The Best Books Of 2014, According To O Magazine And

The Best Books Of 2014, According To O Magazine And

The jury is in! Get ready to dive in and read these winsome books of the past 12 months, as picked by O magazine and editors.

The Instant Classic
The Bone Clocks
By David Mitchell

The Instant Classic Sprawling yet disciplined, drunk on life but ever cognizant of its brevity and preciousness, this time-traveling, culture-crossing, genre-bending marvel of a novel by the highly regarded author of Cloud Atlas utterly beguiles.

— Leigh Haber
The Story Collection That Seduces
Thunderstruck & Other Stories
By Elizabeth McCracken

In the opening sentence of Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, we meet the ill-tempered child-ghost of Missy Goodby, who "sleeps curled up against the cyclone fence at the dead end of Winter Terrace.... Late at night when you walk your dog and feel suddenly cold, and then unsure of yourself, and then loathed by the world, that's Missy Goodby, too." All nine tales in this bewitching and wise collection ruminate on loss, yet manage to be playful, even joyful.

McCracken's characters lead lives as cluttered as our own ("Too much cleanliness made a place dead," observes a woman who designs museum exhibits)—and like us, they strive to clear away the excess from the essential.

In "Property," a man moves into a rented house after the death of his wife and tries to act "as though he were not an insane person with one single thought"; he hates everything in the new place, including a bath mat that "looked made of various flavors of old chewing gum." Only when he is moving out does he wake up enough to realize that the objects left for him were the landlord's best things, placed there to give him comfort.

McCracken's descriptions can strike like a match. In "Hungry," we meet Sylvia, a grandmother who "was a bright, cellophane-wrapped hard candy of a person: sweet, but not necessarily what a child wanted." Elsewhere in the story, Sylvia speculates on the appearance of her neighbor, wondering "whether Mrs. Tillman had had a stroke; then she saw that she'd merely applied her lipstick off-center."

McCracken plays life, with its quirks and surprises, against plain, dampening death. It's not a battle between the two, though. Life occupies the stage, while death waits its turn. Her characters endure losses and become wiser or crazier (or both), but always more open to kindness and love.
— Bonnie Jo Campbell
The True Story You'll Never Forget
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
By By Jeff Hobbs

Despite growing up in crime-ridden Newark, New Jersey, with a devoted but overworked mom and his father in prison for murder, Robert Peace managed to graduate from Yale. Which makes his brutal, drug- related murder all the more heartbreaking.
— Sarah Meyer
The Novel Too Compelling (and Well Written) to Put Down
Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Set in a bleak, mysterious future in which most of the world has been killed off by a pandemic flu, two young people find comfort by acting in the productions of a theatrical caravan called the Traveling Symphony. As they walk from ad hoc town to ad hoc town, they survive by dodging doomsday cults and bandits, clinging to a comic book that is their last link to the civilized world as we know it and searching for a mythical museum located in an airport. An imaginative, dazzling read that explores how the arts can transform us even in the times of devastation and violence, with an eerily timely set-up that both terrifies and bewitches.
— Leigh Newman
The Essays That Read Like a Bring-You-to-Your-Knees Memoir
The Empathy Exams
By Leslie Jamison

This raw, fast-moving collection of autobiographical essays looks at how we can—and can't—understand and absorb the feelings of others. Traveling from prisons to hospitals to drug-cartel-controlled Mexican towns and an extreme ultramarathon in West Virginia, Leslie Jamison reveals not only the possibilities of the human heart and mind, but also manages to create the very feeling in a reader that she so astutely searches for as a writer: empathy. An intellectual—and emotional—triumph.
— Leigh Newman
The Fairy Tale That Changes How You See the Real World
Boy, Snow, Bird
By Helen Oyeyemi

When Boy Novak arrives in the sleepy New England town of Flax Hill in the winter of 1953, she's on the run from her abusive father, a rat catcher on Manhattan's Lower East Side. After slowly settling in to her new community, 22-year-old Boy marries Arturo, a widower, and becomes the stepmother to his beautiful raven-haired daughter, Snow Whitman, adored by everyone in town. When Boy gives birth to her own little girl, Bird, the baby is noticeably dark-skinned—revealing that Arturo's family, assumed by Flax Hill's residents to be white, are actually light-skinned African Americans. To avoid the inevitable comparisons between the half sisters, Boy sends Snow away to be raised by her aunt.

In Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi spins a surreal retelling of the Snow White story, embedding West African folklore into the familiar plot line to consider what beauty means to its beholder—and to those who behold it in the mirror.

The novel is narrated first by Boy, then by the precocious and sharp-tongued Bird, and then again by Boy—who, in reflecting on the state of black-white relations in the 1960s, says, "It's not whiteness itself that sets Them against Us, but the worship of whiteness." Oyeyemi's superbly inventive novel examines the thorniness of race and the poisonous ways in which vanity and envy can permeate and distort perception.
— Abbe Wright
The Memoir So Moving You Might Not Recover for Days
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
By Roz Chast

The beloved New Yorker cartoonist's hilarious and poignant graphic memoir of caring for her elderly parents.
— Natalie Beach
The Sweeping (Family) Novel
Lucky Us
By Amy BloomAfter the death of her lover's wife, Mrs. Logan sees an opportunity. She scrubs their 12-year-old daughter, Eva, clean; dresses her in pink; and braids her hair. Then the two travel across Ohio to see whether newly widowed Edgar will make her an honest woman. When the proposal fails to materialize, she reverts to plan B, depositing Eva there to be raised by Edgar—a father she's known only from sporadic visits, when he arrived bearing Lucky Strikes and Hershey bars—alongside her imperiously glamorous half sister, Iris. "She looked like a movie star," Eva thinks upon seeing Iris for the first time. And so the grand adventure of Lucky Us, Bloom's kaleidoscopic take on life in the tumultuous '40s, begins.

Indeed, Iris is possessed of a movie star's ambitions, and soon the girls set out for Hollywood, where Iris lands a movie contract while Eva turns to biographies of Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale for company. One night Iris attends a decadent party and tumbles into a seductive netherworld where "a pretty girl with whipped cream and strawberries, laid in thick waves, from her chest to her feet" is served for dessert.

When scandal upends Iris's aspirations, the sisters, accompanied by their father, forsake Hollywood for Great Neck, Long Island, where Edgar fakes his way into a position as a butler and Iris becomes a governess for the wealthy Torelli family. While Eva remains the compliant sidekick, Iris grows increasingly ruthless, especially when struck by desire; in the name of love, no betrayal is too great.

Lucky Us is a tale of a family weathering tragedies intimate and global: World War II rages; Edgar falls ill; Iris loses a lover in a horrific fire. Eva practices tarot at a Brooklyn salon, exacting a measure of control in a world as unpredictable as the cards drawn from her deck. Over time, Eva metamorphoses from a girl who feels aligned with "the abandoned, the unloved, the phenomenally unlucky" to a woman with the courage to make her own luck.
— Laura Van Den Berg
The "Think" Book You'll Talk About for Months
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
By Atul Gawande

How should we handle dying? We know how we do handle it, which is to say that we deny it, avoid it, try to prevent it and push it off with whatever technological advances we have at our disposal. Atul Gawande, a doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School, advocates for a more forthright—and arguably more humane—approach, one that requires us to rethink our hospital and healthcare system and try out new practices, such as stocking nursing homes with dogs, cats and parakeets. Using examples from his own practice and family, he reveals how necessary and life-improving a conversation about death can be, once it's finally had—not just at home but as a society. "I learned a lot of things in medical school," he admits on page one, "but mortality wasn't one of them."
— Leigh Newman
The Must-Read for Our Generation
Bad Feminist
By Roxane Gay

One of our sharpest new culture critics plants her flag in topics ranging from trigger warnings to Orange Is the New Black in this timely collection of essays.
— Natalie Beach

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