There are books I read because I think Reader readers would find them interesting, and there are books I read because they fulfill some sort of personal need or curiosity. Sometimes the two categories overlap. Here, in no particular order, are a few books I read or reread in 2014 that particularly resonated with me (though only a few were actually published in 2014).
How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis (out in the U.S. in February, 2015) because some of us measure our lives by the books we read.
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead because some of us also measure our lives by reading the same book over and over.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon because it’s one of those books for me—this time I understood that part of the joy of creating is getting a chance to become someone else. (Also, it’s this year’s One Book, One Chicago, and I try to be a good citizen.)
Colette: Secrets of the Flesh by Judith Thurman because it proved that writing your way into becoming someone else isn’t just reserved for fiction writers; a late 20th century New Yorker became a 19th century Parisienne in order to write about one.
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin because of Ferguson, because we need to realize that racism hurts everybody in this country, even those of us it doesn’t hurt directly.
Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss for the same reasons—and because Biss forces you to look at things you always thought you believed in a completely new way.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson because it’s both a brilliant history that shows how the Great Migration changed the country and a brilliant work of journalism that shows how it changed individual people, and it reads like a novel.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt because this life is the only one we have, or at least the only one we remember. (Also, the part about cranky marginalia by bored monks is great.)
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan because it made me smile.
Relatively Indolent but Relentless: A Cancer Treatment Journal by Matt Freedman because Freedman describes his treatment with complete honesty, without hiding behind cliches and platitudes.
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm because it’s worth questioning the purpose of your professional existence, without hiding behind cliches and platitudes.
My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr and Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin because they deliver practical advice in the most reassuring and comforting manner possible.
Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books by Claudia Roth Pierpont because I love learning how great writers work and they don’t get much greater than Philip Roth.
A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell because, at least for now, food is the only means of time travel available to us.
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and 639 Others because why not think deeply about what you present to the world? As “David Bowie Is” proved, personal image can be art too.
The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor because I just had to find out how the whole thing ended. (Answer: midsentence, somewhere in Bulgaria.)
The Coast of Chicago and I Sailed With Magellan by Stuart Dybek because they transform my city—even my street!—into someplace as beautiful, marvelous, and strange as anywhere in Leigh Fermor’s trilogy.