Top Ten Books of 2014

Every year when I put my top ten reads together, I start by thinking that the year hasn’t been all that brilliant for reading, and then discover it’s been amazing. Seriously, it’s pretty great that I’m lucky enough to read such fab books every year. This year I had a 24 book shortlist, but have whittled it down to ten (and, as always, no re-reads and only one per author). And… here they are! In reverse order, for funsies. Also fun is that half of them were read for Shiny New Books (in those cases, the title links straight to SNB; the others link to SIAB reviews).

I think my main surprise is how few of them come from the first half of the 20th century… two are even from 2014; imagine!

Do let me know your end of year lists in the comments, please!

10. The Listener (1971) by Tove Jansson
Her first collection of short stories shows how great she would become – and she was great straight from the off. Some very deft and poignant tales here.

9. Marrying Out (2001) by Harold Carlton
Another wonderful memoir from Slightly Foxed, this one is about a young boy’s Jewish family disintegrating when one of his uncles wants to marry a girl who isn’t Jewish.

8. Mr Fox (1987) by Barbara Comyns
One of my favourite authors doesn’t disappoint with this quirky novel about a naive woman and the spiv whose life she is tangled up in.

7. The Optimist’s Daughter (1972) by Eudora Welty
A really stunning novella about how a daughter copes with her stepmother and neighbours after her father’s death.

6. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) by Penelope Fitzgerald
I loved Fitzgerald as a novelist; I vaguely knew of Mew – I couldn’t have known how gripping and involving this exceptional biography would be.

5. My Salinger Year (2014) by Joanna Rakoff
A wonderful memoir of working at the literary agency that represented J.D. Salinger – utterly involving.

4. Home (2008) by Marilynne Robinson
I read Home and Lila this year, but it was the former that won out for my end-of-year-list. The middle book of a truly exceptional, beautiful trilogy by (for my money) the world’s greatest living writer.

3. Boy, Snow, Bird (2014) by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi goes from strength to strength (as well as being sickeningly young) and her fifth novel is a sophisticated exploration of the relationship between three related women.

2. Patricia Brent, Spinster (1918) by Herbert Jenkins
Entirely improbable and silly, but an unadulterated delight – Patricia persuades a young man to pretend to be her fiancée. Guess what happens next?

1. The Sundial (1958) by Shirley Jackson
An extremely funny and surreal novel about an extended family who will survive the apocalypse by staying in the family home together. Brilliantly, they are all rather unconcerned about the impending fire-and-brimstone, and Jackson gives us their squabbles and passive aggression instead. A superlatively inventive, amusing, and bizarre book.

29 thoughts on “Top Ten Books of 2014

  • December 31, 2014 at 8:40 pm
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    I have only read one of the books on your list Patricia Brent, Spinster which also made my list. I need to explore some of the titles on your list.
    Cheated with my list, a top 12 plus 3 fav re-reads and 3 published in 2014.

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    • January 3, 2015 at 9:59 am
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      Oo, you cheat! I have done 12 or 13 before, I think, so I shan't judge you ;)

      I love how popular Patricia has been this year, and I'm very grateful to whoever mentioned it to me (you??)

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  • January 1, 2015 at 3:23 am
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    I've only read Patricia Brent too from your list, but I love Charlotte Mew's poetry, so the Fitzgerald is definitely one that I must read as I have loved the 2 Fitzgerald novels I've read so far (The Bookshop and The Golden Child).

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:00 am
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      The Charlotte Mew biography was practically made for you then, Vicki! You'll definitely love it if you already like Mew and Fitzgerald. (And can I recommend At Freddie's, of hers?)

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  • January 1, 2015 at 6:17 am
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    Very intriguing list, as always. I've only read one of these (Patricia Brent, Spinster) but am desperate to get my hands on Marrying Out since reading your review. I know I'm going to love it.

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:01 am
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      That would definitely be right up your street, I feel sure, Claire. If the Slightly Foxed edition is tricky to track down, it was originally published as something like The Most Handsome Sons in the World, which might be more cheaper :)

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  • January 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm
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    I loved The Optimists's Daughter, too, and plan to read more Welty this year… possibly Delta Wedding.

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:01 am
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      As usual, I got all excited and bought a bunch of other Welty novels after loving that one, but have yet to read any…

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:01 am
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      It was a surprise hit for me this year, given how indifferent I am to Salinger.

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  • January 1, 2015 at 5:25 pm
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    A lovely and varied list, Simon! Discovering Tove Jansson has been a great joy and I do want to read more of her books this year.

    kaggsysbookishramblings

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  • January 1, 2015 at 7:57 pm
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    I haven't read any of those titles yet…BUT…I have just finished Our Spoons Came From Woolworths and am head over heels in love with Comyns writing.

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:02 am
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      So excited about you discovering Comyns, Darlene! I must re-read Our Spoons, as I wasn't fussed by it when I read it. Thankfully, a few years later, I gave her another try – and became addicted.

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  • January 2, 2015 at 1:55 am
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    Such a great variety on your list, Simon! I have not read Penelope Fitzgerald, but I have The Bookshop on the TBR shelves (after years of confusing her with Penelope Mortimer). I was rather traumatized by The Haunting of Hill House earlier this year, but I'm interested to read more of Shirley Jackson's fiction, and I love the new Penguin editions. Happy reading in 2015!

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:03 am
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      The Bookshop is a wonder! And in 2014 I managed to read a Penelope Mortimer and a Penelope Lively, to add to my Penelope pile, and have finally disentangled the three, I think.

      The Haunting of Hill House is definitely Jackson's scariest – something like Life Among the Savages couldn't be more different.

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  • January 2, 2015 at 9:18 am
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    I cheated with my list, too – 10 books then 3 honorable mentions! I must read Patricia Brent this coming year as it made your and Ali's top 10s!

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:08 am
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      I love seeing end of year lists – particularly from people who read older books, as there is so much variety!

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  • January 3, 2015 at 6:02 am
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    Simon, totally off topic, but I am so excited I must share. Great British Bake Off is now on in the USA. So excited after seeing the first episode. Plus I am crazy about the host with the short dark hair – so funny. And who exactly are Mary and the other judge? TV bakers?

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    • January 3, 2015 at 10:09 am
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      I heard! I'm so pleased that it's finally being shown in the US! Mel and Sue are hilarious, and perfect for the show. They used to present a sort of comedy lunch programme ages ago, but had sort of drifted off into separate projects until this show came along.

      Mary Berry is baking royalty – she's written loads and loads of baking books going back about 50 years. Not sure how much TV she's done, but certainly some. Paul is all about bread, but I don't know what he did before the show – he certainly only had his first book after the show started, and hadn't done TV, so not sure where they found him…

      Reply
  • January 3, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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    I am new to your blog, but wanted to send you three cheers for this wonderful list. I agree so much with your views of Marilynne Robinson.

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    • January 6, 2015 at 1:05 am
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      Thanks for the info Simon. And I do like your best of…. list. The book that I read last year that I cannot get out of my head is Euphoria by Lily Tuck. She has a stunning approach to taking some basic info about a real persons life and crafting an entirely different tale around it. A stunning achievement.

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  • January 5, 2015 at 11:22 am
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    Happy New Year! Nothing like Shirley Jackson for a good surreal premise! This year I've decided to join a short-story challenge inspired by how much I liked The Lottery.

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  • January 5, 2015 at 8:23 pm
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    Hi, I am new here, but I am looking for people who love books. I recently wrote one myself, and seeing that you do reviews, I was wondering if you would be willing to review mine sometime in the future.
    It's not out yet, but due for release at the end of the month.
    Here's a link to my page if you'd like to stay tuned.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-A-Dice/336160876592648

    Reply
  • January 6, 2015 at 3:39 pm
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    Happy new year, Simon. Really interesting reading this list particularly because many are authors I've read before – but not these books so it makes me eager to get to them. So thanks!
    I'm not that interested in Salinger so hadn't thought to read the book on him, but reading up further about it does make it sound fascinating.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 8:16 pm
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    Many years ago I read a biography of Charlotte Mew called 'Her arms were full of broken things'. It was great. I can't remember the author but I think it's worth tracking down a copy, if you're interested.

    Reply

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