I get excited about bookstores the way some people get excited about food, or vacation, or hell even babies. The minute I walk into one I take a deep breath. Nothing beats the smell of a book, the older the better. In a perfect world I could have a small library in my home with one chair in front of a fireplace. I would never leave, okay I would occasionally leave to eat and shower…perhaps have a conversation or two with actual humans. If your love of books runs as deeply as mine, or if you aren’t much of a reader but would like to dive into it, you can start right here. We got our favorite literary lovers in DC to tell us about the best books of 2014.
Kimberly White, DC Public Library
All the Light We Cannot See is an epically beautiful tome with shifting narrators that follows the lives of an orphan turned German soldier in occupied France and a blind French girl, Marie Laure. It’s imaginative, compelling, and more than just another World War II book. (DC Public Library has it available in print, downloadable eBook, audiobook, and downloadable audiobook formats.)
A young girl’s mysterious death rocks a Chinese-American family in 1970s small town Ohio. How do they cope with the loss of their daughter and what the family didn’t seem to know about her? Character-driven and profound, Ng explores the cultural and relational divisions that distance families and define the meaning of home. (DC Public Library has it available in print and downloadable audiobook formats.)
For some local color, S Street Rising presents a gritty, sometimes violent, account of DC at the height of the crack epidemic. A former Post writer, Castaneda offers up what it was like to cover the crime beat during the Marion Barry era while trying to hide his own crack addiction. (DC Public Library has it available in print.)
Haunting and complex, Station Eleven expertly weaves the stories of five people as they navigate the world after a flu epidemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. Canadian novelist Mandel evokes a timely horror with just the right amount of plausibility. (DC Public Library has it available in print, downloadable eBook, audiobook, and downloadable audiobook formats.)
More serious than Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling but with twice the curse words, Poehler’s memoir is exceptionally witty and engaging. The book chronicles her time with iO and Second City in Chicago, the formation of the Upright Citizens Brigade and her time at Saturday Night Live. Full of empowering yet self-deprecating life advice, it even features an entire chapter on the pros and cons of drug use. (DC Public Library has it available in print, downloadable eBook, and audiobook formats.)
Sarah Baline & Staff, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe
Ben Lerner’s follow-up to his underground hit Leaving the Atocha Station, finds both narrator and creator in a state of advanced maturity. Ruminative and haunting, the novel tackles impending fatherhood, authorship, climate change (in the form of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy), and modern love, Brooklyn style. If this all sounds too heavy, consider this as well: 10:04 contains the single funniest scene involving sperm donation that you will ever read.
The importance of having a son in Afghanistan cannot be understated. In the Underground Girls of Kabul, journalist Jenny Nordberg introduces the largely undocumented practice of “bacha posh”, where young girls are dressed like and live at boys. This fascinating and often heartbreaking book opens a window into the impossibly difficult lives of Afghan women.
Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE was published in 2013 but the follow-up in her Imperial Radch series, ANCILLARY SWORD, came out this year so we’re counting them as one. The protagonist of the series is Breq, who was once a warship but now inhabits a single, fragile human body. Her quest for vengeance in the first novel turns into something much bigger in the second, and with the fate of the entire empire hanging in the balance we eagerly await the third installment. Leckie’s space opera is sci-fi of the highest order.
Jake’s sheep are disappearing one by one. Reminiscent of a 19th century Gothic novel (moors, wolves, mysterious strangers appearing at the door in the middle of the night), Evie Wyld creates an eerie landscape where everyone is suspect. Who knew a sheep station could be so creepy?