BEST BOOKS OF 2014
by Clarence V. Reynolds
Freelance editor and literary arbiter Clarence V. Reynolds reads five books per day, or was that per month. Anyway, Mosaic asked him to whittle his prodigiousness down to the best of the year. After much discussion here’s his list of nine stellar titles.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
By Marlon James
It’s 1976 in Jamaica and “the country is ticking and about to boom.” Though the narrative of this story revolves around a fictional account of an attempted assassination of a reggae superstar, there is a cast of unforgettable characters in this rigorous book about Jamaican and U.S. culture, politics, and race relations. The author’s masterful sense for detail in portraying violence and tenderness energizes this epic tale.
Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
Winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Woodson’s memoir reaches across age groups. Written in poetic verse, she reflects upon her growing up in South Carolina and living Brooklyn, New York. Vivid and eloquent poems, such as “after greenville #1” and “late autumn,” are drawn from the turbulent times in America during the 1960s and ’70s and the author’s own personal history. Woodson looks back on the family stories, those cherished initial sparks, that set her on the path to becoming a passionate writer.
Foreign Gods, Inc.
By Okey Ndibe
Ike Uzondu, a Nigerian-born, Amherst-educated, divorced New York cabbie, has a plan to free himself of his financial woes and start a new life: He plans to return to his village and steal the statute of “a majestic god with a rich legend and history,” and sell it for a hefty price to the owner of Foreign Gods, Inc., a New York gallery that specializes in carrying ancient deities. But once Ike (pronounced Ee-kay) travels back to Nigeria, he is reacquainted to his native land; and to carry out his plan is not as simple as he thought.
Land of Love and Drowning
By Tiphanie Yanique
Yanique’s novel is a beautifully written majestic story about belonging—belonging to a place, to another person, and discovering the meaningful elements of what makes up and belongs to oneself. Set in the Virgin Islands and with a story line that blends the magical with the realistic, the Land of Love and Drowning chronicles three generations of the Bradshaw family, and explores the weight of family secrets and the pull of haunting love.
Song of the Shank
By Jeffery Renard Allen
As this story opens in 1866, the life of Thomas Greene Wiggins, an enslaved, autistic savant and gifted musician best known as Blind Tom, comes to life in this remarkable novel. Recognized as a prodigy, young Tom later becomes a world famous pianist who performs across the country and abroad during the times of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In this smartly written and meticulous book, Allen weaves Tom’s boyhood and personal life with American history to create a brilliant portrayal of a genius.
Time of the Locust
By Morowa Yejidé
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster
This engaging and impressive debut novel uses mesmerizing imagery to explore the mysteries and challenges surrounding autism. Seven-year-old Sephiri, a boy with autism, inhabits two worlds: the Land of Air, which he shares with his mother, and his World of Water, where he feels safe and understood. At its heart, Time of the Locust is a beautiful tale about the strength of family and the unmitigated power of love.
Bad Feminist: Essays
By Roxane Gay
Shortly after the publication of her riveting novel An Untamed State, about a woman kidnapped and held for ransom and the aftermath of her piecing together her life, Gay published an insightful and sometimes hilarious collection of essays. Gay is provocative, witty, and serious in her meditations and observations on the state of contemporary feminism and a wide range of topics from today’s cultural and political climate.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir
By Charles M. Blow
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
In this inspiring memoir, Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, opens readers’ eyes to the realities about race, class and sexuality in the South. In this coming-of-age story told with equal parts of bravery, honesty and rawness, he recalls growing up poor in segregated Louisiana and enduring his college years. As Blow eventually overcomes the trauma of sexual abuse in his youth and moves to healing, he emerges triumphant in his journey from a boyhood of self-doubt to a manhood of clarity and self-confidence.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
By Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau
Although the case of Walter McMillan, a Black man who was wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to die yet maintained his innocence, is at the center of this suspenseful book, Just Mercy examines the corruption, machinations, and prejudices that exist within the criminal justice system. In this emotionally packed account of his career and life’s mission, lawyer and activist Stevenson, who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama and is “the real deal,” questions what is the “real” truth.