After a fantastic year of publishing that has seen 4th Estate books win awards and gain presidential approval, we asked our team members (along with those of our sister imprints William Collins and The Friday Project) to tell us about the best books they read in 2014.
Here are their choices:
AN AVIARY OF SMALL BIRDS by Karen McCarthy Woolf (OxfordPoets, £10.85)
GOTTLAND by Mariusz Szczygiel (Melville House, £18.99)
NORA WEBSTER by Colm Toibin (Viking, £18.99)
Oddly, at the end of the year, I have books on the go all of which I am loving: Karen McCarthy Woolf’s collection of poems An Aviary of Small Birds, her elegy to a stillborn son; Mariusz Szczygiel’s Gottland, non-fiction stories from Czechoslovakia which show a country more fantastical than even its wildest literature led us to believe; and I’ve just started Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster – superb.
Nicholas Pearson, Publishing Director, 4th Estate
PHANTOM TERROR by Adam Zamoyski (William Collins)
In Phantom Terror, Adam Zamoyski completes his brilliant portrait of post-Napoleonic Europe. Following 1812 and The Rites of Peace he describes, with all his customary insight and wit, how the continent’s rulers doggedly imposed ever more elaborate, absurd and ineffective measures in their misguided efforts to prevent French revolutionary terror from spreading to their own countries. For all their labour they would achieve little except unwittingly to prepare the way for many of the tragedies that were to ensue in the following century, and for the pervasive culture of state surveillance that proliferates unchecked today.
Robert Lacey, Senior Editor
WILD: A JOURNEY FROM LOST TO FOUND by Cheryl Strayed (Atlantic Books)
This wonderful memoir gripped me with every mile, every step, every blister recounted in Cheryl Strayed’s understated but vibrant account of her demon-exorcising hike along the Pacific Crest Trail – a journey that fails, despite its cruellest attempts, to break her indomitable spirit. Her clear-eyed observation and exploration of her life’s experiences is set against the big skies, landscapes and loneliness of the trail, crystallised by her evocative prose. Undaunted and unrelenting, Cheryl is my woman of the year – and her inspiring story my book of 2014.
Kate Tolley, Editor
TURTLE DIARY by Russell Hoban (New York Review of Books)
My book of 2014 was very much not a book from 2014. 30 years old, Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary made its way to me through serendipity – a friend buying it because he thought someone had recommended it (though they then claimed to have never heard of it), loving it and giving it to everyone he could find, an empty Sunday afternoon. This couldn’t be more appropriate as Turtle Diary is all about serendipity, about two people meeting and bonding over the shared plight of the turtles at London Zoo. So far, so Richard Curtis, or even so Serendipity, a much under-rated rom-com. However Hoban’s novel holds far more than a “meet-cute”, in fact it’s more of a “meet-tragic”. London is a city where free-flowing water, and free-flowing happiness, exists only as a fantasy for turtles and lonely people living in boarding houses. A book to be bonded over.
Lettice Franklin, Editorial Assistant
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed (Atlantic Books)
My immersion in this book caught me by surprise. I don’t read advice columns at all. I despise the no-nonsense, straitjacketed, finger-wagging of women’s magazines that bulldoze through the ambiguity of moral issues. Cheryl Strayed is my alt-agony aunt. She matches her readers’ frankness and vulnerability with personal anecdotes that challenge the unequal dynamic between therapist and patient, so that she can build you back up again from a level standing. This is a big blast of compassion and connectivity in a society that is badly lacking.
Tara Al Azzawi, Marketing Manager
BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (Corsair)
If I could erase ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay from my mind so that I could read it again as new, that would be my Christmas wish. The thing about Gay is, she’s flawed, as we all are. Some of her choices, she tells us, traits of her personality, her methods of birth control, and her feminism, they’re all bad. She reminds us, in this rich, provocative and at points, haunting, set of essays, that nobody is perfect, nor should we strive to be.
Candice Carty-Williams, Marketing Assistant
H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald (Jonathan Cape)
Anyone attempting to take on T. H. White’s The Goshawk is aiming very high – especially as far as I am concerned – but the poet Helen Macdonald has woven grief, the eccentric White and flying the most irascible of short wings into a beguiling portrait of her relationship with her father, her goshawk and White’s life. It is a beautifully written description of the timeless world of relationships and falconry.
Myles Archibald, Publishing Director, William Collins
MISFORTUNE by Wesley Stace (Vintage)
Misfortune by Wesley Stace has been sitting on my bookshelves, unread, for years. As have most books on my shelves, to be honest. Too many books and all that. Anyway, I finally got round to reading it and it is a masterpiece. A Victorian family saga about a young orphan boy raised as a girl by his eccentric benefactor. Everyone accepts him as female, even when he starts to grow a moustache and displays remarkable prowess with a cricket bat. Funny, clever and, by the end, incredibly moving. Just goes to show that you should attend to those unread books that are gathering dust in the corner of your room.
Scott Pack, Publisher, The Friday Project
A REUNION OF GHOSTS by Judith Claire Mitchell (4th Estate)
There is so much to love about this family-saga-cum-suicide-note, not least its three narrators who despite their alienation from the world, show such warmth and good humour toward each other and toward so many of the characters they describe. Every page is a pleasure, so much so that on finishing it one question kept running through my mind – how can a novel about suicide – about so many suicides – be so much fun?
Luke Shaller, Commercial Director
My standout non-fiction book of the year has to be Helen Macdonald’s phenomenal H is for Hawk, which deservedly won this year’s Samuel Johnson prize. (It’s so wonderful to see this sort of narrative nature writing gaining recognition!) Inspired by the great T. H. White, Macdonald very deftly weaves her own story of grieving into that of training Mabel, the goshawk – that ‘murderous, difficult to tame, sulky, fractious and foreign’ of all falcons. Dark and haunting, Macdonald’s unique writing style is at once full of turmoil and emotion, yet also strangely precise and highly stylised, to great effect. An utterly engrossing book.
Julia Koppitz, Senior Editor, William Collins
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien (Flamingo)
These semi-factual short stories from Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam tour share his Company’s moral and mental panic in the massive gothic solitude of the jungle. Now mellowed with wisdom and the acceptance of inaccuracy, each story observes its own crystallising, the distorting effects of dwelling, and the peerless truth of personal memory over any serried formation of facts. Bewildered patrols claim to hear cocktail parties in the trees, feel phantom tooth-aches, envisage lost girlfriends in the mist and extrapolate all manner of unlikely experience from the chaos. These extraordinary pieces aren’t moral or symbolic; they simply relate the truth of such experiences. This is writing as therapy, and reading as sharing the burden.
Joe Zigmond, Assistant Editor, William Collins
10.04 by Ben Lerner (Granta Books)
Ben Lerner’s 10:04 probably made the deepest impression on me this year. It is a novel about artifice, identity, anxiety, time, imagined futures (or a lack of them) and many other things besides. The prose manages to be poignant in a way that feels unique to poetry and is occasionally cut through by clattering sesquipedalian invectives. But for all the impressive writerly gymnastics and melancholy-drenched meta-narratives, Lerner is an incredibly funny writer, especially when it comes to describing the awkwardness of everyday human interactions (as well as the less usual drug freakouts and sperm bank slapstick).
Jonny Pelham, Senior Designer
JUST KIDS by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury)
Just Kids is an incredibly poignant memoir about the love and friendship between two stars in the making, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith’s writing is so evocative you are transported to 1960s and 1970s New York. You’ll find yourself longing for that pre-internet age when the pair had the freedom, despite poverty, and unfailing belief in art to fulfil their own artistic destinies. What impressed me most was Patti Smith’s candour and modesty – there’s no egotism here. After her first successful poetry reading, Patti Smith was bombarded with offers to publish and perform yet at the time she felt it had come ‘too easy’ and decided to ‘back-off’. There will never be a time like it again…
Vanessa Bloor, Key Account Manager
US by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
Though perhaps a little predictable, my absolute favourite book of 2014 was Us by David Nicholls. I was a little anxious before diving in; it’s always a bit nerve-racking when you open the first few pages of such a highly anticipated new release. However, from the first few lines, I felt safe in the knowledge that I could lose myself in the humdrum yet beautifully dissected world of this exceptionally familiar middle-class family. This is a superb novel which perfectly captures the beauty in the ordinary – a must read for 2014!
Fliss Porter, Senior Account Executive
SPOILED BRATS by Simon Rich (Serpent’s Tail)
I first encountered Simon Rich via Twitter, a discovery which more than makes up for the precious hours I lost to the site this year. Only a handful of writers make me literally LOL – Messrs Adams, Pratchett and Wodehouse spring to mind – but this short story collection ensures that Rich must be counted alongside them. He’s gloriously silly (surreally deconstructing bar jokes with ‘Guy Walks Into A Bar’), bitingly satirical (‘Sell Out’ sees him hanging out with his humble great-great grandfather in modern, gentrified Brooklyn), and always scintillatingly clever. I have ruined the journeys of many innocent commuters by maniacally giggling to it while squeezed beside them on public transport.
Tom Killingbeck, Publishing Executive
SHAME by Salman Rushdie (Vintage)
I had rented an apartment in Croatia with a few friends; there was sun, beautifully transparent waters, incredible food at almost offensive prices, bike rides, boat trips – and yet I struggled to put this book down. It was a tale of unrequited love – I was eager to read the book, but it was not eager to be read. I found the lengthy streams of conscious challenging, constantly had to refer to the opening pages to try and understand a family tree that was more complex than my own (I have sixteen aunties and uncles) and was often shocked into the revelation that I had no idea what was happening despite thinking I finally had a grasp of things. It was a frustrating and unrelenting read but – as you can guess – absolutely worth it. Not only was this a brilliant novel but also an incredible polemic on the socio-political state of Pakistan.
Emmanuella Kwenortey, Graduate Trainee
THE SPECTRE OF ALEXANDER WOLF by Gaito Gazdanov (Pushkin Press)
A lone figure rides towards us across the vast expanse of the Russian steppe. He raises his rifle to his shoulder, but before he can fire, there is a crack, and he slumps lifeless from his horse. Years later in 20s Paris, the nameless narrator reads a novella told, in unmistakable detail, from the dead man’s point of view. Gazdanov, a Russian exile, writes a dense, poetic novella that combines the disturbed interiority of Crime and Punishment, the sensual nostalgia of Proust, the serpentine thrills of Raymond Chandler, and the lost generation malaise of The Sun Also Rises. This is a haunting novel by a forgotten master.
William Spray, Intern
A MAN IN LOVE by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Vintage)
A Man in Love: it shouldn’t work, but that solidly constructed honesty was devastating for me. In my heart I expected, every morning, to wake up as Karl Ove Knausgaard: I was convinced we were the same person; we had the same doubts, the same neuroses. I began to think that I couldn’t read again, because I was so exquisitely wounded. Fortunately for me, I then met The Year of Reading Dangerously – salvation in a book. Andy Miller attests to the agony and the ecstasy of reading with such aplomb, such humour, that I ended feeling jubilant about the power of the book – perfect salve for the gravely moved.
Bianca Winter, Intern
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