It’s been a trying year here at Sorry Television. Sidetracked by work—and, let’s be honest, an endless procession of binge-worthy Netflix inventory—I am set to close out 2014 with a mere 32 books under my belt, near enough to bi-weekly that I should probably rebrand as You’re Welcome Television (subtitle: Reading Books Every So Often, Like When the Power Goes Out). I’m already planning redemptive 2015 reading goals (a book a day? a book an hour?) but for the time being I’ll have to accept mediocrity, and foist as much blame as possible on a shorter commute’s ability to stymie even the most dedicated bibliophile.
But I can claim a smidge of productivity this month, which is why I’m Indiana-Jonesing under the content door that is Christmas week to bring you The Irrefutable Best Books of 2014, a master list of this year’s greatest hits, as determined by 21 other “best of”s written by people who have actually read them. Let’s get into it.
In a bit of sheer serendipity, this year’s No. 1 book happens to be the only one I’ve read, in that I’m reading it right now: Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, which appeared on 11 out of the 21 lists surveyed. A gripping novel loosely centered on the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica—which took place two days before a free concert meant to ease political and gang tensions—ABHOSK (or the 40% of it I’ve read so far) is truly stellar; I’m not surprised to see it on The List.
At No. 2 is Lila, the fourth novel from universally beloved author Marilynne Robinson. Years ago, I read and liked/disliked Robinson’s Gilead (which is beautifully written but didn’t resonate with me on an emotional level) and I think the shame of my disinterest—after all, Obama called Gilead one of his favorite books—has kept me away from Robinson ever since. Lila, which is the third book in a loose trilogy that begins with Gilead, seems to cover similar territory as its predecessors: After a hardscrabble upbringing, Lila marries a minister and must find a way to reconcile her past with his generous-but-judgmental Christian worldview. Whether or not I personally struggle with faith, I certainly appreciate that it’s a conflict central to modern times. I’m sure Robinson does it exquisite justice; 10 lists can’t be wrong.
The rest of this year’s crop is a mixed bag, a hodgepodge of styles and genres and subject matters. There’s The Sixth Extinction, a nonfiction “oh shit” moment whose tl;dr is everythingsdyingwerealldead. Just below T6E comes Phil Klay’s Redeployment, a timely collection of stories about soldiers on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan (which also won this year’s National Book Award for fiction). Two books by the inimitable Roxane Gay made the list—her novel, An Untamed State, and essay collection, Bad Feminist,. There’s also Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a quirky graphic memoir from Roz Chast, and On Immunity: An Innoculation, Eula Bliss’s rebuttal to the idea that something controversial (in this case, the anti-vaccine movement) can’t be discussed without name-calling.
Here are the Irrefutable Top 21—books that showed up on at least 5 lists.
Happy reading, nerds.
(PS: Mom, don’t buy any of these until after Christmas!)
*aggregation, data entry, spreadsheets, coffee