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Just when you thought it was safe to open the newspaper, it’s time for my annual list of the best books of the year.

It was another big year in publishing with an excellent new book by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith and the final (at long last) volume in Robert Jordan’s immense “Wheel of Time” series finished from his notes by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Brandon Sanderson. All the big names put out books (James Patterson put out his usual small library of titles) and overall I thought it was a good year for books. I don’t think I read as many titles this last year as I usually do, but I also had a very difficult time bringing the list down to a manageable (and printable) number. As always, this is an eclectic collection of titles that you can find at your local library. Happy reading in 2014!

“River Swimmer” by Jim Harrison. Harrison is one of the best writers around that may not know about. He reminds me a little bit of Hemingway. The two novellas in this book covering the two ends of human life -- and set on the Upper Peninsula in Michigan -- are gems.

“A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki. This long-awaited novel by author and Zen Buddhist priest Ozeki is a beautifully crafted meditation on time and writing through the lens of a writer who comes across the diary of a young Japanese girl washed up on the beach. The young, bullied girl is contemplating suicide and tells her tale as well as that of her Zen Buddhist priest grandmother.

“Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is one of the funniest authors on the planet, and this collection is no exception. When you’re reading Sedaris, you can’t avoid laughing out loud and reading the best parts to those around you.

“River of Stars” by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay is the master of re-imagined historical times in slightly fantastic universes. This is the second of the author’s work in a version of early China. The fantasy elements are subtle, and I think that most people who love historical fiction with great characters and details would enjoy Kay’s work.

“The Bookman’s Tale” by Charlie Lovett. Lovett’s first novel is a literary mystery that mixes the question of Shakespearean authorship with the cutthroat world of antiquarian book dealers. Toss in a protagonist who is trying to escape the loss of his wife and you have the makings of a great read, especially for bibliophiles.

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman. One of the most gifted storytellers today writes a beautiful story about magic, memories and the human condition. It is modern myth-telling at its very best.

“Night Film” by Marisha Pressl. Seven years after the great Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Pressl returns with another excellent though dark and somewhat disturbing page-turner. It is the story of a reporter obsessed with a cult horror filmmaker and his investigation into the apparent suicide of the filmmaker’s daughter.

“This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett. This is probably my favorite book this year. I’ve loved Ann Patchett’s writing ever since I read “Bel Canto.” Known for her novels, this is a collection of essays she wrote over the years showing all the beauty and precision displayed in her fiction.

“Sweet Thunder” by Ivan Doig. If I had to name my favorite novel of the year, it’s probably this one by Doig, who visited Longview earlier this year. One of my favorite literary characters, Morrie Morgan, returns in another adventure in Doig’s Montana of the early 1920s.

“Songs of Willow Frost” by Jamie Ford. It was a bit of wait for Ford’s follow-up to the wonderful “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” but it was worth it. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about an orphan boy who discovers his mother is still alive and his quest to find her and answers about why she left him.


Chris Skaugset is the director of the Longview Public Library. Readers can reach him at chris.skaugset@ci.longview.wa.us.

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