We asked some of our wonderful contributors what were the best books they read in 2014. Here are their responses:
I’m on the final pages of Yvonne Owuor’s Dust, which has brought an excitement and a brokenness I cannot yet name. Earlier I read Maaza Mengiste’s Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, a novel that reads like a dream inserted in Ethiopia’s history. The new book by David Levi Strauss, Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow is a touchstone for me as a fledgling art critic – how do I write with conscience and clarity about photography? Two books of poems, Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments and Dami Ajayi’s Clinical Blues, though different in style, highlighted for me what is at stake in Nigerian poetry. They contain a certain fire, an urgency to name things properly. Finally I have held myself to the standards and vision of two novels: The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector’s last book, and Seiobo There Below, Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s newly translated book.Emmanuel Iduma is co-publisher and creative director of Saraba Magazine. His debut novel, Farad, was published in 2012 by Parresia Publishers.
I’m way behind in my reading, so many of 2014’s highlights have been out for a while. I started the year reading Jesse Blackadder’s evocative Chasing the Light – immersing myself in a story of Antarctic exploration while sweltering on a hot beach in the middle of an Australian summer. Other favourites from the exciting new generation of literary historical fiction writers include Hild, in which Nicola Griffith casts a new light on the so-called Dark Ages, and Stella Duffy’s uproarious Theodora, based on the life of the unlikely Byzantine Empress. I loved Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders: there’s so much to enjoy and ponder in this subtle story of misfits who become celebrities, and the wondrous world they inhabit. In an era of brilliant young adult fiction, Fiona Wood’s masterful Wildlife is the YA book I loved most this year – her prose and characterisation are just about perfect. In non-fiction, Janet Butler’s Kitty’s War, based on the diaries of Kit McNaughton, is an earthy antidote to recent romanticised narratives around nursing in World War I. There are so many books coming out to commemorate the centenary of the war, it feels like a deluge, and it’s going to feel like that for another five years or so. If you want to try to understand the War to End All Wars, start with the first-hand accounts, some of which are among the best twentieth century writing: Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Siegfried Sassoon’s autobiographical novels beginning with Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man, Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, and Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune. All are either still in print or have now been republished.Kelly Gardiner writes historical fiction for readers of all ages, and teaches writing, research skills and digital literacy. She works part-time at the State Library of Victoria. Her latest book is Goddess, based on the life of the seventeenth century swordswoman and opera star, Julie d’Aubigny.
One of the highlights of my reading year was Richard Powers’ Booker-longlisted Orfeo, the story of an avant-garde composer who becomes a fugitive after being falsely accused of bioterrorism. It is the most profound and emotionally affecting book I have read in a long time and the prose is stunning. I find it hard to resist a literary apocalypse tale and was beguiled by Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, the tautly paced and perceptive tale of a touring troupe of actors and musicians who cross paths with a dangerous cult leader, twenty years after the world we know is destroyed by a pandemic. Finally, for sheer weirdness, Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) is unparalleled. Beautifully written, intensely creepy and utterly baffling, it is a compelling psychological thriller about how a group of bureaucrats, scientists, psychologists and ordinary folk deal with a mysterious and utterly unknowable life-force that transforms part of the Florida landscape.Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. Her latest project is The Ark, a new digital interactive novel/app.
Maree Dawes’s verse novel BRB or Be Right Back was a surprising highlight this year. She explores the power of words over touch and how an online obsession can become a real world problem. Erik Jensen’s biography Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen is a powerful yet sympathetic portrait of a complex artist that raises the question does good art excuse bad behaviour? This year I also discovered a couple of unforgettable gems, Émile Zola’s The Masterpiece, a true masterpiece, and Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (translated by Matvei Yankelevich), a hilarious introduction to the iconic Soviet-era absurdist writer and poet.Rowena Wiseman writes contemporary fiction and children’s stories. Her most recent book, Bequest, was published in June 2014 by Tenebris Books.