January. The month when Target sells granola bars in bulk, we lie that the cold never bothered us anyway, and I announce the Best Books I read the previous year. 2014 involved a great deal of research as I wrote my Master’s Essay—I can tell you more than you want to know about middle-class domesticity in 1850s England—but not much pleasure reading. Thus, this year’s list of favorite reads is rather sparse, but these titles are the ones that most engaged, impressed, and inspired me.
Best Non-Fiction: Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control by Elisabeth Elliot
Oh, Elisabeth Elliot. If spiritual wisdom were measurable, she’d be a giant, and I’d be a hobbit. Elliot didn’t gain her wisdom from living an easy life, though; written years after Elliot’s husband Jim was killed on the mission field, this book testifies to the perfection of God’s timing and love. A must-read for any adult, whether single or married.
Best Memoir: The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs
This innovative memoir—which reports, as actual encyclopedia entries, how Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a year—made me combust from envy that I didn’t write something this clever and insightful.
Best Young Adult: Divergent by Veronica Roth
As much as I disliked Allegient (not for the plot twist, but for the indistinguishable dual narrative), I loved Divergent and Insurgent. Roth adheres to the Dystopian genre conventions while also emphasizing the importance of hope—a contrast to some of the nihilistic YA series. Plus, she gave us Four.
Best Classic: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
I admit, I did write my Master’s Essay on this Victorian serial, so I may be biased. However, anyone who delights in small-town foibles, vivid characters, and clever dialogue will enjoy the humor and poignancy of Cranford, a town where all the men mysteriously disappear and the women reign supreme. It’s a perfect work for people who are intimidated by the Classics; you’ll laugh out loud and find the themes to be surprisingly relevant.
Best Historical Fiction: Wings of the Nightingale Series (With Every Letter, On Distant Shores, In Perfect Time) by Sarah Sundin
I mentioned this series on Veteran’s Day, but it’s worth sharing again. Sundin’s series about three WWII flight nurses appeals to all of the senses and emotions, and after finishing it, I missed the characters. A lot.
Best Book of 2014: Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson Meet Me in St. Louis has always been one of my favorite musicals. Judy Garland, sweeping score, familial dysfunction—what could be better? The book.
The film is actually based on a series of short stories written by Benson for The New Yorker in 1941. Drawing from her own life, Benson (“Tootie” in the stories and musical) shares the outrageous exploits of herself and her siblings as they anticipated the coming 1904 World’s Fair. Benson’s descriptions of her home and family, combined with her humorous turn-of-phrase, make this a memorable read.