it. I was going to save this for my last post of 2014, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one more Let’s Talk Books segment before the year is over, and since I’m fairly certain my last book to read this year isn’t going to make the top 10, I don’t see why I can’t present this one week earlier. (Ha. Present. Christmas is this week. That’s funny to me.)
First, I want to say this list does not contain books solely released this year, so if anyone has stumbled upon this post looking for the top 10 books released in 2014, well then I’m sorry, but this isn’t that list. It’s just a top 10 list from books I’ve personally read this year.
I wanted to make a couple of rules or else this list would have been a little unfair. I’m only choosing one book per author and one book per series. Also, there are a lot of things that went into consideration for this list, including my preference in writing style, originality, and how memorable it was for me. I tried not to let my own bias influence what was placed where on this list, but I’m not perfect, so take this with a grain of salt if needed. Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, there might be spoilers.
Well enough talking, let’s do this.
#10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I was a little surprised to see this sneak up on the list. I’ve liked the Harry Potter series since elementary or middle school, but I was never in love with it like most of the fans I know. I had a decent grasp on the overall plot and main characters, but I’d forgotten so many details. It was obvious that it’s been a while since I experienced anything Harry Potter-related, so over the summer I finally started giving the series a long-overdue reread. And while I really enjoyed getting into this universe again from the beginning, my feelings for the series remained the same: I like it, but I’m not in love with it.
That being said, I was really happy to discover just how much I loved the fourth book in the series. I always remembered this one being my favorite, and now I have a good reason why. There are major turning points in this book: Voldemort’s finally been resurrected, Ron and Hermione’s feelings start to become more complicated, Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world are starting to reveal more of their weaknesses and secrets to the readers, and I feel like Cedric’s death is what causes Harry to actually see what a threat Voldemort is, as opposed to hearing everyone else say what a threat he is. The entire last part of the book is intense, and while I’d agree that Voldemort drops a shit ton of exposition, it contains info that I’d waited almost four books to find out about.
The first three books, while having an overarching plot of preventing Voldemort from returning, always had their own separate plots that began and ended within their respective parts. The Goblet of Fire is, at least in my opinion, when Harry Potter starts becoming a little more mature, both in its subject matter and writing style, as well as starting something that doesn’t end when the last chapter is over, let alone end positively.
Unfortunately, I haven’t finished rereading the rest of the series yet, so it might be premature to say this is still my favorite of the series. But compared to the other three (especially Prisoner of Azkaban, which honestly felt a little underwhelming), Goblet of Fire definitely stood out the most in the series.
#9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This was the book I did my first Let’s Talk Books segment on, so I guess it’s not surprising it made the list. Since I already talked so much about it, I’ll try to keep this short, but if you want to know more you can read what I wrote on it here.
This year was my first time reading this book since I was in high school, and not only did I still like it, I enjoyed it even more. I wasn’t exactly the smartest guy when I read it the first time, so maybe it was good I grew up a little and learned better literary analysis skills in college before coming back to this one.
Aside from what I already wrote about it, there’s not much more to say. As someone that still feels lost and burdened by what society labels as “normal,” there was a lot in this book I could relate to. McMurphy’s an extremely entertaining character, the descriptions of the Combine are very strong, and although it’s more likely I’d view the movie again before reading the book (it’s faster to rewatch a movie than reread a book, after all), there’s an extremely satisfying charm to seeing the world through the Chief’s point of view, which the movie fails to show. It makes the ending a lot more satisfying, too; seeing the Chief break free after spending so much time reliving his memories and struggles makes the escape seem well deserved, even a personal achievement.
I can’t say much more. It’s a really good book that I feel still stands strong today.
#8. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King
I picked up this book a couple of years ago as an impulse buy. Something about the cover really drew me in. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it, but never underestimate the power of a well-made one. It’s certainly more interesting than the bland, giant text some authors use to broadcast their names and titles.
Of course, I wouldn’t have bought it if the book didn’t sound interesting. And thankfully, it was. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is about a dysfunctional family (already a plus for me) that mostly centers around Bill Warrington, a grumpy, unlikable old man whose actions keep pushing his family away, and his granddaughter April, a teenager who dreams of becoming a musician and wants to get the hell away from her mother. Each chapter focuses on one character’s point of view (another plus for me), but I forgot there are also April’s mother and uncles’ perspectives, as well. I always remembered the book being just about Bill and April, so it was nice to see a varied amount of voices spread throughout the novel.
Bill and April end up taking a cross-country trip with the rest of the family following after, and I guess you can say there’s a lot of coming-of-age, maturing, and self-reflecting themes throughout the book. The book has some mature elements to it, but it never goes too hardcore or anything. It’s not like it’s a family that has physically abused drugs and each other, but I feel like it does a good enough job to capture the realization of how distant and hurt people can become due to a moderate amount of dysfunction many families can produce. In that way, I feel like it’s relatable to many people, but not so intense that it would stand out for all of them.
Still, there’s something about this book I really like, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because we get to see everyone’s story play out; they all seem simple at first but then develop a pretty decent level of complexity I honestly didn’t see coming. Maybe it’s the familiar themes of family dysfunction I can relate to. Maybe it’s all the different POVs and how well they work together. Maybe it’s the pacing. I honestly don’t know. But something about it grew on me over the years, and when I reread it in the spring I couldn’t help but love it all over again. It’s definitely something I would at least recommend borrowing from the library, as I’m not sure a lot of people would love it the way I do. But it still earns a spot on my top 10 list.
#7. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Another book I did a Let’s Talk Books post on (don’t be surprised if this is a thing with this list), so again, I’ll try not to repeat myself. You can read it here if you want more details.
I read Fight Club for the first time last year, and it instantly became one of my favorite books. So when I got a Barnes and Noble gift card last Christmas, one of the first books I went out and bought was something else by Chuck Palahniuk. I picked up Survivor, and it was one of the first books I read this year.
As a writer, there were a lot of aspects to this novel that I liked. The pacing, the many detailed descriptions of how seemingly random things work, Fertility Hollis, how the chapters and pages counted down; everything about the writing style seemed very different from what I was used to reading, and I think it worked out very well. It reminded me of my experimental writing workshops from college, and made me happy to see a published novel that took risks I don’t think many readers could appreciate.
If I get another gift card to Barnes and Noble from someone, I’m definitely going to check out another book by Chuck Palahniuk. Survivor definitely made me want to check out more of his work.
#6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
No. No. No no no no no no.
Why. How. You’ve read my rants about this book, right? How is it even possible this book worked its way into my top 10, let alone this high?
Well, I have no clue. But as I was assembling the books for this list, I couldn’t help but feel I remembered The Fault in Our Stars almost better than any other book. This is where some bias may come in; the time when I was involved with this story was a really shit time in my life, so maybe that’s why it always seems to come to mind when I reflect back on 2014.
But even so, wouldn’t a shit time make this book rank even lower, if at all? Well, yeah. So there has to be something else besides it being memorable for unpleasant reasons.
Well, there’s Hazel and Augustus. They’re easily my two most hated characters of 2014.
Hmm. Doesn’t really help explain why this book is #6.
Well, I’ll be honest: in terms of writing style and originality, I can’t give The Fault in Our Stars much credit. But all of its shortcomings aside, and as much as I hated the two main characters, I still liked the book (liked it enough to read it twice, apparently). It may not make much sense, but… well, in some weird, creepy way, I guess I warmed up to the book sometime during my rage-fueled yelling sessions as Augustus said something disgustingly corny. And, well… like it or not, it is extremely memorable. And I don’t want to admit that, because every previous book on this list is technically better than The Fault in Our Stars on my radar. But well… I don’t know! I just remember this book most of all, and I have to give the book credit for that. It must have done something right that I can’t quite grasp at the moment. Perhaps a retrospective should be in order sometime in the future.
#5. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
Although a couple of other people have been threatening his position lately, I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Moore is my favorite author. He’s the man that got me back into reading, he’s influenced some of my own writing, and he presents a brand of humor in such a way that only he can. And I even had the opportunity to meet him this year when his new book was released! Too bad it was during the before-mentioned shit time. It’s a very weird feeling to have one of the best and worst times of your life intertwine simultaneously.
That being said, The Serpent of Venice also has some bias as being read during such an important time in my life, let alone this year, so it’s memorable factor is naturally going to be high. But it’s also really good, which is why it places so high on the list. The Serpent of Venice is the sequel to Fool, a wonderfully humorous retelling of King Lear from the fool’s perspective. The fool, Pocket, returns as the main character in this book, which retells Othello and The Merchant of Venice, as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado (unlike Fool, I haven’t read any of the works The Serpent of Venice is based on, so I can’t personally say how much of each work is represented in the book).
If you liked Fool, you’ll probably enjoy The Serpent of Venice just as much, if not more. Pocket is such an enjoyable character, and it’s always entertaining to see him take advantage of his role as jester to openly make fun of and criticize every major villain in the plot. The only bad thing I have to say about it is, without spoiling too much, everything Pocket worked to achieve in Fool is practically thrown away. But since the book works so well on its own, as well as the fact that it was extremely hard to put down once I got into it, I’m proud to say it deserves its place on this list.
#4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I know this might piss a lot of people off, but tough. The Catcher in the Rye is still a good book and one of my favorites. I just did a Let’s Talk Books about it, so go read that if you want more details about why this book has such a connection with me. But short and to the point, I love the train-of-thought narration. I love what a flawed character Holden Caulfield is. I love the commentary he feels the need to express on everything. I love how I don’t feel alone when I read this book.
Both personal preference and the quality of the writing style earn major points with me. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t been said already. It’s a great classic that I hope to always enjoy revisiting.
#3. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
This is definitely one of the most memorable books I read this year. Once again, I went over it in a Let’s Talk Books post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is pretty much exactly how it sounds; the main character is an imaginary friend and must find his kidnapped real friend. It’s a good story, although a little predictable at times, but I still thought it was a fun and unique read.
Of course, what really won me over was the rules established by the author for how imaginary friends can behave. You’d think they can just appear and reappear at their creators’ will, but no. These imaginary friends live their own lives outside their creators. And they’re only as capable as their creators imagine them to be. For example, a young child may not grasp the concept of an imaginary friend moving through doors, so if one gets trapped in a closet, the imaginary friend’s life is at risk. The child may forget about him and never come back, and by the time the closet door is opened again, the friend will have disappeared.
There are lots of rules like this peppered throughout the book, and it makes even the smallest tasks seem surprisingly intense. It’s definitely worth picking up the next time you’re at the book store.
#2. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Ah, Nick Hornby. He’s the only fiction author my sister reads, and I finally decided to see what he’s all about. She let me borrow four of his books over the year, and I’m pretty sure three of them were going to go in my top 10 if I didn’t limit one book per author. It was a close call between this and High Fidelity; I loved them both almost equally, but High Fidelity’s ending really let me down, so I’m going with A Long Way Down.
I read this during the middle of a pretty bad depression, and in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best idea; it’s about four different people who run into each other as they’re each about to kill themselves. They all resolve to put that on hold for a predetermined amount of time, and even though they don’t like each other, they end up helping each other move past their depression and issues.
The fact that none of them really like each other (in addition to being told from each of their points of view) makes the entire book really interesting when it could have been easily predictable or cheesy. I can’t even say they like each other by the end, but that aspect makes them all have an interesting relationship with each other that I don’t think even they understand. It’s like they’re all on their own personal paths to something, and the others are there for company and some degree of support, and that’s it. But the fact is, they all have depression and suicidal thoughts in common, and that alone forms a weird bond between them.
Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Catcher in the Rye, there’s a lot of stuff in this book that clicks with me. There were so many quotes and passages I felt I could relate to that I started keeping a Word document of book quotes. You could say that about all of the Nick Hornby books I read this year, actually. There’s something about his style that hits pretty close to home.
I know the premise sounds depressing (and I won’t lie, it is), but there’s also a good deal of humor mixed in as well. It’s definitely an interesting read, and something I’d recommend checking out at some point.
#1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
You know how much I loved this book. You must have known it was going to show up on here somewhere, maybe even predicted it was going to be #1. I think even when I was considering a top 10 list, I knew it was going to be #1. I tried justifying how that wasn’t fair, because it’s not written like a traditional book and how it’s a collection of short stories and illustrations from a blog, so it should be in its own separate category, but I couldn’t do it. Hyperbole and a Half was my favorite book I read this year.
This book made me laugh the whole way through. Like, laughing out loud, had to put the book down because I was in tears laughing. As a 20-something-year-old, I felt like there was so much I could relate to in this book, which happens to be written by another 20-something-year-old. Allie Brosh recounts a number of funny, exaggerated stories from her life that bring a smile on my face by just thinking about them. The fact that she can openly talk about her anxiety and depression issues through her stories, as well as being brave enough to poke fun at them, is also a major plus in my book.
She combines narrative and intentionally crude drawings for an amazing story-telling experience that couldn’t be achieved by using just one or the other. Coming from a writer, this may not make much sense, but no matter how good you are with words, I’ve always believed that sometimes a picture can just get something across much more effectively. This is something Allie Brosh seems to understand, and she takes full advantage of it in her book. She’s actually inspired me to start incorporating some art of my own into different projects, and hopefully I can focus enough to make that happen next year.
Well, there you go. My top 10 books of 2014. This was actually harder to make than I thought it would be, so if you’re still reading, thanks. If you have any Christmas money you’re looking to spend (or if you need to make a last minute gift purchase for someone that may like these books), give one of these a try. And if you want, let me know some of your favorite books you’ve read this year. Merry Christmas! 🙂