Jan’s Favorite Books of 2014

Jan is our absolutely fearless, incredibly talented second floor inventory manager and resident unicorn aficionado. She reads widely, she reads often, and she wants to know what you did with her mechanical pencil. 

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5. What If? by Randall Munroe

Science is fun, and science is funny! If only someone told me this when I was a kid, I’d be in a different place today. The good news is, you’re never too late to enjoy anything. When this book was published, I stopped work to look through it, and it became apparent that I would have to bring this baby home, or I wouldn’t get anything done! Packed with thoughtful and brand new answers to some of the strangest questions ever posed to science, Munroe considers questions to be the ultimate form of learning. This was my go-to gift recommendation this year, and we just couldn’t keep it on our shelves!

4. My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart

Hannah Hart cannot be stopped. She is a tiny tornado of self-love and acceptance. Her book, the companion to her wildly successful YouTube series of the same name, is full of recipes for food and recipes for life. Whether you’re getting over a bad breakup (“Sad Thai,” page 165) or any of life’s other failures (“Saltine Nachos,” page 53) Hannah has the wit, the wisdom, and the wine-dom for you. Because of people like Hannah Hart, the world sucks less. Just remember, love of all things comes from a love of all things, and that includes string cheese for dinner (“String (Cheese) Theory,” page 131).
(Runner up: Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart)

3. The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec

This debut novel is a fictionalized biography of famous mathematician and logician Kurt Godel and his wife Adele. Years after Kurt’s death, a young assistant archivist from Princeton University approaches Adele on her sickbed about acquiring Kurt’s papers for the university archive. Adele keeps her husband’s papers–his life’s work–close to her, and Anna has to make multiple visits just to keep up with Adele. As Anna and Adele become closer, they recognize their similar marginalized places in academia, and Adele reveals to Anna a life filled with boundless love and suffering. Adele lived Kurt’s axiom: a system cannot prove itself; one must exist through the attention of others.

2. Clariel by Garth Nix

Oh how I’ve waited for this book! It has been twelve years since Garth Nix wrote an Old Kingdom story (which began with the Abhorsen trilogy and continued through the short story “Across The Wall” from the short story collection of the same name), and upon reading the first page of this new tale, it is apparent that Nix has never left the Old Kingdom. Clariel takes place in Belisaere 600 years before the events of the original trilogy. Nix shows us a very different Old Kingdom–one which thrives, which has a powerful merchant class, with a weak king, and even stranger Abhorsens. Clariel’s story is unlike Sabriel’s, Touchstone’s, Lirael’s, and Sam’s, because Clariel is unlike anyone else. Through her, Nix scrutinizes the Abhorsen’s centuries-long practice of imprisoning and enslaving Free Magic creatures. New light is cast upon these fictional institutions that we grew up with. This is exactly the new Old Kingdom story I have been waiting for. Clariel is exactly the young woman I need to read about in my fiction. Nix makes me question, or at the very least, examine critically, my old alliances, which is how we grow as audiences.
(Runners Up: Heap House by Edward Carey and Young Elites by Marie Lu)

1. Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

We’re past the point of pretending that North Korea–particularly her eccentric and dangerous leaders–is “normal.” As first-world Westerners, we are accustomed to the privilege of free speech, parody, and access to the information that allows for parody. (It is telling that South Korea emerged into the popular American consciousness with PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” a song that parodies the glamorous lifestyle of a fashionable district in Seoul.) Unfortunately, North Korea is an information vacuum. The only tidbits of information that we have of the operations of the citizens of that isolated nation are what spies like Suki Kim are able to smuggle out to us. And that is why her memoir about her six months teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s elite is so important. Kim’s determination borders on the obsessive, but her love (and fear) for her students is borderless. This was the best book I read this year because I still feel the anxiety, paranoia, and fear three months after closing the book. It stays with you…as it should.
(Runner up: The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong)

4 thoughts on “Jan’s Favorite Books of 2014

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