Electric Literature's 25 Best Novels of 2014
December 10, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

"Year-end lists are always subjective and incomplete, but they are especially tricky for books. A dedicated film critic can watch every wide release film and a theater critic can go to most every play, but the book critic is faced with an insurmountable mountain of books each year. The sheer number of books is inspiring as a reader, but it can make 'best of' lists laughably subjective when the critic has only read a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of novels published each year. With that in mind, I decided to crowd source Electric Literature’s year-end lists. First up: novels."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (31 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gah, I have not heard of ANY of these novels.
posted by bearwife at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


OK, you people are just straight-up trying to bankrupt me.
posted by kyrademon at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


The sheer number of books is inspiring as a reader

Inspiring for a reader.

And no, it isn't. It's just too damn much.

All very topical. If people are still talking about any of these people in five years, maybe I'll take a look.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:16 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Yes, I did notice the Jane Bowles number. I've generally been disappointed with forgotten masterpieces revived for a new generation. I'll make an exception for Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, which was amiable and diverting, and Augustus Carp, which was even more so, but this sounds like it wants to be meaningful.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2014


If people are still talking about any of these people in five years, maybe I'll take a look.

This is my philosophy too, though I get a lot of heat about it from my friends who read a lot of contemporary literature. I see them working through the latest Kazuo Ishiguro book ("it's good, it's... like his other books") or a pop nonfiction item that may or may not be rebutted or discredited in the next few years as research marches forward. There's certainly something to be said for taking part in the process as it's happening, but I can't seem to do it. I have 3000 years of literature weighing down my bookcases and a list of titles longer than I can keep track of that have stood the test of time. I'm not in any hurry to read the new stuff, good as it may be — it will keep!

Although, perversely, I do find pleasure in reading books that were popular a long time ago and have since been completely forgotten.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


My Christmas list just got longer... Good timing!
posted by chatongriffes at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2014


Based on having read a few and having read about all of the rest, my guess is that in five years people will still be talking about A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. And in its genre (whatever that is?) Annihilation. If for no other reason than its part of a series so it will have a long shelf life.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:54 AM on December 10, 2014


I've only read two of these -- THE WORD EXCHANGE and STATION ELEVEN -- and yes, I'd say they're among my best of the year. Have just added a bunch more books to my to-read list, now, though, dammit.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:00 AM on December 10, 2014


I've been a huge fan of Yiyun Li since her novel of Maoist China, The Vagrants, from a few years ago. I read Kinder Than Solitude this year. It is different, a very quiet book about some lonely, sad people, set in contemporary times and flashing back to the 90s. It didn't grab me as deeply as The Vagrants, but I did appreciate the beauty of the writing.
posted by matildaben at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2014


"My hope was to have an eclectic list of books that included more than just the obvious names."

Not to get too crotchety, but it's somewhat maddening to see a best-of-list featuring 25 books, only one of which is a translation (and the author of that translated work lives in New York). For a little counterweight, here are all the longlisted fiction and poetry books of the Best Translated Book Award. There's a whole big world of literature out there.
posted by Kattullus at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, that longlist is for books from 2013 that were judged in 2014.

This Flavorwire list is slightly more diverse than the Electric Literature one and is pretty good.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:15 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've done some tech work for the publishers of The Wallcreeper, and I'm sure glad they paid me in books. That one has some most amusing prose I've read in years, totally capturing the weirdness of culture shock, corporate science, techno fans, and NGOs.
posted by bendybendy at 11:36 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I may have to give up waiting for the library copy and just buy Station Eleven -- it has a lot of fans.
posted by gladly at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2014


If people are still talking about any of these people in five years, maybe I'll take a look.

Well if it makes you feel better, Blake Butler, Emily St John Mandel, Jenny Offill, and Ben Lerner - of the authors I am familiar with on the list - have all been around at least that long already (though most of Lerner's output has been as a poet until his two recent and well received novels).
posted by aught at 11:51 AM on December 10, 2014


I was not a fan of Dept. of Speculation. I think you need to read Wittgenstein's Mistress first (or maybe instead) to get where she is coming from.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:57 AM on December 10, 2014


I've heard really good things about Annihilation and the rest of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. Definitely on my reading list.
posted by naju at 11:59 AM on December 10, 2014


300,000,000 sounds good, but then I got to this:

it’s the rare book that comes along and tells us something essential about who we are

This is usually code for "endless tedious faff about money and adultery". Is it better than that?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:12 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Station Eleven is absolutely wonderful. So is A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing. The former takes a gruesome, horrific scenario (apocalyptic plague, end of the world as we know it) and turns it in to a hopeful, beautiful, warm, human thing. The latter takes a coming of age in rural Ireland tale and turns it into one of the most traumatizing, horrific things I've ever read. Very, very good, but definitely rough going.

I'm about four pages into the Marlon James book. So far so good. I'll let you know how that goes.
posted by thivaia at 12:15 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seems kind of heavily biased towards Modernist- and Postmodernist- Realism.
posted by signal at 12:19 PM on December 10, 2014


Oh and this list didn't mention it, but one of my picks for the year is definitely Ali Smith's How To Be Both. I picked it up on a lark in an airport bookshop in Scotland at 6am and the next time I looked up I was in Toronto. So good.
posted by thivaia at 12:19 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, 300 Million sounds like it is up my alley:

300 Million revolves around a cop named Flood, tasked with investigating a mass-murderer/cult-leader named Gretch Gravey, who, in turn, is possessed by an evil entity named “Darrel.” Gravey’s cult consists of young burnout metalhead kids that bring him victims to rape, murder, and dismember. Flood goes/was crazy while/before reading Gravey’s diary but there’s the possibility that the diary maybe never existed, that maybe even the officers and kids providing the footnotes never existed. The utilization of footnotes and odd passages of pseudo-dialogue play in the same vein as House of Leaves, where the metaphysical imbues a sense of creepiness alongside masterful fourth-wall breaking.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:20 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


So has anyone read A Brief History of Seven Killings? It isn't right up my alley, but sounds intriguing.
posted by rtimmel at 12:51 PM on December 10, 2014


Novels written by women are well-represented on the list. I'm in.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here’s what I wrote when I interviewed VanderMeer back in March: “VanderMeer writes in taught, atmospheric prose

OW OW OW. Taught!? Come on!

That said....I really wanted to like the Area X trilogy but got uninterested enough halfway through the second that I wandered off to read something else. I will try to go back to it, because maybe it was just me.
posted by rtha at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2014


If people are still talking about any of these people in five years...

I'd be interested in lists of "the best books from five years ago."
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


So has anyone read A Brief History of Seven Killings? It isn't right up my alley, but sounds intriguing.

I'm reading it right now, and I love it. I'm also in the middle of Atticus Lish's "Preparation for the Next Life," which is also excellent. I also think these two in particular will be talked about in five years.
posted by nevercalm at 2:50 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I saw this earlier and thought it was pretty great - it is rare for a list of literary fiction to feature more women than men.

For those of you wondering how time treats the year's best books, you can look at the 2004 lists from The Guardian or The New York Times. I Am Charlotte Simmons is the only book I'd warn people away from, and I would highly recommend both Gilead and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:29 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


My Kindle has like 50 books on it. I've now gotta add at least a dozen more. Thanks a lot, Metafilter.
posted by zardoz at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2014


For those of you wondering how time treats the year's best books, you can look at the 2004 lists from The Guardian or The New York Times.

I can't believe Cloud Atlas came out ten years ago. Also, I guess this is the right place for me to mention that I was disappointed by The Bone Clocks, but I still enjoyed reading it.

I'm another 100 pages into A Brief History of Seven Killings since I last checked in and it's pretty great.
posted by thivaia at 8:41 PM on December 10, 2014


Utter trivia: in case the name jumped out at anyone else, Atticus Lish is Gordon Lish's son.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:44 AM on December 11, 2014


Annihilation is an engaging, atmospheric read, but Authority (the second book of the trilogy) is a little bit underwhelming. I found that the plot becomes more engaging and the action picks up almost exactly at the halfway point. Before that, it's like VanderMeer is trying to build tension as effectively as he did in Annihilation, but it doesn't quite work. Maybe it's because the protagonist isn't as compelling as the protagonist of Annihilation.
posted by neushoorn at 4:03 AM on December 12, 2014


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