Books

The best books of 2014

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Why do we do this to ourselves? Why must we annually compile top 10 lists when there are clearly more than 10 worthy books published every year? More books than we can get to even if we are avid readers?

Because we’re human, and we love lists. That’s just how it is. And if you don’t see your favorites on here, just remember these are merely some of the best-reviewed books on our pages, not the only ones.

Fiction

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson (Ecco): In his first novel, set in 1980s Montana, Henderson pits a troubled social worker against a survivalist whose son he’s trying to help. The result is a rich, moving novel that examines the social, cultural and economic complexities that define us now, with an eye toward the dysfunction that’s the byproduct of generations of poverty.

Your Face in Mine, Jess Row (Riverhead): Row’s audacious novel — one of the most provocative reads of the year — tackles the difficult subject of race through a science fiction-esque lens. His white protagonist runs into an old friend, once white and now black, the recipient of voluntary “racial reassignment surgery.” If you don’t want to know more, you’re suffering from a curiosity deficit.

The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Simon & Schuster): Hustvedt (The Sorrows of an American, The Summer Without Men) peels back the layers of gender bias with a terrific premise: An artist in her 60s feeling snubbed by the art world creates three installations under the names of men. She hopes for accolades; instead, the consequences are devastating.

Thunderstruck and Other Stories, Elizabeth McCracken (Dial): The appropriately named Something Amazing in this stellar collection by the author of Niagara Falls All Over Again and The Giant’s House is one of the best pieces of fiction of the year. The rest of the stories, filled with dark humor and compassion, are unforgettable, too; they’re sharp, poignant reminders of how insistently our pasts haunt our present.

The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis (Knopf): Amis, who previously tackled the Holocaust in the novel Time’s Arrow, returns to the subject in horrifying and hilarious ways in this novel about a concentration camp and the Nazis and prisoners there. Not everyone could walk the dangerously thin line between humor and unspeakable cruelty, but Amis, a master, never stumbles.

Nonfiction

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, Walter Kirn (Liveright): Novelist Kirn (Up In The Air) writes about befriending Clark Rockefeller, one of the famous clan — except he wasn’t a Rockefeller. He was Christian Karl Gerhartsreite, a serial imposter and a murderer who fooled Kirn (and many others) for more than a decade. Miami Herald reviewer Larry Lebowitz called Kirn’s book “riveting and disturbing,” adding that the author’s “self-lacerating meditations on class, art, vanity, ambition, betrayal and delusion elevate the material beyond its pulpy core.”

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir, Roz Chast. (Bloomsbury USA): Cartoonist Chast delivers a story that’s devastating and hilarious in equal measures about taking care of her aging parents. One of the few books that can leave you weeping and laughing on the same page.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, Hampton Sides (Doubleday): In 1879, 33 men left San Francisco on an expedition to the North Pole. What happened to them on their ill-fated journey is the subject of the latest book from historian Sides (also author of Ghost Soldiers and Hellhound on His Trail), who also brings to life the 19th century thirst for adventure.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande. (Metropolitan): Through interviews with doctors, healthcare providers and patients, the surgeon examines how modern medicine has failed: With end-of-life issues. Herald reviewer Frank Davies called the book “an eloquent, heartfelt cry for change.”

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial): Gay also published a novel in 2014, the harrowing An Untamed State, set in Haiti. In this collection, she takes on pop culture topics from The Help to Sweet Valley High to Chris Brown. “Racism and sexual violence are the two colliding bees in Gay’s bonnet,” wrote Herald reviewer Ariel Gonzalez, “but such serious subjects are leavened by her shrewd critiques of pop culture.”

Connie Ogle is the Miami Herald’s book editor.

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