This time of year is a list-lovers dream. 2014 won’t be over for weeks, but lists naming the year’s best books are already cropping up, just like Christmas trees appearing in department stores well before Thanksgiving.
These lists have some sleepers and some surprises, but there is something here for every reader. Below are just a few books receiving rave reviews, along with their publishers’ descriptions.
“A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James
A lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters – assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts – “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s.
“Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee – their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.
“On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss
Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in children’s food, mattresses, medicines and vaccines. Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding the conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America and the world.
“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time – from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.
“Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David” by Lawrence Wright
A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day. With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright illuminates the issues that have made the problems of the region so intractable, as well as exploring the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict.
And if you are anti-best-of-book-lists, you might try some titles that appear on Kirkus Reviews’ list of most overlooked books (so far) of 2014.
The film “Rich Hill” (91 min.) examines the rural community of the same name that lies seventy miles south of Kansas City, Missouri. This impoverished Midwestern town is the setting for this documentary that examines the turbulent lives of three boys and the fragile family bonds that sustain them. Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, this film was a selection of the 2014 True/False Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
We recently added “Jodorowsky’s Dune” to the DBRL collection. This film played at the True/False Film Festival in 2014, and currently has a rating of 98% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s a synopsis from the film website:
This fascinating documentary explores the genesis of one of cinema’s greatest epics that never was: cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (EL TOPO) adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, whose cast would have included such icons as Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger. In 1975, following the runaway success of his art-house freak-outs EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN, Alejandro Jodorowsky secured the rights to Frank Herbert’s Dune – and began work on what was gearing up to be a cinematic game-changer, a sci-fi epic unlike anything the world had ever seen.
We recently added “Finding Vivian Maier” to the DBRL collection. The film was shown earlier this year at Ragtag Cinema and currently has a rating of 95% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s a synopsis from our catalog:
Now considered one of the 20th century’s greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that went unseen during her lifetime. Vivian’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never-before-seen photos, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.
October 31: “Citizen Four” starts at Ragtag. (via)
November 3: “20,000 Days on Earth” 5:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. at Forum 8. (via)
November 3: “Girl Rising” 6:00 p.m. at Missouri Theatre. (via)
November 3: “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines” 6:00 p.m. at the MU Student Center. (via)
We recently added “Valentine Road” to the DBRL collection. The film was shown last year on HBO and currently has a rating of 90% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s a synopsis from the film website:
In 2008, eighth-grader Brandon McInerney shot classmate Larry King at point blank range. Unraveling this tragedy from point of impact, the film reveals the heartbreaking circumstances that led to the shocking crime as well as the aftermath.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 • 6:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
The documentary “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” (82 min.) is the latest from Columbia-native filmmaker Grace Lee (“The Grace Lee Project“). This film focuses on Grace Lee Boggs, a 98 year old Chinese American philosopher, writer, and activist in Detroit with a thick FBI file and a surprising vision of what an American revolution can be. In this film we see how Boggs continually challenges a new generation to throw off old assumptions, think creatively and redefine revolution for our times. The screening is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series.
We recently added “12 O’clock Boys” to the DBRL collection. The film played at various film festivals in 2013 and currently has a rating of 91% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s a synopsis from our catalog:
A notorious urban dirt bike pack in Baltimore that pops wheelies, weaves at excessive speeds through traffic, and impressively evades the hamstrung police. Their stunning antics are viewed through the eyes of adolescent Pug, a bright kid from the Westside obsessed with the riders and willing to do anything to join their ranks.
We recently added “Generation Like” to the DBRL collection. The film played earlier this year on the PBS series Frontline and is a followup to the 2001 documentary “The Merchants of Cool.” Here’s a synopsis from our catalog:
Explores how the perennial teen quest for identity and connection has migrated to social media, and exposes the game of cat-and-mouse that corporations are playing with these young consumers. Here is a powerful examination of the evolving and complicated relationship between teens and the companies that are increasingly working to target them.