The End of the Year Wrap-Up When Your Year Sucked

Around mid-December it starts and then it just goes nonstop for what feels like eons. 

The year-end wrap-up. It’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable. It’s in newspapers, magazines, television, websites. It’s even on Facebook. And of course there are the holiday cards, each one with a family smiling so hard as if this picture is the only way they can prove that they’re happy.

This can be fun or annoying or eye-roll-worthy in a regular year. But when you’ve had a bad year, all of these year-end recaps do not help anything. 

Gee, thanks for telling me what a great year Taylor Swift had. I’m sure Taylor will be excited to know just how sucky mine was.

There is not much room this time of year for stuff that sucks even though there are many people out there who will be more than happy to see this year end.

After a few straight sucky years, you don’t bother with writing your family letter, you don’t bother to dress up your awful and try to smile through it, and you don’t dare to hope that the next year will be better. You know it will be eventually, but it’s entirely possible that next year won’t be the one. 

For me, the key to dealing with this and not getting too swept up in the suck is to be honest. No happy recaps that recount every good thing that happened as if that will make the bad stuff go away. But on the other hand, a list of every single awful thing won’t do much, either.

Our tendency to sugar-coat life at this time of year isn’t best fought by going the opposite direction. Instead it’s just about saying things just as they are.

This year sucked. But even though it sucked as a whole, it was filled with things that were delightful. There was plenty of terrible, a good amount of mediocre, a sizable portion of okay, and some really lovely sprinkled in. And that is the full truth of it and that makes it easier to bear.

I got a job that I enjoy. I got dumped. I put on Listen to Your Mother Boston with a wonderful team. Tessa got an Autism diagnosis. My divorce was finalized. I didn’t have the money or the time off to visit my family. I didn’t meet most of my writing goals. I did start to make some money from freelance writing. I settled into joint custody single parenting. I didn’t spiral into debt. I worked too much and struggled financially. I got my maiden name back. I did a great job taking pictures of my kids. I needed more than I got, and I took from others more than I helped them. 

I can recognize that this year sucked in a different way than 2013. I felt completely unmoored a year ago. Now I have different problems, but at least I have moved past the ones I had. I cannot say whether 2014 was worse or better than 2013, which has been the case for several years now. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but at least it’s different. And that is some kind of progress.

Last year I laid out my hopes because that felt like the only thing I could do. They were meager, but they were something. This year I feel more able to see what I want even if I don’t feel terribly confident that any of it will come to pass in the next year or two or three. I have direction and that is something. 

And when I see all of these celebrations for a year that was truly good to others, well, at least I have a fair assessment of my year. At least I know what there was that was good. I’ve done my honest assessment and I may not be at peace with it, but I know it is what it is.

I’ve been around the block enough to know that 2015 is not the answer to my problems, that watching the date change will not signal a fresh new start. But I’ve also been around enough to know that it will be different. That things will change, some for better and some for worse, and that is enough.

A Broadway Nerd’s Guide to the Into the Woods Movie

If you are a certain type of person you’ve been wondering if you should go see Into the Woods. And the specific type of person I mean is one who’s familiar with the source material. You starred in it or you’ve seen it live or you watched the Great Performances version A Broadway Nerds Guide to the Into the Woods Movie with the original Broadway cast about half a million times or if you have the Original Broadway Cast CD A Broadway Nerds Guide to the Into the Woods Movie and have them memorized. (Amazon affiliate links!)

For those of us who fall into this category it is a tough call. Because you love musicals but you also hate seeing them destroyed. You’re also probably kinda used to it by now.

 A Broadway Nerds Guide to the Into the Woods Movie
Amazon Affiliate Link

 A Broadway Nerds Guide to the Into the Woods MovieLucky for all of you I was able to see it at a screening last night and I’m here to provide the juicy details for those who want them and to give some basic guidance for the undecided. No worries, all spoilers will be written in white font old school style. If you want to read them simply highlight the area.

Is the Singing Bearable?

Yes, happily. It’s not a crew of Broadway professionals (there’s some Broadway veterans but none are known for their singing) but it’ll beat your standard high school production’s singing. Everyone is pretty respectable with the singing. This was my biggest fear and happily it wasn’t painful. 

Do They Cut My Favorite Song?

Possibly. They cut a lot of songs. 

Here’s the list: Ever After, Act II Prologue, Agony 2, No More.

Some of these cuts you get, there are time constraints and such. But some of them are painful. Like your very favorite song and how could they do this painful. 

Does It Work As a Movie?

That’s the biggest question and the one with the most complicated answer.

Portions of it are just not good. Not not not good. Johnny Depp is… well, the less said about him the better.  

I can see the attraction of adapting this for film, you can go big and have fun effects and get all crazy. The biggest problem, though, is the songs and the staging. It works to have five or six characters singing at once in five or six different places when you’re on stage. It’s more tricky on screen when it seems weird to hear people singing who aren’t on screen. 

Into the Woods, like most musicals, has two kinds of songs: ones that move the action forward and ones that share a character’s internal thoughts. It’s also a musical where a lot happens off screen. Jack’s song Giants in the Sky, Cinderella’s song On the Steps of the Palace, these are songs that tell you something that already happened off stage and lets the character reveal something about themselves as they tell you what happened. On stage this works. On screen it feels like everything just comes to a halt while someone sings a few verses.

In the songs where things move forward, the movie slows things down to help everyone get their bearings. You don’t realize how nimble the first 20 minutes of Into the Woods are until you’ve seen them pushed into something about twice as long. 

The effects are fine, kind of cool. The costumes are occasionally odd. 

The choice of casting actual children as Jack and Red is another tricky thing. On stage it’s cool to just let adults play kid’s parts. After all, the cow is fake, much is done with shadow play and slapstick, you have to do a lot of your own pretending. But on screen it would seem really weird to have adults in these roles. The alternative is turning the already-creepily-sexual Hello, Little Girl into something that is just downright wrong. You can hear people in the theater cringing. 

Do They Stay True to the Spirit of It?

Um… kind of? This is a musical that many see as fatally flawed. Tonally it’s tough to pin down, with plenty of humor and gags followed by a darkness that’s all-encompassing and difficult. 

I had started to give up in the first act when almost every single joke was delivered straight. But then they did Agony so over the top hammy that I thought maybe things would turn around. But it continued this way, sometimes finding the humor, sometimes ignoring it all together. 

The second act, the most difficult one, is rushed so the emotional arcs don’t pan out the way they should. (I did quite enjoy Emily Blunt’s performance of Moments in the Woods even though she’s awfully pretty and not quite housewife-y enough.) The removal of smaller songs that focus on happiness, wishes, finding morals in stories, and such leaves the already-heavy moralizing of the second act even more blatant and less natural.

Actually, watching it for the first time in so long I realized that I’ve changed the way I watch it. Like many theater nerds who once performed, I always look at the parts I want and focus on them. As a kid I wanted to be Red, as I got older I thought about Cinderella instead. But now I am all about the Baker’s Wife. She is the part. I’d still love to sing her some day.

So Should I See It?

You know better than me if you can tolerate these differences. 

I was kind of hopeful about Rob Marshall, who turned a supposedly un-filmable stage musical into a great movie with Chicago and who has experience with tonally difficult material from Cabaret. But those musicals have something this one doesn’t that makes a huge difference: dancing. Here it’s all played so straight and scenes go from visually lush to kinda boring songs in a glade that looks like a sound stage. I think this is one musical that should’ve stayed on the stage.

Still, the musical is now back in my head and inhabiting space there, even though it’s there in my preferred OBC version.

If you do see it, I recommend going with a group of fellow theater nerds. I attended with co-workers, most of whom weren’t even aware this was adapted from a stage musical, not to mention being at all familiar with the material. Go with people like you, and afterwards plan to have a nice long sit down where you can pick it apart and talk about all the things you think they did wrong. And that will provide some solace. It’s not as disappointing as the Rent movie. (That was a travesty.) Normally I’d tell you to hit up Company on Netflix afterwards to get a dose of solid Sondheim but sadly it’s not available for streaming right now. But you’re musical nerds, you probably have plenty of options already.

Final verdict: it’s probably better than you expect if you’re pessimistic and not quite as good as you hoped if you’re optimistic.

Moving On Without Meds

It’s been over 3 months since I went off my antidepressant. It’s a tricky thing to do, trying to tell why you feel the way you do, trying to figure out readjusting brain chemistry. You have to look for the bigger pattern and it can take time for it to become clear.

Now that I’m 3 months out I can definitely see some of the pattern. You may have noticed, too. The last few months, especially October, my blog was a huge downer because my LIFE was a huge downer. I know weaning off my meds would be tricky no matter when I did it, but unfortunately I did it at the same time that things got very stressful financially. (And, you know, there’s the whole life thing involving working 3 jobs, mothering 2 special-needs kids, navigating life as a single parent, and all that jazz.)

Honestly, I felt a lot of things over the last few months, I definitely didn’t lack in emotion, but mostly I felt downtrodden. I felt oppressed. I felt burdened. I felt like I really did walk around with a gray cloud over my head. That was the hardest part. It wasn’t depression, I’ve felt that. It was just being down in the dumps every day. It was a bad mood that just wouldn’t shake.

Lately, especially in the last month, I’ve noticed that I don’t feel that so much. I think things are leveling off in my brain, because my circumstances haven’t gotten any better. I feel more hopeful, more calm, more even. 

I realized shortly after going off my meds just how much my meds did for me. I went off because I didn’t think they did too much, but I was definitely wrong about that.

I have always cried easily, but wow it’s a lot harder without my meds. I’d forgotten. I was on a much steadier keel with them. I was never unflappable, but I was… less flappable. 

It’s easier to get me angry, frustrated, upset, sad, etc. now. Oh hi, feelings, nice to see you again. They were never gone. I was just able to cope with them better. 

I’m re-learning a lot, practicing compartmentalization so I don’t obsess about work stuff at home and home stuff at work. 

But mostly I’m just glad that things are feeling easier. Because the hard was just so hard. I’ve got enough on my plate without feeling like the world is falling down around me. If it had stayed like that I would’ve considered going back on meds, even though it would’ve meant paying for meds and paying for doctor’s visits and paying for things is not exactly something I’m really happy to do right now. Even though I would’ve been going back on meds just because things suck.

I am guessing I’m probably not the only person who felt like they didn’t have a good enough reason to go on medication. I never got an official diagnosis of PPD, maybe that would’ve helped me feel more justified, maybe not. I just saw it as depression that came from circumstance, which made me feel like I was just using the meds as a short-term crutch. I wasn’t planning to be on them for over 5 years. But circumstances CAN really suck. I should have cut myself more slack. Still, I was scared of the possibility of being on meds for an indefinite period. I worried that I’d still need them without all the circumstances, that I’d lost something along the way. 

They’re irrational and stupid fears. If you need the meds, take the meds. That is how I feel when I talk about anyone who is not myself. I can see it clearly and rationally when it’s not me. But as soon as it’s me I get weird. 

It’s still kind of weird, because life was easier on meds. My emotions were more manageable on meds. I admit, I thought sometimes that maybe that was enough of a reason to take them even if I wasn’t depressed. But I’m happy to see the side-effects go, that’s one of my major incentives for letting myself readjust and re-learn and get comfortable and make an effort to go without them. 

The biggest transition, I think, was realizing that my ability to not worry and just take things as they come was something that was a lot easier on meds. That was a tough shift, because it had become so entrenched in my approach to life and everything in it. This new ability became one of my defining traits, one of my grown-up abilities that made my life work. I felt so much more comfortable in the world that way. Before, I spent so many years wound up and worrying, always worrying, and it was so nice not to worry but to just deal with it. I’d attributed this to my time spent raising Graham and didn’t think about the fact that I started on antidepressants when Graham was still an infant and oh hey, maybe that’s the reason. BUT I feel like I’ve reclaimed it. I’ve been able to fall back into the habit so I’m not freaking out about things. I’m taking each day. And then the next day. And then the next.

My entire life shifted after Graham was born. Not only was I now a mother to a high-needs child, but my career and my marriage and everything else got jolted and none of it ever went back the way it was. I feel so disconnected sometimes from the person I was before that and weaning off my meds felt like it could maybe get me back to that person a little.

And it has, but not just in the easy ways. In the hard ways, too. I thought about it for a long time, I waited for a long time, and for me it was kind of like having a kid: there’s no perfect time, but at some point I needed to go for it.

I am thinking a bit about my word of the year for next year. Last year it was hard to think about and I put it off for a while because I felt so overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know that I couldn’t think of any guiding principle that could cover my options.

For next year I’ve been pondering the possibility of one very small word: UP. 

As in: Look up. Brighten up. Step up. Finish up.

And, you know, the direction. Move up.

I feel capable of facing life looking up next year and that’s what’s important to me right now.

Christmas and the Managing of Expectations

I don’t get the kids many gifts, they’re still pretty young, and in previous years I’ve gotten by with a gift giving strategy of filling the gaps left by the presents provided by other relatives. 

But this Christmas I’m running the show. The kids will be at my house to spend the night on Christmas Eve and I have them on much of Christmas Day. It is on me to make this happen and make it something possibly special.

I admit this is a shift in gears for me. 

My normal parenting strategy relies heavily on the ignorance of my kids, and it’s been pretty easy due to their ages and personalities. If they don’t know that they should expect me to perform at level A, they’ll be perfectly thrilled if I perform at level B. I use this a lot for things like candy and toys, and it’s usually gone pretty well.

But the ability to work this way fades each year as they get older. And with Christmas falling on my shoulders, I’m realizing I have an undertaking before me.

There is deciding what we will eat for our Special breakfast. And what will be our Special traditions. 

Oh and then there’s that pesky matter of the gifts. 

We’re in a steady state of reducing toys around here. Sloughing off the baby toys, the randomly acquired things that have fallen apart, the stuff missing pieces, the things no one plays with. I honestly don’t know how they have all these toys since I don’t buy any, but here they are.

Adding to the pile isn’t something I’m crazy about, but I get how this works. 

There will be one big present, a doll house coming from me and the grandparents. Oh wait, I mean Santa. And I’d like them each to have one smaller present. I’m thinking of a purse for Tessa and some kind of toy for Graham. Stickers and other cheap goodies in their stockings. And that’s all she wrote.

But Graham has figured out this Christmas List stuff and his is full of toys that don’t exist based on 20-year-old cartoons he has just discovered on Netflix. It also includes a request for more Hot Wheels tracks (which is totally not happening) and a constant ask for a talking Iron Man. 

I have not been able to find this talking Iron Man online. I don’t really want to go to the big toy store to track him down. And I have a feeling this is one of those things he’s decided he wants but may not actually play with.

sidetrack mbta green line train Christmas and the Managing of ExpectationsI was thinking of getting him this Green Line train that he’s had his eye on before. Or they have some wooden trains that look like the Orange Line and the Commuter Rail (which Graham calls the Purple Train.)  (Image is an affiliate link to Magic Beans who sells these in Boston.) But I have no idea if he’ll be thrilled upon receiving it or give me a look and ask where Iron Man is.

Yeah, it’s a stupid problem, but one I feel a surprising amount of pressure about since this is my first time on Santa Detail. 

I have put up our little tree and our set of stockings. I let the kids each pick out an ornament and plan to let them do that again every year. We made a trip to go see Santa… which didn’t quite go smoothly as neither child would get close enough to Santa to get a picture. (Afterwards Graham rewrote history in that way children do, saying, “It’s too bad Tessa was so scared to go see Santa. Maybe she’ll be able to do it next year.” Right, kid.

I still have to procure wrapping paper and all the remaining goodies and gifts. Tape would be good, I will probably forget tape. I must settle on a recipe for our Breakfast. I need to find a Pandora station to play that isn’t annoying. I need to make sure I have enough dollar bills on hand to supply their stockings. I need to make sure the kids’ Christmas pj’s are clean by the 24th. There are plenty of other things I’m probably forgetting. There will be Christmas Eve, staying up after the kids go to bed, watching White Christmas and assembling the dollhouse by myself (hopefully in less time than it takes Danny and Bing to woo their women). 

When I look at our little tree I feel like my efforts won’t possibly be enough. But when I look at that list in the last paragraph I feel like it must be because I find the prospect of all of it rather daunting. I’m just going to have to take it on faith that my normal parenting approach and working off of my children’s lack of expectations will play in my favor as usual.

Best Books of 2014

Sometimes putting together the Best Of list can be difficult. Sometimes it’s really easy. This year was easy. I knew while I was reading these books that they’d make my list. The experience was just so obviously there. My top 3 in particular were easy to set down in stone. I even re-read my #1 wondering if it really was my #1 only to find that, yes, it was, I was right all along. 

Last year I had my #1 and then everything else. This year a ranked Top 5 was a necessity. These were the 5 books that gave me an Experience with a capital E. (It helps that they’re not getting nearly as much love as I think they deserve. Unlike last year when my #1 was the same as everyone else’s #1.) They’re all totally different and totally awesome.

So let’s stop my blathering about telling you about my Top 5 and just spill. (Image links are Amazon affiliate links, all others are Goodreads.)

The Top 5

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014#5: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

It’s been a good year for Gay, she also put out the popular book of essays, Bad Feminist. But I just cannot get this book out of my head. It is searing and brutal and horrifying and absolutely an important read. Mireille is the daughter of Haitian immigrants who moved back to Haiti after achieving success in the US. When she goes to visit them, she is kidnapped and held for ransom. I’ve read a lot of books about terrible experiences, and this is one that felt the most real when it comes to portraying the inner struggle of having to lose yourself to survive and then struggling to find yourself again. 

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014#4: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

There are people who love Salinger and people who don’t. But if you do, you must must must read this book. Rakoff’s memoir of her year working as an assistant to J. D. Salinger’s literary agent. Rakoff isn’t too familiar with Salinger’s work (she’s fresh out of college) but she gets to know the man and his books little by little. It’s a great way to remind yourself of how it felt the first time you read Salinger’s work. This isn’t a seriously bookish book, it is a memoir in the best sense. Looking at someone’s life around a central theme and time, re-living youth and these books that are best enjoyed when you’re young. Reading and answering Salinger’s fan mail is one of her duties to boot. Don’t question, just read it. And then you’ll find yourself re-reading Salinger’s entire catalog.

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014#3: The Weirdness by Jeremy Bushnell

It’s hard for a book to make a Best Of list you’re writing over a year after you actually read it. But that is the power of The Weirdness. I read it in October 2013, waited and waited and waited for it to come out, and then waited months for any other book to come along that could compete with it. (This looks like it may be happening again in 2015, except the book is Welcome to Braggsville and I am going CRAZY waiting for it to come out so I can talk about it.) 

The Weirdness is a book for readers, specifically readers who read lots of books about writers. I hate books about writers most of the time. I hate books about young, aspiring writers who live in Brooklyn even more. But I’m glad I overcame my bias because this book skewers the literary scene while throwing your expectations on their heads. Nothing happens the way you expect. One minute it’s satire, the next it’s veering into magical realism or is it serious fantasy? It doesn’t really matter. The ride is the fun. 

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014#2: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I found out about Bird Box from Book Riot. We chatter about books a lot and after I’d seen this one recommended like 18 times I finally caved. I paid money for it. That is not a thing I do with books since I have a huge supply of free ones available to me to review. But it was worth it. At first I thought it was nothing too special, just a run of the mill scary story. But it builds. And builds. And holds on to its concept tightly. So even the things about it that bugged me fell away. 

I highly recommend the audiobook, which was how I experienced it. If you’re a speed reader like me, really thrilling books are a problem because you go too fast. The audiobook forced me to wade slowly and evenly through the tensest parts. This is a disturbing book, but a truly awesome one. I cannot stop talking about it.

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014#1: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Honestly, I expected this book to be all over best lists everywhere. Somehow, though, it’s fallen through the cracks. I blame the glut of big name novels that came out this fall. I wrote at length about why I connected with this book. It portrays religious belief with an honesty and sincerity I don’t think I’ve ever encountered.That’s an important thing for me, something I spent years looking for when I was religious and never found. I know my younger self would love this book.

The big beating heart of this book and the many philosophical questions it asks are thrown inside a shell of a science-fiction novel. Complete with a colonized world, a mysterious corporation, and a race of aliens. The best science fiction is about what makes us human. And this novel definitely qualifies. I read it twice, the second time wondering if I’d overhyped it in my head. I hadn’t. And it was just as enjoyable a read the second time. Maybe even more, since I could relax into it and dive deeper.

 

And now, on to the rest of my list…

Big Books From The Big Names

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014
It seems like almost every big author put out a book this year and they were pretty strong as a group. For romance and suspense with her usual dose of sapphic discovery, there’s The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. As usual, she nails any time period she picks, this time it’s post-WWI London. 

Another Brit, Ian McEwan, put out one of his small but heavy ethical dilemma novels. The Children Act was one I read with a particularly critical eye, since it’s all about a family court judge and a complicated legal case, but McEwan nailed it as he usually does. 

I read my first Haruki Marukami novel this year (yes, I know, I’ll get to the rest) with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and liked it quite a lot. I got the meditative tone I was expecting, but plenty of plot to go along with it. Tazaki’s loss of his close friends and his effort to find out what went wrong years later struck a lot of chords with me.

Honorable Mention: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I didn’t know how to feel about it when I read it, but those feelings still haven’t resolved leaving me more flustered than anything. But I can’t deny it’s impressive.

Mysteries and Crime Novels

You all should know by now this is my favorite genre. Any year where we get a new Megan Abbott, a new Tana French, and a new Laura Lippmann is a year I’m pretty darn happy. 

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014
The Fever by Megan Abbott and The Secret Place by Tana French appear similar at first with their focus on tight-knit groups of teenage girls, but that’s about all they share. The Fever is about an outbreak of what appears to be hysteria in a small town high school. The Secret Place is the 5th Dublin Murder Squad book about a killing at a private prep school. Both are about family and friendship and secrets and both work exceedingly well. 

Lippmann’s novel After I’m Gone is one of her best, a strong character-driven novel that doesn’t skimp on plot. The story of a family dealing with the aftermath of their patriarch’s flight after he was facing prison on organized crime charges. His wife, his daughters, his mistress are all left to pick up the pieces and try to figure out what it all means. For me, this is right up there with Life Sentences, my favorite Lippmann novel.

I read the entire Last Policeman series this year, including this year’s final installment, World of Trouble, and it was just so ridiculously good. So good. Post-apocalyptic novels are all the rage, but I have to say I prefer Ben H. Winters’ look at a pre-apocalyptic world where everything is slowly unraveling as everyone waits for the earth to be destroyed by an asteroid. The books take place over the course of around 9 months, the first book coming shortly after the discovery of the asteroid, the last one during the days leading up to the impact. These aren’t books that pull punches. There is no one coming to save the day. But Hank Palace copes by hunting down criminals. It’s as good a way as any. These are obviously dark novels, but add a strong atmosphere to what would otherwise be another police procedural.

The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan just knocked it out of the park. I loved Dolan’s debut novel, Bad Things Happen, with its throwback noir-ish tone. This book had one of those protagonists who just keeps doing the wrong thing… but at least this guy knows it and owns it. I love the way his characters think. A really dark and meaty mystery.

Honorable Mention: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

Thrillers

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is not just a thriller, but an important book, about art and society and humanity and Shakespeare. But before you shy away, there’s a deadly virus, a crazy cult, and the kinds of trappings that make you really want to read it on an airplane despite its impressive scope and seriousness. 

Decompression by Juli Zeh is probably the closest thing I can recommend to Gone Girl. Two points of view that conflict with one another, a psychological game of cat-and-mouse, except this book has 3 players instead of just the 2. Sven, who left the grind and now lives in the Canary Islands as a diving instructor, is quickly in thrall to Jola, a tv star who is learning how to dive for a movie role she wants. Except Jola is there with her husband Theo, a sadistic and bitter writer. The couple is volatile, and Sven can’t help but get involved even though he knows better. A great, dark book, also similar to The Dinner.

This seems as good a classification as any for Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers. It’s also part comedy and part serious sociological study. The entire novel takes place inside an abandoned army base. Thomas has kidnapped Kev, an astronaut and former friend. Thomas insists he just wants to talk. And they talk. A lot. It’s unusual and odd and poignant and funny, not what I was expecting from Eggers, it’s been a while since he’s been this playful. 

The Word Exchange by Alana Graedon is a labyrinthine book about words. It is the twistiest-turniest, most disorienting novel I read this year. It’s also one of the smartest and wittiest. This is truly a novel for word nerds and book nerds and language nerds, but it won’t make anything easy for you. Fortunately it moves at a breakneck pace.

Honorable Mention: Children of Paradise by Fred d’Aguiar.

Dramas

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014
If you loved Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, you should definitely read her new novel, Astonish Me. It’s a family drama, a story of a ballerina who gives up her career and the family she creates. It’s about fame and devotion and love and secrets. She’s a really assured writer and if you like ballet novels (and you know I do) this is essential reading.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng was an early favorite for me, a novel I might have overlooked but found because it spoke to me immediately and I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s now Amazon’s Best Book of the Year and I can’t really argue with that pick. The trappings of Ng’s story of one family may seem familiar. The Lee family has lost their daughter in an unexplained accident, and this new pain picks at old wounds. And we’re not talking about dangerous and terrifying secrets, this isn’t a crime novel. But it is about the pain and suffering that people who love each other can cause. There’s so much here about race and marriage and parenthood that is just moving and beautiful. I am thrilled with the success of this book.

Honorable Mentions: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith, Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas.

Memoir

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead is a book I long to hear read by the author. I am an unabashed Whitehead groupie, both for his magnificent novels and his deadpan, hilarious tweets. This book takes the latter and spreads it out over a full book as Whitehead takes a freelance writing gig covering the World Series of Poker. For some people, I’m sure it’s odd and just too much. I quote it a bit in my review, and if you like that paragraph, you’ll be good. I promise. And if you have a thing for Poker, it’s a real gem as Whitehead goes from a player in his neighborhood game to a competitor among experts.

Young Adult

 Best Books of 2014 Best Books of 2014
There are a lot of YA romances these days. A lot of people want to be the next John Green or Rainbow Rowell. I start a lot of these books, finish a few, and enjoy only a handful. But Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff was by far my favorite YA this year. It helps that Brezenoff isn’t an up-and-comer but a relatively established writer. He’s not trying to follow anyone else’s playbook or ride anyone’s coattails. Svetlana and Lesh are two high school nerds who don’t overlap. Despite what you’ve been led to believe, this is entirely possible. Svet draws, sews, and runs an RPG. Lesh listens to metal, wears black, and plays on his computer. There are obstacles, they aren’t entirely sure if they like each other, but since when does that matter? A light read that’s got real characters, a romance even boys would like.

Do you have any picks for this year? I’ll be sharing my other favorites I read this year (that weren’t published in 2014) soon.