Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Top Ten

My criteria for the best books of the year boils down to one simple thing: the book had to touch me viscerally. It had to demand something of me or comfort me in a profound way. It had to teach me something about humanity. I read a lot of great books this year, but when I sat down to pick 10, it was obvious which titles I’d choose.

10 Best Books of 2014:
Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson
In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard
The Hidden White House, Robert Klara
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, Kathleen Flinn


Runners up:
Hungry Planet, Faith D’Aluisio & Peter Menzel
Open, Andre Agassi

Best Memoir:
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, Kathleen Flinn

Best Nonfiction Book (non-memoir or biography):
In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides

Best Biography:
Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

Best Fiction:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (classic)
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert (contemporary)

Best Parenting/Family Book:
Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Best Project or Adventure Book:
Drop Dead Healthy, A.J. Jacobs (project)
In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides (adventure)

Best Poetry Book:
Aimless Love, Billy Collins

Best Cookbook:
Cooking Comically, Tyler Capps

Best Photography/Art Book:
Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton

Best Decorating Book:
Sarah Style, Sarah Richardson (though even it didn’t blow me away)

Best Picture Book:
Ball, Mary Sullivan or Skippyjon Jones, Judy Schachner

Best Middle Grade and/or YA Book:
Clementine, Sara Pennypacker (middle grade)
Bomb, Steve Sheinkin (YA)

Other Awards:

Best Book That Deals with History
three-way tie:
One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson
Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard
In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides

Best Book That Deals with Religion or Faith

Best Book That Deals with Food or Cooking or Chefs (non-cookbook)

Most Inspiring, Cathartic, or (Self-)Helpful
Unbroken and Seabiscuit

Best Book Set in a Foreign Country
Hungry Planet

Best Book Based on a Blog
Humans of New York
Cooking Comically

Best Book by an Author I’ve Read Before
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Best Book by a Celebrity
Open by Andre Agassi

Best Book about Sports
A Nice Little Place on the North Side (baseball)
Open (tennis)

Best Book by a Politician or about Politics, Government, the White House, etc.
The Hidden White House (Truman’s renovation of the White House)
Destiny of the Republic (President Garfield assassination)

Proud to be an American Award
(and 41, to a lesser degree)

Funniest Book
Belles on Their Toes

Best Cover
The Martian (it made me read the book)
In the Kingdom of Ice (it even feels beautiful)
Open (because, hello, hunk)

Worst Cover
Quiet (I think I put off reading it as long as I did because of the cover.)

Best Book about Books or Reading
When Books Went to War

The “I Want to Write Like That” Award
Laura Hillenbrand. Oh my goodness.

Book Everyone Should Read
Three-way tie:
In the Kingdom of Ice
I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.

Biggest Surprise (in a good way)
Drop Dead Healthy (Loved his first two, hated his third; this one was great.)

The Hidden White House (I expected to like it, but I really liked it.)
Seabiscuit (I expected a good book, but it surpassed my expectations.)
Lean In (I didn’t expect to like this book at all, but I did.)
Killing Kennedy (I expected a middle-of-the-road lazily-written or poorly-edited book, but this wasn’t like that at all.)

Weirdest Book
My Drunk Kitchen

10 Stinkers
Daring Greatly
Glitter and Glue
In Other Words (poems)
The Martian
The Monuments Men (I really wouldn’t call this a stinker, but it was disappointing.)
My Salinger Year
Pat and Dick
Sous Chef
Strings Attached

Most Typos and Mistakes
Marie Curie and Her Daughters

Most Charming
Some Luck (at least the first half)

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Most Disappointing
The Monuments Men

Toughest Read
Unbroken (emotionally difficult)

Thickest Read
One Summer: America, 1927 (I think)

Made Me Cry
To Kill a Mockingbird made me cry. Both for its content and for its superb writing.

Renewed My Faith in Mankind

Best Book about a Subject I’ve Never Read Before
Destiny of the Republic (I forced myself not to choose Seabiscuit, Unbroken, or In the Kingdom of Ice. Yay me.)

Kept Me on the Edge of My Seat
In the Kingdom of Ice
The race scenes in Seabiscuit and The Boys in the Boat.
The Devil in the White City (Ultimately, though, this didn’t deliver what I expected.)

Best Book about Animals

Number of Books Read That Were Published in 2014
23 (roughly 30%)

10 Highly- and Widely-recommended Books That Lived up to The Hype
The Devil in the White City
Five Days at Memorial
Humans of New York
In the Kingdom of Ice
Killing Kennedy
Killing Patton
One Summer: America, 1927

2014 Bestsellers/Hyped Book That Sorely Disappointed
The Martian

Book I’m most glad I finally got around to

Oldest Book Read
Persuasion (1817)

Bird by Bird
Hungry Planet
To Kill a Mockingbird
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Best Story (within a Book)
How James Garfield won the Republican presidential nomination in 1880. (Destiny of the Republic)

Books That Deserve More Praise
Cooking Comically (A comic cookbook. I mean, come on!)
Hungry Planet (Should be taught in schools.)
A Nice Little Place on the North Side (The history of Chicago Cubs baseball.)
Some Luck (Well, it did get some book award nods, but that seemed to quickly die down.)

Books That Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone (and What Happened)
The Signature of All Things (Fiction! Which led to more fiction!)
The Martian (Science fiction. Should have waited for the movie.)
Relish (Graphic memoir. It wasn’t the “graphic” as much as the “memoir” I didn’t care for.)
The Year of Billy Miller (Children’s fiction, which led to more.)
Lean In (Feminism in the workplace—the subject didn’t interest me at all, and I figured I’d have to
   keep my defenses up the whole time. Turns out, I didn’t.)
Moneyball (Economics of baseball. I didn’t understand at least half.)

Authors Added to my TBR Because of 2014 Reads
Hampton Sides (In the Kingdom of Ice)
Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City)
Candice Millard (Destiny of the Republic)
Robert Klara (The Hidden White House)
Bill O’Reilly (Killing Kennedy)

Favorite Topics This Year
polar exploration
Chicago World’s Fair
White House renovation
Queen Victoria
various aspects of WWII (George Patton, FDR, books sent to servicemen, recovering European art, etc.)
President James Garfield

Favorite Book Review
I enjoyed my review for Destiny of the Republic most, I think.


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