Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gianna's Top Twenty of 2014. Day 1

I will read it!

It’s that dreaded time of year again when we list the best books we claim to have read and loved. For me it tends to be an exercise in humility. I try to come up with plausible reasons why this dumb dumb hasn’t read more, or better, or hipper, or smarter, or you know…without having to sound words out.

This year I am just going to immediately cop to the books I haven’t read that everyone else is putting atop their lists. This way you don’t have to wait until the end of my list to write me and tell me how disappointed you are that I haven’t read the Sarah Waters novel, The Paying Guests. I have every intention of reading it, I swear. I may as well admit I haven’t read The Bone Clocks yet (I know!).
this too!

Station Elven by Emily St. John Mandel. Yes, you loved it and can’t stop talking about it (oh how I wish you’d try). Here’s the thing though, at this point I feel like I am going to be so late to what has turned out to be the best party (well, dystopian party) of the year and maybe I just won’t go. Is it just party anxiety? Similarly I haven’t seen Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. See, I’m the absolute pits.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Sigh. Frankly I don’t feel bad that I haven’t read this; it keeps intact a record that I am pretty proud of. I haven’t read the top NYT Notable book in over one hundred years (or some number close to that), and I like the idea that year after year I blindly keep that record going. I dedicate this miss to my pal, Garland who tried in vain to get me to read this the same week it came out. 

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh. I know, another year has gone by and I have yet to read any books in this riveting young adult series. I picture disappointed ten year-old after disappointed ten year-old being handed this book by clueless grandparents all over the country. It really is the one time a child would prefer underwear or a five-dollar check. Or nothing at all.

In no particular order, here are my first two picks:


This is the one book on my list that I purchased at least partly (mostly) due to the title; Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism by Jennifer Percy.  The only words in a title that will make me reach for a book more quickly than the word “exorcism” is “women’s prison” (again, it’s little things like this admission that I really think make our blog stand out among the other more literary blogs. They seem to have standards and less cursing).

Percy’s book follows Caleb Daniels, a soldier returning from Afghanistan. Caleb was the lone survivor of a helicopter crash, which also took the life of his best friend. His PTSD is severe enough that he believes he is harboring a demon (he names it "The Destroyer," which is absolutely heartbreaking). His trauma brings him to the brink of suicide more than once, but what ultimately saves Caleb is a Christian exorcism.

A couple of things set this book apart from other war books. First, the writing is exquisite; Percy is absolutely gifted. Second, the book is about more than war, as Percy examines faith in America. There are a hundred different ways this book will break your heart. War, the way we as a country are not equipped to help returning soldiers (and what would that look like anyway), the helpless feeling Caleb’s family lives with (and by extension any family of a returning soldier), and the exorcisms themselves can’t be ignored, they too are heartbreaking.


Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014 by Alice Munro was a must have for me this year. As I constantly cull my bookshelves for titles I no longer wish to keep--something I want to pass on to a fellow reader, a book I didn’t care for, or maybe less astute “impulse” purchases during one of my adorable drunk shopping trips to Book People--there's always Alice. My point is, I try to be more mindful of what I keep and Family Furnishings is a keeper.

Alice Munro
We’ve written about Munro a bit on the blog so I won’t drone on again why we love her, or the fact that she has been steadily turning out stunning and important work for decades. And we won’t chastise you for not reading Munro because you don’t “love” short stories (but definitely email us if this is true, because it drives us nuts).  I will tell you that she is arguably the best living storywriter at this moment and these selected stories represent some of her finest work from the past twenty years, and this collection deserves a spot on your shelf next to Oates, Roth, Murakami, or Franzen. Listen: if you continue down this path of ignoring Munro, your life will be empty, you’ll never be happy! Trust me, you’ll find yourself intoxicated at a local bookstore gripping a movie tie-in edition of Twilight making your way to the register, gripping a twenty dollar bill while the slightest bead of sweat builds on your brow with anticipation of what you think is going to be the novel of the century.  You will feel so foolish the next day because everyone, everyone knows, New Moon is the novel of the century. 

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