This was a good year for reading, since I spent it sitting with my Kindle on airplanes. (Kindles are great — like tablets, but without all those fussy little apps that distract you from reading.)
Of the ~150 books I read this year, these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the word “best”. They are very different, and you won’t like all of them, but they all do something well.
For a list of every book I remember reading, check my Goodreads account.
Best List of All the Books
In no particular order, save for the first four, which I liked most of all.
- Rememberance of Earth’s Past (series, all three books)
- The Steerswoman (series, all four books)
- Chasing the Scream
- Rationality: From AI to Zombies
- The Last Samurai
- The Fifth Season
- The Found and the Lost
- The Future and its Enemies
- On the Run
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
- The Partly Cloudy Patriot
- Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air
- Machete Season
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
I review the best books I read, but reviews are often almost useless. Many books should simply be read — and the best review is to quote from them, at length, so that others can begin reading right away.
I read about 125 books this year, and these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the word “best”. They are very different, and you won’t like all of them, but they all do something well.
To quote my book-review post from last year:
I’ve sorted this list into a series of “bests”: a Best Graphic Novel for people who like those, a Best Book About Selling Stuff for people who like those, and so on. Whoever you are, I’d probably recommend many of these books to you. And some of them are free!
For a list of every book I remember reading, check out my Goodreads account.
Best List of All the Books
These are in alphabetical order, save for the first four, which I liked most of all.
- The Neapolitan Quartet (series, all four books)
- The Book of Disquiet
- Negima! Magister Negi Magi
- A Civil Action
- Azumanga Daioh
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers
- Digger (free!)
- Great (free!)
- Gone Girl
- Parable of the Sower
- Strangers Drowning
- Strong Female Protagonist (free!)
- The Road to Wigan Pier (free!)
- The Vision of the Anointed
- The Yale Book of Quotations
- Them: Adventures with Extremists
- We Learn Nothing
The Yale Daily News Magazine just published my glowing review of The Yale Book of Quotations. I also profiled the book’s creator, Fred Shapiro. This is my last piece of original journalism for any Yale publication.
The article includes an interesting call to action. Fred needs help writing the next edition. If you’d like your favorite quote to end up in a book that sells tens of thousands of copies, read until the end, or just read the pitch right now.
Twenty-Four Quotations About the Yale Book of Quotations
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
–Francis Bacon, Of Studies
“Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”
–Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic’s Word Book
The Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) is a magnificent beast of a tome, a rare creature found only in libraries and the homes of the most devoted litterateurs. Most books have one or two quotable lines. The YBQ has over twelve thousand. And though it is 1100 pages long, it remains, fundamentally, the project of a single man: Fred Shapiro, a librarian in the Yale Law School.
TL;DR: Immortality may seem like it would be boring. But an awful lot of people have hobbies and projects that would probably work out better if those people had more time to get things done. What’s more, these activities might be more exciting the longer they went on, rather than less.
To illustrate this, I use the example of a Go master, who is in love with a fiendishly hard game and might continue improving for centuries, given the chance — and that’s just one popular board game in a universe of activities.
I’d like to clear up a common misconception about living forever.
What is the point of writing a “best books of the year” list?
If you are Amazon or the New York Times — and if you are, how are you reading this, you enormous corporation? — you write the list because you expect that people will buy books from you, or at least listen to you, no matter what you recommend.
I do not expect either of those things to happen. At best, the person reading this might decide to look up a single free story on the internet, or check out a single book from the library.
Thus, I’ve sorted this list into a series of “bests”: a Best Graphic Novel for people who like those, a Best Book About Selling Stuff for people who like those, and so on. Whoever you are, I’d probably recommend many of these books to you. And some of them are free, including my #1 for the whole year!
If you’d like to see a list of every book I remember reading, check out my Goodreads account.
The Best Books of My 2014
Best List Of All The Books
Not in any particular order, save for #1.
- Worm (this year’s favorite) (free!)
- Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death (free!)
- Stories of Your Life (some of the stories are free online)
- A Path Appears
- Making Minds Less Well-Educated Than Our Own
- Poking a Dead Frog
- One More Thing
- The Motivation Hacker
- Mission in a Bottle
- Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got
- Ogilvy on Advertising
- Building Stories
- The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
- The Charisma Myth
- Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead
The life of a man whose death was untimely, and never would have been timely. An entertaining book and recommended read, especially if you like movies, the art of journalism, or the state of Illinois.
I lack the energy to summarize the book, and lives are hard to summarize anyway. So instead, here are some of the best lines (from a man who averaged 1.2 great lines per review).
On Art Petacque, Ebert’s colleague at the Chicago Tribune:
“He was our mob reporter. He was priceless for his sources. He was the only Chicago newsman who knew all mob nicknames. It was rumored he invented many of the nicknames himself.
“Nobody ever complained. What would Joey “The Clown” Lombardo do? Write a letter to the editor?”
I am warning those who have never read Murakami before that that is NOT the novel to start with.
–Ias Cosas, Amazon.com
The review system outlined in the beginning of this piece maps out how I’ll try to review nonfiction from now on. Not so sure about fiction, which isn’t as goal-oriented.
I finished this 1,156-page book and can’t figure out if I am better off for reading it or not. –Ninette Enrique, Amazon.com
And since I drafted this review long ago, I’ll try something different, limiting myself to 500 words—roughly 1 for each 1000 Haruki Murakami used to write 1Q84.
Reading time: 7 minutes
I’ve written a lot of book reviews, but I recently realized that I have a model in my head of what a “book review” should be, and that the model doesn’t make much sense.
I’m a fan of fancy book reviews that are more about life in general (or the reviewer’s ideas) than the book itself. David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith do those very well.
But most people seem to read book reviews to answer some of the following questions:
- Should I read this entire book?
- What is this book about?
- If this book isn’t worth reading, which bits are worth knowing anyway?
- If the author has an opinion, why might they be wrong?
- Where can I find out more about the book’s ideas?
These questions provide helpful structure, and structure means I can review more books! Huzzah!
This particular review is about the book Making Minds Less Well-Educated Than Our Own, by Roger Schank. Awful title aside, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. (If it weren’t, this review would be much shorter, or bundled with other reviews.)
A review written for Light and Truth, the magazine of Yale’s Conservative Party. It appeared on campus, but only on paper.
My heart goes out to Andrew Delbanco.
In the course of writing College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be, he encountered the same paradox I will if I try to apply my time at Yale to any debate on the state of higher education.
Along with my friends at Columbia, Middlebury, and the University of Chicago, I enjoy the public ideal of “college life”: Frisbees, ping-pong and five-person seminars.
Statistically, though, my friends and I are very unusual. Private, four-year colleges (most of which you’ve never heard of) enroll about 20% of America’s post-secondary students. Two hundred and fifty thousand people take classes at the University of Phoenix—more than twice the undergrad population of the Ivy League and U.S. News’ top 20 liberal arts colleges combined.
But this book wasn’t written by Mark DeFusco, former director of the University of Phoenix. In fact, he is quoted only once, asserting that most students attend college mostly for financial reasons. Delbanco, a Harvard graduate and 27-year veteran professor at Columbia, calls Defusco’s (probably true) statement “a surrender of America’s democratic promise.”