As part of our Best Books of 2014 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Few writers inspire the fierce devotion that Japanese author Haruki Murakami does, and he’s returned with a novel about the dynamics of friendship. Anchored by a unique blend of existential contemplation and magical realism, the novel follows Tsukuru on his lonely journey to confront his four high school friends and solve the mystery of the friendship’s abrupt end. As with Murakami’s previous efforts, this perplexing yet beautiful journey is well worth taking.
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is known to strike up quite a fervor among his fans with each new release. His latest novel to reach American shores, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has been no different, and our reviewer, Megan Fishmann, affirms that this sorrow-steeped novel was worth the wait.
Tsukuru Tazaki had a group of four loyal, close-knit friends in high school . . . until the day they unceremoniously cut off all contact with him.
Now in his mid-30s, Tsukuru works as a train engineer in Tokyo, but his new girlfriend spurs him on a journey to discover just exactly why this rift was opened so many years ago. Tsukuru sets off on a pilgrimage—covering Japan and then reaching into Finland—to visit each friend individually and find the closure he has longed for.
Watch the gorgeous animated trailer from Knopf below:
What do you think, readers? Have you picked up a copy yet?
A chain of names leads to a chain of murders in Timothy Hallinan's latest hardboiled mystery, Herbie's Game. When a list of names linking back to a burglary goes missing, people on the list start popping up dead. Professional crook and sometimes detective Junior Bender takes up the case, and soon discovers that his recently murdered mentor and father-figure might not be all he claimed to be. Our reviewer says of the book: "With complex characters, spicy dialogue, clever plot devices and a liberal dose of humor—as is always the case with Hallinan—Herbie’s Game is a fine read." (Read the full review here.)
Murakami is my favorite living novelist, and he has a new book coming out in a month or two, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, so I went back to his most recent book to get ready for the new one–sort of like a wind sprint in preparation for a race. Murakami is a dazzler and a magician: his books are as much cascades of imagination as they are conventionally organized stories. A young Tokyo woman caught up in a traffic jam abandons her taxi and climbs down a ladder leading from the elevated roadway into a new world— an urban rabbit-hole that ends in a Tokyo with two moons. Here a love affair with God only knows how much karma behind it takes place and events follow a kind of dream logic; a jazz-like riffing on themes of love and disappointment. I hope that doesn't make it sound too forbidding. Like all great magic, it's fascinating even when you don't know how it works.
Jade Lady Burning
By Martin Limon
Limon owns the impoverished world of Vietnam War-era Korea the same way James Lee Burke owns the Louisiana bayous. His Eighth Army investigator heroes, the sensitive Sueno and the combative Bascom---who's never seen a wall he isn't willing to walk through-- are (in my mind) among the great pairs in detective fiction. This, the first book in the series, sees the team pulled into the murder of a Korean prostitute, a crime no one, Korean or American, is eager to investigate. Limon nails two conflicting worlds: the U. S. Army with its rigid codes and knuckleheaded, cover-your-butt officers and occupied, pre-miracle Cold War Korea, a place marked by the truculence of an ancient society knuckling under to a new one. The New York Times named this one of their Best Books of 1992, and they got it right.
This is the most recent book by one of the world's funniest and most level-eyed writers. In this, her third novel, Amy Gallup, a reclusive writer whose moments of (relative) fame are safely behind her, takes a fall one day and hits her head against a birdbath. In a concussed state, she gives an interview to a hilariously earnest young reporter who sees profundity in everything Amy says and—voila!—Amy's on NPR and on her way to becoming America's most reluctant celebrity. Like all writers, I sit alone over a keyboard for months on end in a dark room like Howard Hughes (minus the Kleenex-box shoes) and am then hauled out for the performing-seal part of the job called “promotion,” so Amy's adventures on panels, etc. literally made me laugh till I cried. And Willett is a tough, one-of-a-kind piece of work, as you might expect from someone whose Facebook page is anchored by a photo of an adorable baby behind a sign that says PLEASE DO NOT KISS ME.
Thanks, Timothy! Will you be checking out any of the books on his list?
• Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? To celebrate, the Poetry Foundation has created Record-a-Poem on SoundCloud. There, you can record yourself reciting your favorite poem and share it with other verse-loving members of the group.
• Speaking of poetry, we're wishing we could attend this marathon reading of Emily Dickinson poems up in Buffalo tomorrow.
• If these walls could talk . . . we bet the ones in Flavorwire's photo/painting compilation of (in)famous literary salons would have a whole lot to say. Which one would you like to visit, if you could?
• Do you remember the book that first sparked your love of reading? The folks over at Publishers Weekly conducted an internal poll and shared the results.
• Murakami madness strikes Japan!
• When you think of Shakespeare performances, you think of his plays, right? As reported by GalleyCat, The New York Shakespeare Exchange is planning on releasing 154 videos inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets. Count us as intrigued!
• And finally, would you respond to this online dating profile?
A month ago, we highlighted 15 superstar story collections. Now, it's time to move in the opposite direction. Here are 15 doorstop novels we love, in a variety of genres. We're defining "doorstop" loosely as a long book that will keep you occupied for a long time (without losing your attention!)—maybe even the duration of your entire vacation.
What are your favorite hefty novels? Let us know in the comments!
11/23/63 by Stephen King (849 pages)
The buzz on Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is that it’s about a man who goes back in time to save JFK. It’s true; that is the mission undertaken by King’s hero, 35-year-old high school teacher Jake Epping. But to a careful reader, it quickly becomes clear that this is actually a novel about falling in love: first with a time period, and then with an awkward, tall librarian named Sadie. Read more>>
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (528 pages)
You don’t have to like baseball to savor Chad Harbach’s sumptuous debut novel, a wise and tender story of love and friendship, ambition and the cruelty of dashed dreams, featuring an appealing cast of characters.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (439 pages)
Leo Demidov's personal hell has truly been paved with the best of intentions. The Soviet war hero and rising star within Stalin's State Security force has ordered the execution of thousands of his countrymen, or worse, dispatched them to the infamous gulags, all in service to the greater good of communism. Read more>>
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (688 pages)
The heft of A.S. Byatt’s latest work, The Children’s Book, promises a detailed, sprawling story. But the actual scope of this ambitious novel has to be experienced to be believed. The story of an age more than anything else, it encompasses 25 years (1895-1919) and has at least that many main characters, which leaves the reader wondering how they can all come to such vivid life in just 700 pages. Read more>>
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (985 pages)
To complete his hugely ambitious trilogy of historical novels about the 20th century, Ken Follett has set himself a punishing writing schedule. Lucky for us. Because readers who compulsively turn all 985 pages of Fall of Giants, the gripping first book in the Century Trilogy, will not want to wait long for its sequel. Read more>>
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (944 pages)
A scan through reviews of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s work repeatedly yields such words as “surreal” and “alienation”—and these are certainly apt markers for his much-anticipated new novel, 1Q84. Originally published as a trilogy in Japan, where the first volume sold more than a million copies in just two months, this dystopian epic weighs in at more than 900 pages and required the services of two translators to speed the process of getting it into the hands of his many English-speaking fans. Read more>>
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (782 pages)
What kind of magic can make a nearly 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it, and her astonished readers will surely hope she never recovers. Her epic history of an alternative, magical England is so beautifully realized that not one of the many enchantments Clarke chronicles in the book could ever be as potent or as quickening as her own magnificent narrative. Read more>>
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
Golden Richards is in a bad way. He has four wives but is flirting with another woman. He has 28 children but can’t stop thinking about the accidental death of his handicapped daughter, Glory. His floundering construction company has taken a job remodeling a brothel, though he tells everyone at church he’s working on a senior center. And he is trying desperately to remove chewing gum from a place where no gum should ever get stuck. Read more>>
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (640 pages)
First-time author Karl Marlantes tackles some tough subjects—racism among the troops, for one—in his Vietnam novel, Matterhorn.What makes this novel so irresistible is Marlantes’ skill at peeling away the many layers of truth in combat. Read more>>
The Passage by Justin Cronin (784 pages)
The vampire craze sweeping literature is not unlike the virus that decimates the world in Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Sure, there are isolated enclaves of holdouts, defending literature as they know it from the onslaught of supernatural beings, but most of the reading public seems to have developed an insatiable thirst for stories featuring the undead, from writers like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer. A note to those who thought they were immune: I dare you to crack open The Passage and read page one. Read more>>
Roses by Leila Meacham (640 pages)
Roses traces nearly 70 years in the history of the Toliver family, owners of a cotton plantation in a fictional Texas town. When patriarch Vernon Toliver dies, he entrusts the land to his daughter, Mary, because he knows she will love and care for it. His wife and son are outraged. That decision and the stubborn love that motivated it determine the course of Mary Toliver’s life. Read more>>
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (672 pages)
Does anyone really ever get over adolescence? Maybe some, but even if you're one of the lucky ones, reading Paul Murray's new novel will bring all the roiling, churning madness of being a teenager right back into focus. The book claws into you right away, and its vividness never fades—impressive, considering it's nearly 700 pages long. Read more>>
South of Broad by Pat Conroy (528 pages)
Pat Conroy’s lush, remarkable South of Broad is set in Charleston, South Carolina, and spans some 20 years from the late 1960s to the 1980s. Following a memoir (My Losing Season) and a homespun recipe collection (The Pat Conroy Cookbook), South of Broad is Conroy’s first novel in 14 years. And lucky for us, it’s another big, sprawling, heartbreaking novel, sure to please seasoned Conroy fans and new readers alike. Read more>>
West of Here by Jonathan Evison (496 pages)
Set in fictional Port Bonita, on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, West of Here is no less than epic. The narrative covers a timeline that is split between the late 1800s and the early 2000s, two periods that are united by the sublime power of the wilderness that surrounds the novel’s characters. Read more>>
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (560 pages)
Hilary Mantel sets a new standard for historical fiction with Wolf Hall, a riveting portrait of Thomas Cromwell, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and a significant political figure in Tudor England. Mantel’s crystalline style, piercing eye and interest in, shall we say, the darker side of human nature, together with a real respect for historical accuracy, make this novel an engrossing, enveloping read. Read more>>
Do you have any books to add to the list? We'd love to hear about them!
Perhaps you can't judge a book by its cover, but don't you just love a great book jacket? One that seems to pop off the shelf? It can make all the difference when browsing through a bookstore, for a book to catch your eye and to have that special touchability. And lucky for us, this was a phenomenal year in jacket design.
We've picked our 25 favorite covers from 2011 (click images for a larger view):
And the full list in alphabetical order:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan
Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
My New American Life by Francine Prose
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Seven Seasons in Siena by Robert Rodi
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block
The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen
The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tannen
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
West of Here by Jonathan Evison
For more of our Best of 2011, check out our Top 50 Books of 2011 and our Readers' Choice: 30 Best Books of 2011.
Also, click here to see the best book jackets of 2010.
Or simply browse all of The Book Case's Best of 2011 coverage.
What were your favorite book jackets of 2011?
You can view the full list on BookPage.com, but here are the Top 10:
1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
2. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
4. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
6. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
10. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Do you agree with the list? What should have been on there, but isn't? Why did you vote for a particular book as your favorite of the year?
See here for more on MY favorite book of 2011.
Psst: For all of you wanting to win 10 free books . . . the winner has been chosen and notified. (Her name is Mary and she lives in Wisconsin.) If you didn't win this time, be sure to enter every week's Monday Contest!
Reader name: Ramsey
Hometown: Dover, DE
Favorite genre: literary fiction, suspense, psychological thrillers, dystopian, post-apocalyptic
Favorite authors: Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, Albert Camus
Favorite books: The Road, The Stranger, 1984, The Alchemist
While I do recommend the literary/dystopian “biggies” from the past few years (think: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, The Passage and Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers), I figure most lovers of dystopian lit already have those on their to-be-read lists. More obscure is America Pacifica by Anna North, the post-apocalyptic story of a girl in search of her mother. (North described it as “literary sci-fi” in a BookPage interview.)
For a disturbing story about what happens when God returns to Earth at a time when the planet is on the brink of world war, turn to God is Dead by Ron Currie.
Finally, this is a big week for Americans who love 1984: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, an ode to Orwell’s classic, is finally available to American readers.
What books do you think Ramsey should read, based on his list of favorites?
Put your name in the hat for you own book fortune by sending an e-mail to bookfortunes (at) bookpage (dot) com.
George Orwell's 1984 gets a powerful nod in Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, our Well Read column pick for November. The story unfolds in 1984 Tokyo, where the lives of two young Japanese converge in a strange parallel world.
Columnist Robert Weibezahl writes, "1Q84 unfolds as a science-fiction thriller, and despite the pointed Orwellian reference, it is closer in spirit to the work of Philip K. Dick. Fantastic elements seamlessly integrate with the mundane to create a world much like, if not quite like, our own. . . Pulp fiction, indeed, but on a grand scale—as ambitious, quirky and imaginative as only Murakami can be."
The book trailer gives you a peek into Murakami's world:
1Q84 was a runaway bestseller in Japan. It comes out in the United States today! Is it on your list?