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totally top five 2k14: books

I love reading. Reading is my favorite. But I never read as much as I want to, partially because I get lazy, but mostly because no amount of reading will ever actually be enough for me. More books, always more books.

5. Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein

I really loved Moonwalking with Einstein, which was actually kind of surprising since I didn’t realize it was memoir/non-fiction when I bought it. Because even though I love to read, maybe my reading comprehension isn’t great?

It was funny and fascinating and easy to read and full of the kind of inane trivia that I really love. I like Foer’s voice and the weird characters/champions available to him on the memory circuit. I liked that even as the methods worked for him, he remained skeptical and self-deprecating and that even though he thought it was goofy, he grew to respect and admire the competitors. I love the anecdotes about historically well-memoried individuals!

Most of all, I know I liked the book because I do a lot of my reading at the gym and I kept pulling my headphone out to lean over and tell my girlfriend about all the fascinating things I was learning. That’s a good book.

Also! I can still do a decent job of recalling the first list of items he learns even now, months later1, which is amazing if not utterly useless.

4. Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette was the first book I thought of when I started making this list and I distinctly remembering being about halfway through reading it and thinking, “OH, this is totally going in the Totally Top Five.” And it being at number four on the list is really only a sign of how much I loved the things I read this year. Love on top of love on top of love.

The narration is great and the story being structured around documents (emails, etc.) made it feel really fresh and exciting. It had an actual plot! That was engaging! And surprising! And complex, likable characters who I really wanted to spend time with. I don’t know that you’re necessarily supposed to like Bernadette, but I love her and I empathize with her and I kind of want to know her. At least for a little while. I’m not sure that Bee is straight likable either, but you watch her grow and you in turn grow to love her even with her faults. Magic.

Sharp writing, a real story, and characters you care about? Amazing.

3. Libba Bray, The Diviners

I don’t remember a lot about The Diviners to be honest. I read it really quickly, over the course of maybe two days, because I absolutely could not put it down. The world was engrossing, the characters flawed but engaging, the plot well-timed, and the mythos built carefully and casually without running into overly long passages of description and exposition. It had a nice, solid resolution despite being the first in a series and it made me want to read more of the world, rather than just leaving me with a million unanswered questions.2

Evie is complicated and she can be annoying and frustrating, but somehow Bray manages to keep her from falling irretrievably from favor and just lets her hover around, figuring out who she is and you end up liking her more than you expect for it. Secondary and tertiary characters can be a little weak, but with Evie so powerfully centered at the heart, that’s not really all that bad.

The Diviners is a coming of age story with a bunch of gory supernatural stuff happening in and around it and it rules.

2. Gavin Extence, The Universe VS Alex Woods

I cried so much reading The Universe VS Alex Woods and I loved it, both the crying and the book. It’s smart and it’s painful and it’s frustrating and funny and it deals with a topic I have never, ever seen addressed by a young adult novel before and it deals with it deftly and honestly without ever veering away from its humanity into an “issues story.”

It reminded me in voice — in all the best ways — of King Dork and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl except it’s smarter than King Dork and more empathetic than Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Alex Woods is a good person and a wonderful narrator. Alex Woods is smart and kind and never particularly condescending. Kids have so much to learn from Alex Woods. Adults too. Alex Woods is a little bit my hero.

1. Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

I loved The Raven Boys. I loved it in a way I haven’t loved something in a long, long time. A long time. It is so lovingly written and so well-plotted and just wonderful to read. Maggie Stiefvater understands and exploits the female gaze like I have never, ever seen a writer manage before. Her descriptions of the boys are tender and beautiful and she manages to make Blue soft and unique without ever making her weak or “not like other girls”3 which is a huge relief.

I liked that it carefully walked the line between otherworldly and realistic, that it felt like I was really experiencing something new as I got deeper into the story, that I was compelled by not only the solid plot, but the rich inner lives of characters I really liked and cared about.

I haven’t read the next book in the series yet — because I am lazy — but I am so looking forward to its turn coming up on my reading list this year. I can’t wait to see the weirdness that’ll come from the story as the magic and mythos starts to really take shape and come to life.


Honorable Mentions


1. Mostly I just like picturing my girlfriend in a giant tub of cottage cheese and that’s what really counts, right?

2. Looking at you, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

3. Okay, I will be TOTALLY honest and say that this is a very fine line, but I think Blue manages to stay unique without entering MPDG territory because 1. She was created by a woman, and 2. She is so damn likable.


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  • ok added all of those that i haven’t read yet to my list. i was going to do a top five of mine from last year but couldn’t narrow it down.

    • ash

      yaaaaay!! i always love your book recs so much!! i’m going to do favorites posts this year so i can talk about my favorite book each month, since i always have such a hard time narrowing it down at the end of the year, haha