The 28 Best Books By Women In 2014
Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that killed it this year. Ranked in no particular order.
1. CITIZEN: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
"This poetry collection would be essential reading any year, but now more than ever we need poetry that enables us to talk about race candidly and with heartfelt intelligence." – Saeed Jones
2. The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum
"I devoured Meghan Daum's latest collection of essays over a weekend. She's sensitive without being sentimental and gives words to the the feelings you never knew you had. She's a master of the essay form, recounting disparate events in the service of brilliant, brilliant ideas." – Matt Ortile
3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
"Each page was as enthralling as the last. It was the book I'd waited a lifetime for, the book I never worked up the nerve to write." – Ashley Ford
4. Night Games by Anna Krein
The winner of the 2014 William Hill Sports Book Prize (Krien is only the second woman in 28 years to win the award), Night Games is a searing investigation into rape culture at the highest levels of sport.
5. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hillary Mantel
"It was fascinating to see Mantel take a break from doorstop historical novels to publish this book of very modern short stories, which are spooky and densely packed with words used in ways you wish you'd thought of. I wanted to read the whole thing again right after I finished, because I couldn't shake the feeling that I hadn't yet unearthed what each story was supposed to be telling me – and that if I could figure them out, it would be like a set of keys to making sense of the whole big, spooky world we live in." – Rachel Sanders
6. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
“If you’re in the mood to read wonderful, thought-provoking essays that feel like they’re written by your best friend, check out Bad Feminist. With her wide-ranging grasp of pop culture and current events, from the Sweet Valley High books to the Jerry Sandusky trial, Gay puts you at ease as she shakes the foundations of what you believe.” – Sami Main
7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
"Emily St. John Mandel’s time-hopping tale of a worldwide epidemic, postapocalyptic Shakespearian thespians, the problematic nature of fame, and the importance of art, love, and companionship when it comes to survival is an incredible feat of a novel." – Isaac Fitzgerald
8. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
A series of short dispatches from the frontline of a marriage, Dept. of Speculation is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, often both in the same sentence. As the narrator traverses love, marriage, children, and adultery, Offill's remarkable wit and wisdom never wavers, making Dept. of Speculation as compelling an exploration of the modern relationship as exists. Laugh out loud or cry quietly, you won't fail to be moved by this clever, joyous book.
9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
"Everything I Never Told You follows the Lee family in 1970s Ohio, who are forced to confront their own faultlines and fractures after a tragedy. In this literary mystery and family drama, Celeste Ng introduces you to unforgettable characters that will also have you turning pages all night." – Isaac Fitzgerald
10. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Ali Smith's sixth novel made the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize, and was fancied by many to take the top prize. The book is a duel narrative, the interconnected stories of a teenage girl and an Italian renaissance artist, and the copy you buy dictates whose narrative you read first. Either way, How to Be Both presents a fascinating study of gender and sexuality, as both modern teenager and 15th-century artist struggle with social convention and expectation.
11. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
The story of a girl growing up in Ireland, caring for her disabled brother and struggling with both her adolescence and her family – including an cruel, unhinged mother and a pervert uncle – Eimear McBride's searing debut balances a highly experimental style with intense bouts of emotion and moments of stunning simplicity. It's a difficult read that never makes compromises, but is infinite in its rewards. A stunning book, and winner of the 2014 Baileys Prize.
12. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
"Beginning with Boy, a young woman who escapes her abusive father and moves to 1950s smalltown Massachusetts, Boy, Snow, Bird is a dazzling novel that weaves fairy tales ('Snow White' in particular), race, and class together into a continually surprising and intriguing story. You’ll be so stunned by Helen Oyeyemi’s imagination and her daring plot twists that it’ll be hard to keep the spoilers to yourself." – Issac Fitzgerald
13. Science...for Her! by Megan Amram
Parks and Rec writer and Twitter favourite Megan Amram's first book is a hilarious parody of scientific facts, putting her knack for one-liners to use in subverting tropes of Cosmo-style feminimity and women in science, covering topics such as "Marie Curie vs Marie Claire", "intergalactic weight loss tips", and "kale". The result is part gender commentary, part satire, and entirely entertaining.
14. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
A collection of disparate essays written by Jamison over the past few years, each exploring suffering, pain, and the human condition, with subjects including medical acting, ultra-running, skin diseases, parasites, self-harm, and the subjugation of female illness, brought together under a unifying theme: empathy. As a whole, it's a study of vulnerability and human experiences that interrogates our understanding of ourselves, each other, and empathy itself.
15. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
"Lila [is] the third in what could be called Marilynne Robinson's 'Iowa trilogy'. They're deceptively simple novels, offering voice to a small cast of characters in a tiny town, as they wrestle, without pomposity, with what can only be described as the most important questions of life. What does it mean to be good? To forgive? To die? And what might a life of striving toward those answers look like?" – Anne Helen Peterson
16. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
"In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez brings together the stories of many Spanish-speaking immigrants, all living in one Delaware apartment complex. Henriquez masterfully evokes many different aspects of the immigrant experience, creating voices that you must hear." – Isaac Fitzgerald
17. Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
Wickedly funny and delightfully unreserved, Animals is the story of Laura and Tyler, thirtysomething best friends and co-dependent enablers whose commitment to hedonism is both endearing and slightly worrying. While Laura is about to marry a sensible man and seek adulthood in earnest, Tyler shows no signs of slowing down, and the impending nuptials offer Unsworth a chance to explore friendship, ageing, and societal notions of "proper female behaviour". An absolute riot.
18. Severed by Frances Larson
Larson's brilliant history of beheadings goes beyond the grim spectacle of public execution to discuss the issues of class and race inherent in the act of separating a head from its body, examining the taking of a head as punishment, as power symbol, as trophy, and in the case of the white-tourist-driven shrunken-head market, as bloodstained trinket. A deconstruction of decapitation as fascinating as it is relevant in the wake of the resurgence of the act by ISIS in the Middle East.
19. The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour
"Inspired by a Persian myth, The Last Illusion centres around Zal, a feral boy who has been raised in a birdcage by his mother in rural Iran. When Zal is freed and taken to New York, he undertakes an arduous journey toward becoming human. Porochista Khakpour has written a gorgeous story for and about outsiders, full of magic and grit – one that is also a splendid novel about New York itself." – Isaac Fitzgerald
20. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
"I read Not That Kind of Girl the way I unwrap a snack on a stressful day at work. Lena Dunham’s highly anticipated collection of personal essays is an instantly gratifying look at what it’s like to be a young woman navigating complex themes as sprawling as family, friends, love, sex, body, work, mortality, and mental health. While many of the experiences Dunham describes are rooted in enormous privilege, her attempts to make meaning of them give way to universal questions that will leave you with plenty to chew on long after you’ve finished reading." – Anita Badejo
21. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Part memoir, part diary, H Is for Hawk follows Macdonald's attempts to raise her goshawk, Mabel, while dealing with the death of her father. In its poetry it is quite remarkable, but Macdonald further raises it beyond simple definition as she provides a history of falconry, dispelling age-old myth and technique, in particular the writings of T.H. White, author of Arthurian legend and also a book on his own attempts to raise a goshawk. If you love lyrical prose, seek this book out. R is for Read.
22. Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood's second collection of poems centres around her brilliant, crushing "Rape Joke", which was disseminated across the social media when it was published in The Awl last year, an all-too-rare example of viral poetry. Sex is a central theme throughout the collection, as Lockwood toys with the language and imagery of pornography and digs into deep veins of autobiography, never veering far from the subversive, playful tone her many Twitter followers love so much.
23. The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
Long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker prize, The Blazing World is presented as an investigation into the claims that Harriet Burden, a painter convinced that her gender has left her work underappreciated by the male-dominated art world, asked three male counterparts to show her paintings under their names. Her claim of responsibility for the work is quickly rebuffed by art critics, and so begins an exploration of the denial and silencing of female voices in art.
24. Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Battling feelings grief and rage, a young TV presenter suddenly disappears from her outwardly glamorous New York life. She hops a plane to New Zealand in search of adventure and self, driving herself to greater risks as she seeks solace from her own fears and anxieties.
"Because there's nothing better than a book that doesn't let you breathe." – Jennifer Schaffer
25. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
"We Were Liars haunts you long after you've finished reading it. It's a page-turner with an emotional core that will leave your mind blown and your heart a little bit shattered. It's also beautifully written; the kind of prose you want to read out loud, that evokes the texture and taste and smell of a place and a story and the people in it." – Jenna Guillaume
26. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
A slim volume that is never short on power, this collects seven essays from Solnit, including the now classic "Men Explain Things To Me" and others on Virginia Woolf, marriage equality, and violence against women, each woven with her customary sharp wit and unflinching eye. For those seeking to understand more about the daily experience of women, Men Explain Things to Me is the perfect place to start.
27. The Fever by Megan Abbott
"I was hooked by page four. Seriously, page four – the end of the first, highly ambiguous, totally tantalising mini-chapter that begins the book. I knew, four pages in, that I was ruined for the rest of the day. I lay in bed and watched the sun slowly creep down, a slight breeze and the sounds of Saturday-crazed children filtering in through the windows, and lost myself, and four hours of the day, to finishing these 300 pages." – Anne Helen Peterson
28. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
An ingenious exploration of gender roles, female identity, and female competition, Only Ever Yours has been described as "Mean Girls meets The Handmaid's Tale", and if that doesn't warrant a read, then what does? (Out now in UK/Ireland, and out in April 2015 in the US.)
Got a favourite that's not listed here? Add it below.
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