My favorite fiction of 2014

Overall I found this to be a weak year for fiction, with most of the highly anticipated books disappointing me, including those of Murakami, MacEwan, and David Mitchell.  Even the third volume of Knausgaard had extraordinary material through only about fifteen percent of the text; it was worth reading but most of it did not hold my attention very well.  Here are the ones I really liked, with the first two being my favorites:

1. Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel.  A missionary visits space aliens, some of whom embrace the Bible eagerly, almost too eagerly.  Meanwhile he and his wife on earth write letters back and forth, showing they are the true aliens to each other.  This is the fiction book this year I enjoyed most, and the one I kept on wanting to pick up after I had put it down.  It is one of the most resonant portraits of space aliens I have read. yet without it being a science fiction novel.  Here is a useful NYT review, describing the book as “defiantly unclassifiable.”

2. Emmanuel Carrère, Limonov, The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, A Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.  This work blends fiction, non-fiction, and occasional social science (was a non-corrupt transformation of the Soviet Union really possible?, Gaidar ultimately decided it wasn’t), but in terms of the subjective experience of the reader it is most like a novel.  In addition to its literary quality, this is a deep book about why liberalism will never quite win over human nature.  Here is an interesting Julian Barnes review, although it is insufficiently appreciative.

3. Andrés Neuman, Talking to Ourselves, “Women who know what they want never want anything interesting.”

4. Javier Cercas, Outlaws: A Novel, my earlier remarks are here.

5. Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  The Booker Prize winner, I thought this was at times too sentimental but an excellent story with some depth too.  It deals with an Australian in a prisoner of war camp in WWII and his escapades surrounding that time in his life.

I have yet to start the new Colm Tóibín novel, and I often like his work.  I read some of the new Sarah Waters, which struck me as a little too belabored for the time I had to give to it, but a quality work which will please her fans.  Cesar Aira wrote some more and he continues to be interesting.  I continued a reread of Moby Dick.

I am preparing my list of my favorite non-fiction books of the year and that should be ready before the Christmas shopping season starts.

In the meantime, what new fiction can you all recommend to me?


“Women who know what they want never want anything interesting.”

Tyler once again throwing a bone to the manosphere.

It's amusing to me that a 52 year old tenured academic needs to be coy about his political sympathies.

That quote was from the book, which from the Amazon preview is sort of a coming-of-age book written from a ten-year old's point of view. I'll pass.

I prefer non-fiction, it's more realistic, though often it can turn into fiction when the author uses selective memory.


I, on the other hand, prefer fiction since I find it more fictional. But it might just be me.

I also prefer children books, the language is more simple.

And overall I prefer movies, I find they offer more movement and sound than books.

I would recommend old fiction instead of new one (or, rather, you may take it as new since the English translation was finished only last year) -- Ryotaro Shiba's 'Clouds above the Hill'.

The Clouds By Aristophanes is also a classic, if you read it in the original Greek, and hear in staged in the amphitheater at Ἐπίδαυρος,

American adults read an average of 12 books per year

The median (midpoint) number is 5 books-- half read more , half read fewer

College graduates average 16 books

{stats are from 2013 Pew Research; consistent over years}


Google estimates over 130 Million unique books available

How should readers choose ?

(Do audio books count ? Does skimming count as "reading" ?)


How many books do you estimate Tyler completely read in a typical year ?

What percentage are fiction versus non-fiction ?

Tyler has commented before on his reading numbers and reading practices. It's interesting to read about someone with his reading "system". Obviously he reads quickly, but he's also got the time and interest.

My own ratio is 9-1 or 8-2 in favour of non-fiction, but that's me. I find non-fiction more interesting though a very good novel is rewarding.

Was Lila by Marilynne Robinson disappointing as well?

Not to me. I thought LILA was terrific.

I find Colm Tóibín too obvious. "Look, I can write a really long sentence. Look, I can relate these two seemingly unrelated events to make a big point. I'm a literary novelist."

Tyler should write a book himself, about the 48 hours a day he devotes to reading while the rest of the human race struggles along with the ordinary 24.

So he reads quickly... So he's got the time and the energy (and the inclination) to read a lot…

Us mere mortals shouldn't moan about it, but pick and choose wisely.

And that's what Cowen does for me: he helps filter choices.

There's no such thing as a weak year in fiction. If you can't find anything among the tens of thousands of new novels published each year, you're not looking hard enough.

you’re not looking hard enough.

To be fair I believe he's "looking" by asking the question.

David Cronenberg's "Consumed"

Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique.

In The Light Of What We Know
"The World As We Know It: Zia Haider Rahman’s dazzling début"
Here's James Wood in The New Yorker
"Isn’t this kind of thinking—worldly and personal, abstract and concrete, essayistic and dramatic—exactly what the novel is for?"

“In the Light of What We Know” is what Salman Rushdie once called an “everything novel.” It is wide-armed, hospitable, disputatious, worldly, cerebral. Ideas and provocations abound on every page, and if they sometimes seem a little carelessly abandoned, there is nonetheless an atmosphere of intellectual pluripotency. To select just one strand, Rahman’s novel conducts a searching critique of metaphor and metaphor-making.

Seconded, definitely an excellent book (even if the plot-framing conversations are a bit indulgently digressive), and very much a Tyler kind of book.

Have you read the new Ben Lerner novel? I've read great reviews and I believe you had very good things to say about Leaving Atocha Station.

Lerner: definitely the best.

I quite liked the new one from Jo Walton, "My Real Children." I read her last one, "Among Others," largely on Tyler's recommendation and loved it.

Among Others was fantastic, I have to agree.

I've read "Ancillary Justice" and I think it's OK, but I'm not raving. Winner in a relatively weak Hugo field in my view (good authors, but none of them at their best was my view of the nominees).

"Orfeo" by Richard Powers is one of his best and largely concerns contemporary classical music, so I would think Tyler would find it interesting.

I'd recommend Team Seven by Marcus Burke. Here's a review/interview from the Atlantic.

Elena Ferrante's third installment of her Brilliant Friends's tetralogy. The fourth is out in Italy, must wait for the translation. Read anything by her, she's great

Edward St Aubyn's Lost for Words, said to be a delicious fiendish satire, which I have not enjoyed yet, either. (Does literary satire enjoy good health these days, among readers and writers alike?)

The Planner, by Tom Campbell, published in July 2014.

There aren't many non Sci Fi novels that draw as explicitly as this one from the corpus of economics. Nor are there many novelists who can work in explicit mention of Kenneth Arrow on information assymetries without sounding didactic and heavy handed, but Campbell can. And best of all, it's witty and superbly written. A real gem.

In the meantime, what new fiction can you all recommend to me?

You're a hard audience and I don't think our interests trend in the same direction, but Peter Watt's ECHOPRAXIA is excellent though not as good as BLINDSIGHT.

I loved Merritt Tierce's LOVE ME BACK but it is not for you, though you may like the economics of restaurants and the portrayal of low-conscientiousness individuals.

Christopher Beha's ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTS may strike your fancy, along the lines of your possibly positive review of SPRING BREAKERS.

(This feels too early.)

I have to agree on Murakami. When I read that the protagonist was bright but never really applied himself in high school -- just enough to get by -- I closed the book and returned it to library the next day. That line has appeared in too many Murakami novels.

(I hope he writes another running memoir next).

Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Hard Choices".

Michael Faber was very lucky that Jonathan Glazer chose to adapt his only intermittently engaging novel under the skin

I know a lot of good books, but I don't know if they have been published in 2014.

How about short stories? Diane Cook's debut Man V. Nature is brutal and beautiful. Here's the NY Times review:

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