Magazine article Newsweek

Our Favorite Books of 2014: Newsweek Staff Picks; Though Far from Exhaustive, This Twenty-Book List Is a Small Glimpse at the Books We Read and Loved in 2014

Magazine article Newsweek

Our Favorite Books of 2014: Newsweek Staff Picks; Though Far from Exhaustive, This Twenty-Book List Is a Small Glimpse at the Books We Read and Loved in 2014

Article excerpt

The Newsweek staff reads a lot.

This I learned on my first day of work, with a simple glance around the office's interior. I was--and remain--seated next to senior writer Victoria Bekiempis, whose desk looks like a cubicle-sized library as organized by a black bear. Further down the aisle sits senior writer Alexander Nazaryan, though you can't really see him unless you peer over, or around, the Pisa-style stacks of books that threaten to topple onto him daily. Sometimes those stacks of books spill over into neighboring cubicles, and sometimes they multiply and wind up in bedrooms and waiting rooms and on the L Train and--yes--on this very website and in the magazine.

Though far from exhaustive (our apologies, Monsieur Piketty), this 20-book list is meant as a small glimpse at the books we read and loved in 2014. It's an eclectic grouping, ranging from scholarly tomes about tax policy to National Book Award winner Phil Klay's war vignettes to blog-to-book offerings from The Toast's Mallory Ortberg and Pitchfork Reviews Reviews' David Shapiro.

Anyway: Happy reading, and do support your local independent bookseller. --Zach Schonfeld

BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial)

Culture critic Roxane Gay writes about reality television, teaching, terrible teen novels and contending with the conflicting values that make her a "bad feminist" in this touching and crucial essay collection. The works are compiled essays Gay has published elsewhere, from The Rumpus to Salon, but whose common thread is grappling with the political and personal complications that come with seeking social justice. Gay's true gift is the ability to pen lean prose, though: She explains complex, nuanced terms in a bare-bones way, and tells relatable stories that make us, at heart, all bad feminists. If you're interested in critical thinking about culture, this book is a must. --Paula Mejia

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James (Riverhead)

"Every time you reach the edge, the edge move ahead of you like a shadow until the whole world is a ghetto, and you wait."

That's Bam-Bam, at 14 years old, a future member of the infamous Shower Posse gang, talking about growing up poor in a Jamaican shanty--and also capturing the main theme and thrust of Marlon James's novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. Bam-Bam is one of over a dozen characters whose voices James renders into discrete units that range from Bam-Bam's rough Jamaican patois to the spook-speak American English of CIA pencil-pushers to the controlled colonial English of a dead (yes, speaking from beyond the grave) Jamaican Brit. Together, they create a cacophony used to tell the wide-ranging story of Jamaica, the place and idea. It's a sweeping novel that touches on family, friendship, celebrity, art, sexuality, ghetto politics, geopolitics, drug trade, gender, race and more, sending the reader from Jamaica to New York via Miami and Cuba and back. But at its center is conspiracy, the shifting realities that Bam-Bam alludes to when he talks about mercurial edges.

Did you know that there was a politically motivated assassination attempt on the life of Bob Marley in 1976, days before the huge "Smile Jamaica" peace concert? That the CIA may or may not have taken a keen interest in the rise of Jamaica's socialist-leaning government and the growing Cuban influence in the country at the time? That the CIA may have been integral in arming and training the Shower Posse, which still operates throughout the world, primarily in the New York metro area? That many believe that the early death of The Singer (as Bob Marley is called in the book) was, ultimately, the CIA's doing?

A Brief History of Seven Killings will send you down this path. The question, at the end, is whether this book is dangerous--is there a classified file that now contains a redacted copy of the text?--or is it just-for-fun, a parody of parodies where brutal killer Josey Wales (a leading member of the Shower Posse) is just a silly man a bit too into American Westerns? …

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