The 5 Best Books I Read in 2014

I read a lot of books this year.

Reading is just what I do for recreation – I don’t have television, so instead of watching TV, I read. If I watched TV, most of which would be mediocre and a little of which would be AMAZING. Instead I read books… most of which are mediocre and a few of which are AMAZING.

Here are the five most amazing books I read this year, out of the 104 I read:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I spent a year of my life trying to explain very complicated ideas in a way that would make people who don’t give a shit about science really give a shit about the science. I wish I had had this as a model while I was writing. It is more technical than my book but Van der Kolk manages to connect the details of the neuroscience to the lived experience of a trauma survivor in a way that lets you never lose track of what it is he’s writing about, WHOM he’s writing about, and why it matters that he’s writing about it. He is amazing, his work is amazing, his book is amazing, he understands trauma across every level of analysis from genetics and brain chemistry through social structures and social justice. Read this book immediately. If you’re a trauma survivor, go slowly because it’s really intense. But read it.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon. It’s a collection of essays. The last essay is a letter to his mom. He writes about being a teacher who is the child of a teacher. He writes about transformation. He wrote, “Transformation isn’t possible without honest acceptance of who you are, whence you came, what you do in the dark, and how you want to love and be loved tomorrow.” I burst into huge ugly tears. Read this book too.

The English Marriage: Tales of Love, Money and Adultery by Maureen Waller. I read this back in January and it has stayed with me all year. It’s a chronological journey through legal cases related to marriage in England, from women as property to women as fully autonomous people. If you read or write romance novels, read this book. If you’re interested in the legal status of marriage in the twenty-first century, read this book. It’s AMAZING.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Actually, I listened to the audiobook, which is its own separate experience. I read a bunch of women’s memoirs this year, and this was the best one. I heard a podcast comparing Yes Please with Tina Fey’s memoir and with Lena Dunham’s, and someone actually said, “It matters more to me not so  much what a person has to say, but how they say it.” That person preferred Lena Dunham’s memoir. I preferred Amy Poehler’s, because what a person has to say is more important to me than how they say it. If you want to hear a smart person say something interesting, sincere, funny, and true, read this one.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan. Boy oh boy. I read this at long last, and it stunned me. It is simultaneously both a product of its time… and… about fifty years ahead of its time. It’s like Freidan was looking at her own world from somewhere in the future. It’s true that it is very much about HER world, and not THE world, but the clarity of her vision of her own world is startling and impressive.