Amazon recently announced their top ten titles for 2014. In reviewing the titles, the editors at Amazon read nearly 500 works.
Number one on their list is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This is a debut novel about a family (the father is Asian and the mother Caucasian) living in 1970s Ohio. One of their daughter's is found dead in the middle of a lake. The book is about how and why she died but even more is about the people that make up the family and how the tragedy uncovers their division.
Two on the list is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is the story of a blind French girl and a German orphan boy - both growing up during World War II. It has been called astonishing, enthralling, beautifully atmospheric and deeply moving. Doerr is a respected author who routinely gets good reviews but this one surpasses his efforts in the past.
Next comes a nonfiction work, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. In 1879, the editor of The New York Herald funded a naval expedition to explore the Arctic Ocean and hopefully find the North Pole which was thought to possibly be a temperate island. Obviously wooden ships don't deal well with ice packs and the ship sunk leaving the men 1000 miles north of Siberia. This work chronicles their adventure. Said to be a historical "The Perfect Storm".
Another work of nonfiction is next, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs. This is a biography of an African-American man who managed to escape the slums of Newark via a scholarship to Yale University who could not escape the dangers of the streets when he returned home. Said to change the way we think about race, class and the meaning of friendship.
Fifth on the list is Redeployment by Phil Klay. This title recently (as in this week) won the National Book Award for fiction overcoming many well known authors. Klay was a Marine Captain who spent over a year in Iraq. The Dartmouth graduate came back and got his MFA on his return. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News. He says this book, a series of short stories about the experience of war and also of homecoming, is the only way he could work out his experiences in his head. The Washington Post said it is "one of the most compelling depictions to date of the Iraq war." The New York Times called it "the best thing written so far on what the war did to people's souls." All the critics seem to agree that this will be a classic.
Next on the list is Revival by Stephen King. Amazon says it is "the best kind of King book: a little horror, but mostly pitch perfect details about youth and faith and family." Over 50 years ago, a small boy meets the new minister and one can not imagine the things that occur in the future. Called rich and disturbing and a masterpiece. I guess Amazon agrees.
The next is the last of the nonfiction works, Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman. Back in 1961, Michael Rockefeller disappeared in the jungle of New Guinea. No one has known what happened to him. Carl Hoffman retraced his steps and traveled to New Guinea and has come up with the answer. A fascinating tale.
Next comes Cristina Henriquez's The Book of Unknown Americans. The story takes place in an apartment building in Delaware and is told in alternating voices by it's residents. All of the residents are Spanish speaking immigrants but the main story features Mayor, a male teenager from Panama who has lived in the country since he was little and Maribel, a beautiful but brain injured girl whose family came from Mexico so she might be able to recuperate.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty comes next. This was one was really a breakout title which made her a real name in the United States. The story of three women in Australia and the death at a school trivia night. Dazzling, humorous and hard to put down. It is hard not to like this kind of writing.
The last on the list is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. An apocalyptic novel that follows the relationships among a troupe of traveling actors. How even after most of the population has died, there are those who travel around bringing Shakespeare to those that remain is somehow comforting. Called a compelling page-turner; a meditation on fragility and a cracked mirror that reflects both our lives and our hopes and fears.
Enjoy some of the above.