Our Year in Books: Augusta

Article by Augusta

It’s always hard to settle on your favorite books of the year. If you’re anything like me, each book is like a unique relationship--you love them all, but for different reasons. My reading taste is all over the place--literary fiction, memoir, science, essays, culture studies--but I have noticed a definite trend in the books I’m selecting. More and more, I find myself gravitating toward and enjoying books written by women. I feel there is a misconception that women can only write fluff--that they are unable to write anything that isn’t sentimental or overwrought. To my surprise, two of my favorites from the year were mentioned in this year’s New York Times 10 Best Books of 2014. Whatever the case may be, the books below left a strong impression on me and show that women’s writing can be serious, thoughtful, and important. 

The Empathy Exams: Essays Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555976712
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Graywolf Press - April 1st, 2014

I’m naturally attracted to fiction when going to the bookstore; I like getting lost in a narrative. So I wanted to change up the pace a little bit and grabbed this collection of essays on the suggestion of a friend. And am I glad I did! THE EMPATHY EXAMS is an exploration into emotions. Told through the lens of Jamison’s own personal experiences, this meditation on health and wellness, human interactions, and trauma helped me develop a deeper understanding of why it is important that we remain open and receptive to empathizing with others. This is one of those books that I’ll return to again and again, rereading Jamison’s insightful prose.

Sidewalks Cover Image
By Valeria Luiselli, Christina Macsweeney (Translator), Cees Nooteboom (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781566893565
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Coffee House Press - May 13th, 2014

Coffee House Press recently translated and released this essay collection of Luiselli’s in conjunction with her novel FACES IN THE CROWD. SIDEWALKS is like a lovely flâneur’s stroll through Mexico City. Luiselli brilliantly weaves together travel, architecture, literary criticism, and voyeurism. I found myself dog-earing pages throughout to go back and make notes on...until I realized I was marking pretty much every single page. She’s the kind of writer I have a lady crush on--intellectual, well read, well traveled, with the ability for making laser sharp observations and powerful one-liners that make my jaw drop. Don’t miss this one!

Women in Clothes Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399166563
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Riverhead Books - September 4th, 2014

Whatever your feelings may be about the importance of fashion in your life, we all put clothes on our bodies every day. How and why we make certain choices about what we wear is the central focus of this difficult-to-classify homage to women in clothes. Hundreds of women from a variety of different backgrounds were interviewed for this collection, and it paints a beautiful picture of the diversity of styles and fashion choices across the world. Chock full of essays, interviews, photos, drawings, and narratives, this book will be a great addition to your coffee table.

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594632198
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Riverhead Books - January 8th, 2014

I don’t typically gravitate towards books on political movements, but I’m glad a friend recommended this one. WORDS WILL BREAK CEMENT focuses on the cultural and political climate in modern day Russia through the lens of members of the all-girl punk rock art collective Pussy Riot. Told through interviews and personal correspondence, Gessen paints an insightful portrait into the oppression of disparate opinions, harsh criminal actions taken against these women, and their survival in the Russian prison system. Eye-opening, to say the least.

The Other Side: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9781935639831
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Tin House Books - July 15th, 2014

I’m a big fan of small press publishers. In my opinion, this is where you really find the most original, creative stories, and I like to support local businesses. One of the best small presses is Tin House. I have yet to read a book they’ve published that I don’t cherish as a favorite, and Lacy Johnson’s THE OTHER SIDE is no exception. This harrowing account of her kidnapping and torture by an ex-boyfriend is certainly upsetting, but the way that she is able to evolve through this experience is remarkable. Her sparse prose is hypnotic and beautiful, her emotions raw and palpable. Despite reading this book over the course of a few hours, it clung to me for days afterwards and is one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve ever read.

Sister Golden Hair: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781935639947
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Tin House Books - October 14th, 2014

Another Tin House book! This coming-of-age story set in 1970s Roanoke follows our narrator, Jesse, as she moves across the country when her father loses his job as a minister. Each section is about a particular friend Jesse makes along the way and the subsequent relationship she develops. It reminds me of Mary Miller’s THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA because it is more about atmosphere and feelings than plot progression. This quiet, introspective narrative has good YA crossover potential: there’s an awkward teenage book lover, overly emotional involvement with each new friendship, and subsequent sadness as people drift apart. As someone who prefers stories about a character’s interior life, this one was a sleeper favorite for me.

Euphoria Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802122551
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - June 3rd, 2014

This roman à clef of Margaret Mead’s adventures to Papua New Guinea tells the story of a love triangle between 1930s anthropologists. Exquisitely paced and reminiscent of HEART OF DARKNESS, the tension between the husband-and-wife research team and a fellow scientist halfway around the world in unknown territory is palpable. Historical inquiries into previously uncontacted indigenous tribes are fascinating on their own; throwing in some romantic turmoil provides for a suspenseful, engaging read. Don’t just take my word for it--the New York Times liked it too!

Life Drawing Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400068562
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Random House - July 15th, 2014

I’m going to be honest with you--I initially picked up this book because I have the same first name as the protagonist. As silly as a reason as that may be, I was completely absorbed into the story and sped through it in two days. While you learn the outcome of the book on its very first page, it doesn’t make the intervening pages any less captivating. Gus and Owen move to a home in the country so they can both focus on their crafts and avoid the distractions of the city (namely, a previous affair by Gus). As discerning readers, we know that running away from problems never really solves anything, and drama ensues. Told through Gus’s perspective, we get a deep understanding of her psyche and how right and wrong are rarely black and white. Narratives on interior lives of characters are really what I gravitate towards, and despite the intense ending, I appreciated the depth of emotion Black was able to bring to life.

Dept. of Speculation (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345806871
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Vintage - October 7th, 2014

Of all the books I read this year, this may be my most favorite. It’s small and unassuming but packs a huge punch. Told in vignettes, it chronicles the narrator’s life, from when she first meets her future husband and their marriage and life together, to the birth of their daughter and the various changes that happen over the course of a relationship. I feel that it’s really powerful when you can express so much in so few words, and though this is difficult to pull off, Offill does it perfectly.

Station Eleven: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385353304
Availability: BACKORDERED
Published: Knopf - September 9th, 2014

I read a few dystopian, post-apocalyptic novels this year, and this one was far and away the best. A mutant version of the swine flu breaks out across the world and kills most everyone in its wake. The remaining survivors find themselves struggling to live in a world without basic human necessities under the threat of ever-present violence. Featuring interconnected narratives revolving around the life and death of Arthur Leander, a stage actor, and survivors of the apocalypse, including a traveling Shakespeare troupe and orchestra, this heartfelt exploration into hope and humanity after a tragedy is beautifully rendered and reminds us that mere survival is insufficient--there is more to life than that.

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