Adroit’s Best Books of 2014

Nothing is better than waiting for a book release and finally taking a trip down to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book the second it’s on the shelf – we just cannot trust Amazon Prime’s shipping policies with matters as important as reading new books.

Whether we counted down the days for a book to come out, or just stumbled upon it during the year, the Adroit Blog Staff lived up to that New Year’s Resolution of actually making time to read. Here we have an assorted mishmash of our favorite books of 2014, including everything from bone-chilling poetry to short stories in The New Yorker to The Princess Bride.

Alexa Derman, Managing Editor
Bark by Lorrie Moore

Admittedly, if you had asked me in 2013 what my favorite book was going to be in 2014, I probably would’ve said Bark. I’d been waiting for the collection, Moore’s first in fifteen years, for quite some time. Lo and behold, the hardcover I pre-ordered months in advance did not disappoint. At turns acerbic and earnest, Moore’s prose is above all else honest. Maybe that’s why some of the pieces included in this collection are so troubling – they prize honesty first, forfeiting contrived endings and conventionally likable characters for the sake of authenticity. If the people who populate Bark wouldn’t be a reader’s first choice for friends, it’s because they’re (perhaps too) real.

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Amanda’s “Bad Feminist” costume, alongside “Cat” and “Overzealous College Freshman”

Let’s start by saying that I loved this book enough that I kept an extremely close eye on the web-o-sphere the week when Roxane Gay was giving away free Bad Femnist t-shirts on Twitter. Like the social media superstar I am, I managed to snag the t-shirt – score! I also loved the book so much that I was “Bad Feminist” for Halloween. Okay, maybe that costume was just borne out of necessity, because it’s really challenging to create a Halloween costume in a dorm room, and I thought the shirt would look awesome with fishnets and leather. But my Twitter expertise and Halloween costume are aside from the point. The fishnets and leather are also aside from the point.

The point is that Roxane Gay’s essay collection is hilarious, thought-provoking, informative, and tear-jerking all at once. It’s varied and diverse, like the practice of feminism. Gay can write about experiences with sexual assault, competitive scrabble, and Fifty Shades of Grey – and it all blends together with ease.

In the essay “I Was Once Miss America,” Gay writes, “There is nothing more desperate and unrequited than the love an unpopular girl nurtures for the cool kids.” But in the literary world, Roxane Gay sits at the cool table and eats her school cafeteria lunch with grace. Bad Feminist is more than just a cultural studies book. It’s a Roxane Gay book. As a reader, I should probably care more about the implications of white-washed beauty pageants and racial tensions than Roxane Gay’s middle school experiences. But what makes Roxane Gay such a great writer is that when you’re reading her essays, her anecdotes weave seamlessly around dire commentary to the point that you become convinced that Gay’s scrabble tactics are a serious social issue.

Talin TahajianPoetry Editor
Crystal Eaters by Shane Jones

This book is difficult to explain. I’m going to start with a disclaimer that I’m very biased toward Shane Jones because I think he’s pretty much a crazy god with a literary mind so absolutely bizarre that it must be holy. (I discovered Light Boxes in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble four years ago and it changed my life—and the way I think about writing—for the better.) Essentially, Crystal Eaters is the text version of that weird time after midnight when you’re scared to look at the clock and are pretty sure it’s only about 1:30 a.m. but really it’s nearly 4:00 in the morning. The narrative loosely follows Remy, a child who lives in a world where the length of your life is dictated by the number of crystals inside you, as she discovers beautiful and terrible shit about people, the universe, drugs, death, daughterhood, illness, what it means to be alive. Its constant stream of vivid imagery has the same kind of beauty as that guy with a lot of multicolored tattoos and a black septum barbell ring who takes the Red Line into Boston on Monday mornings. If you enjoy Crystal Eaters, which you will, you may also enjoy the following unofficially related products, all of which also premiered in 2014:

–       iPhone app: Monument Valley
–       Electronica album: How to Run Away by Slow Magic
–       Remix of an alternative rock song: “Last Train” (Dactyl Remix) by Dawn Golden
–       Literary magazine issue: Columbia Poetry Review (Issue No. 27, Spring 2014)
–       Tweet by a poet: “The more you try to convince me I’m not dead the more I am dead.” (@MathiasSvalina, 19 October 2014)

Lucia Lotempio, Poetry Reader
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s second collection is brilliant. I will shout it from high-up open windows—dammit, it is brilliant. She pushes every image, every metaphor to the edge of the poems—I was constantly amazed at how effectively she stretches her metaphors and how complex each conceit was. The way she talks about sex and gender is sharp and invigorating. She uses the obscene and the absurd to expound on gender theory and the murky exactness of how gender is performed and perceived. And she uses absurdity with such skill: each exaggeration is purposeful, each ridiculous moment is with motive, and each poemscape is bright as it is intricate. What really drew me in to this collection were her titles. From the opening “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth” to “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” to “Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness,” Lockwood just nails it.  Must read poem: “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”—you’ll get the D.L. on what Dickinson’s and Whitman’s (the Father and Mother of American poetry respectively—yes, you read that correctly) real contributions to American poetry were (hint: it’s mostly tit-pics).  

Ariella Carmell, Blog Correspondent
As You Wish Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

I must confess that I only read one 2014 release this year, so by the transitive property my favorite book of 2014 was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes (who plays Westley, the usurper of my heart, in the film) divulges some behind-the-scenes antics in the production of the cult classic. Elwes is by no means a florid writer, but he writes with an earnestness that’s hard to resist as he goes on about the lovely qualities about the cast and crew. In fact, the only issue I had with the book was that it was almost too nice. Where was the gossip, the rumors? Give me some dirt, Cary. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned from this memoir was the inconceivable (hah!) fact that Samuel Beckett would drive Andre the Giant (Fezzik) to school. An image worthy of any Beckett play. 

Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent
Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Because I work primarily as a poet, I often find myself behind on fiction reading. However, one novelist on my 2014 reading list shadowed all of the others—Marilynne Robinson. Prominent professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robinson first rose to literary acclaim in 1980 with her novel Housekeeping. After a long period of relative silence, she again stormed the literary scene with her 2004 novel Gilead. This autumn saw the release of Robinson’s third book set in the town of Gilead, Iowa—Lila, nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. Lila is the story of a woman, alone after years of rural homelessness, whose life takes a breathtaking lift after stepping into a small-town church to escape the rain. Lila is quaintly beautiful with its evocative storyline, but its most masterful quality is the breadth and vastness of its characters. Questioning religion, morality, and love to their comprehendible reaches, Lila was the most vital book I read this year. 

Joanna Moley, Human Rights Correspondent
The Alaska of Giants and Gods by Dave Eggers

Because life is a crazy and mysterious thing that seems to be filled with everything except for free time, I didn’t read any books that came out in 2014 during 2014. In my defense, I did read a bunch of other books, they were just released before this year.  Despite my lack of expertise on the books of 2014, I do regularly read the fiction pieces in “The New Yorker,” and I was especially impressed by Dave Eggers’ The Alaska of Giants and Gods.  This piece is full of simple but unexpected lines that make the reader do a double take – within the first few paragraphs that protagonist declares that her children, “were strange but good.”  I think that is an amazingly nontraditional way to describe your offspring.  It’s loving, but also vaguely and wonderfully insulting.  Most of the important information about the characters is revealed throughout a cruise ship magic show, which is seriously unconventional method for creating characters with depth.  I would recommend this story to anyone who loves literature, has no free time whatsoever, and enjoys seemingly whimsical stories that actually contain nuanced themes about origins and identity.

Eloise Sims, Human Rights Correspondent
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

My favorite book of the year is definitely Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. I love Peet’s frank and detailed way of writing, and his characters are the kind that literally leap off the page and wave their arms in your face. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of forbidden love between two teenagers in a tiny town in England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but in a deeper sense, it’s a story about the power of family, hope, and resistance. Clem, the main character, is a vaguely hopeless Bill Nighy-esque artistic genius, trapped in the stifling environment of his family home, who falls madly in love with Francoise, the French, posh, and out-of-reach daughter of his father’s boss. I couldn’t recommend it more for anyone wanting to be pleasantly surprised by a novel’s dexterity and depth. The events in Francoise’s and Clem’s lives intertwine beautifully with actual historical events in the 1950s, making it a huge bonus for the history nerds out there. Altogether, as my friend once said, this book “will take your insides, lure them into comfort with strawberries, then tape them to a nuclear warhead and fire them to Mars.”

And then we have the Adroit staff who were so rebellious that they wrote about books from 2013. If a book is good enough that it stays with you the extra year, is it fair game?


In nearly every poetry class I’ve taken, the instructor has told me that I would one day come across a collection so profoundly moving I would never again have to question the purpose or power of poetry. For this reason, I am especially grateful to have recently read Tarfia Faizullah’s debut collection Seam.

From my perspective, there seems no greater honor than being invited to partake in an intensely personal life-changing journey. This is precisely what Seam offers; the reader gratefully accompanies Faizullah as she takes the reigns from history books, and paints the most gruesomely evocative picture of the Bangladesh Liberation War in existence today. Specifically, Faizullah leads the reader through the stories of Bangladeshi war victims, sharing both the intimate and the expansive. To the patiently attentive reader, Seam strives to be concrete proof that quiet beauty can sprout from the ash of injustice, and that where there is a story, there is life.

Derick Edgren, Blog Correspondent
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Usually when I listen to music — and I promise, this is relevant — it’s typically per song, but sometimes there’s that gem of an artist that produces only good music (read: Sia, Florence + The Machine) and that’s how I feel about literature most of the time. When someone asks me what authors I enjoy, names don’t come to mind. Titles do. No book has ever had this spark to it that’s made me think yes-can’t-wait-to-check-out-this-guy’s-entire-album. 

When I read Chimamanda Adichie’s book Americanah, I fell in love with her equally direct and abstract prose. A friend of mine recommended it to me, It’s long but it won’t feel like it. And after six hundred pages, and mind you, I’m a very slow reader, I couldn’t agree more with her precaution or whatever you want to call that. Which I found to be quite complimentary — when a book feels quicker than it is. The story follows the life of a young woman, Ifemelu, who moved from Nigeria to the U.S. to attend university. While marketed as a love story, between her and her childhood friend/lover, it’s so much more than that. An amazing commentary on America’s sweepingly vague perception of Africa and Africans versus African Americans. It’s beautifully written, a winding road, written in part-blog form as Ifemelu’s blog gains success. Nevertheless, it all ties together, with a surprisingly simple ending, that I felt (maybe not all felt) was well-earned is a story, there is life.  Chimamanda Adichie is the Sia or the Florence + The Machine of literature for me. I’ve found myself attracted not only to her semi-autobiographical story, but the way she tells it. Which I’ve always felt was more important.

Amanda Silberling

Amanda Silberling is a student at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus, among others. She currently serves as the Blog Editor for The Adroit Journal and a writer/photographer for Rock On Philly. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.

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