My Favorite Book of 2014

I read a lot of really excellent books this year, you guys. And I stumbled across some really talented authors. I tried to split my time as evenly as possible between self-published/small press books and traditionally published work, and man oh man. I ended up with some seriously great work.

(Note that these books weren't all published in 2014. I just read them in 2014.)

I discovered an insane amount of talent in the self-pub and small press worlds. I read a handful of comedy adventures by Benjamin Wallace, including the fast-paced, fun-filled romp Horror in Honduras. I loved the sweet, raw, fiercely truthful Lost in Spacea book of essays on fatherhood by the very talented Ben Tanzer. New Englander Alex Kimmell constructed a brilliantly mind-bending psychedelic horror tale with The Key to Everything. The one and only Steven Luna presented a wonderfully refreshing take on the vampire genre with his Joe Vampire series, written in a style that's half Jonathan Tropper, half Andy Weir, and all Steven Luna. And I enjoyed Joseph Bates' collection of short stories, Tomorrowland, maybe more than I've ever enjoyed any other short story collection ever. 

They were all spectacular, and they should all be on your "to read in 2015" list.

But my favorite book of the year just barely edged them out.

I also read some wonderful traditionally published work. I finally got around to reading Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and damn it all if it wasn't beautifully quirky and dark and haunting. I also gave in and read some Charles Bukowski for the first time. Post Office was a slam-bang delight. Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers was a fun, enthralling, dry-humored tale of Old West revenge. Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana was a heart-pumping, Midwest Gothic shotgun blast to the face. I was completely enchanted by Frances Hardinge's wonderfully imaginative fairy tale novel, Fly By Night.

But my favorite book that I read in 2014? Without question, it was Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

The title alone put it in the top ten.

Fairyland is the story of a young girl, September, who gets swept away by the Green Wind into Fairyland and finds herself on a dangerous mission to retrieve a certain talisman for the conniving Marquess from the enchanted woods. If she doesn't, the Marquess will wreak all manner of horrors on the inhabitants of Fairyland.

Along the way, September meets a host of unlikely and charming creatures, including a Wyverary (half wyvern, half library) who is so endearing that his care for September might actually break your heart. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK WITHOUT A DECENT CARDIOVASCULAR SURGEON ON HAND.

Valente's tale, which, I'm absolutely delighted to say, is the first in a series of Fairyland books, is a modern-day Alice in Wonderland. It reads similarly to Carroll's masterpiece, and it gave me the same sort of clever, literary swashbuckling thrill. September is a brave and willful girl, and Valente isn't afraid to rough up her little heroine, which brings a complex and tender layer to the tried and true "young girl overcomes all odds" storyline. Fairyland is wonderful, creative, charming, adventurous, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and saturated with imagination, and it is, hands down, the best book I read in 2014. 

What's your favorite book from this past year?

Clayton SmithComment