Top 5 (books) of 2014

I read a lot. I read books, magazines, blogs - I spend a lot of my downtime reading. If someone were to ask me "hey, man, what's your hobby?" I'd say reading. It's been this way since, well, I was first able to read. My mom and Nana would take 5 year old me to the mall on Friday nights - this was the 80s and malls were the thing - and after we nosed around the GAP and Marshall Field's, we'd head to the bookstore so I could pick out a new book before hitting up the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday's and eat a couple of baskets of bread. At that time, I usually chose the Berenstain I got older, the Babysitter's Club books were my LIFE. I'm a product of my generation, what can I say?

(here's a story where my love of fashion and books thusly intersected: in sixth grade, I orchestrated a week-long sartorial experiment with my girlfriends where we each dressed up as one of the baby sitters.  My favorite look was Claudia's - a hot pink oversized sweatshirt, a pair of crazily printed leggings and some Reebok high tops)(I'd probably wear it again, now).

So, cut to 2014 and here are the five most favorite books I read this year:

1. What Remains, Carole Radizwill

I guess if I had to choose two hobbies, I'd choose reading and then watching Bravo TV (I'm a product of my generation...). The Real Housewives franchise is a hole I fell down long, long ago (like, when OC was the OG) and haven't been able to yet crawl out. I like New York the most and Carole the best. She's culturally significant on her own, sans housewives, as she is Anthony Radizwill's widow - the pair were best friends with JFK Jr and Carolyn Bessette. In fact, Carole and Anthony were staying at the Kennedy's Martha's Vineyard summer house when the plane went down. Unspeakably tragic, of course, but Carole's heartbreak that summer didn't end there. Her husband, who had been fighting cancer for years, passed away only months after they laid John John and Carolyn to rest. What Remains tells this story.

It's the kind of horror meant for a book - a fiction book, mind you - because it is unbelievable that any living person would go through such personal trauma in such a short period of time but it's not made up and it is a book. Carole's writing style, much like her personality is self-aware, sweet and thoughtful. The story made me cry - how could it not? But Carole never let herself veer into the heavy handed, tragic heroine realm and instead told her story with strength, humor and grace. It's a moving read and quite fascinating to boot.  

2. Heartburn, Nora Ephron

I'm a little late to the Nora Ephron game - I'll admit it. She's got a crazy loyal fan base and while I won't pass over You've Got Mail when it's on TV, I've only just now started reading any of her work. Related: I'm a dumb ass! Wow, she's great. She's warm and funny and quick and smart and relatable. She's also super honest and lets her flaws show in a non-defensive way that I like. The reason I even read this book in particular is because Amy Poehler mentioned she kept a copy by her bedside while she was writing Yes, Please because Ephron is such an inspiration. And, fully circle-y enough, both Yes, Please and Heartburn are two reasons I decided to start writing again myself. Heartburn is a quick read that centers on a cookbook author's discovery of her husband's infidelity and subsequent crumbling marriage. It's a short, concise story but packs so much emotion and life into it. In this funny, ramble-y way that makes you feel as though you're the narrator's friend and she's filling you in on the recent "can you BELIEVE this?" goings-on in her life.

3. Faithfull, Marianne Faithfull

What a life. Marianne Faithfull was a folk singer, socialite, groupie (band aid?) and Mick Jagger's former girlfriend. Here, she tells her story - at times dark and way down low into a life valley and other times bright, vibrant and full of fun. She did a lot of drugs in her twenties and thirties. A. Lot. She and the Stones dropped acid together kinda like my friends and I kill a bottle of wine at dinner. She took up a life-threatening liking to heroin which caused her tremendous heartache and ya know, almost killed her (more than once). Through it all, she had grand adventures through Europe and America, acted in plays and movies, fronted a band and served as a muse for some of rock's biggest legends (I've mentioned the Stones, haven't I? Add Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan). I find the Swingings 60s London rock and roll scene so, so fascinating. I sting with jealousy when I read about hers and others' lives. If I could have chosen the era to be a 28 year old woman, I would have chosen 1968 London. Since that is NOT possible, I'll settle for Marianne Faithfull's autobiography. 

4. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami 

The lone FORAGE bookclub pick in the list. I'll admit I was nervous to read this at first - I'd heard of Murakami's magical realism (not necessarily my scene) and that it was somewhat of a challenge to get through some of his more lengthy books (I'm looking at you, 1Q84) and would my pea brain to able to understand any of it? I was expecting some As I Lay Dying-level shit (As much as it pains me - I HATED that book with the passion of 1,000 fiery sun - As I Lay Dying was cast as a somewhat major player in my life's path without me knowing it but that's another story for another time). ANYWAY, Norwegian Wood is now one of my favorite all-time books. It was dark and weird like I expected it to be but in this beautiful, quiet and dreamy way that stole my heart. If I were to recommend you read just one of these books on this list, Norwegian Wood is it. 

5. We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

I got a lot of my book recommendations from Emma Roberts' Instagram. Girl is a voracious reader and posts her latest reads which I find incredibly helpful and mostly like I'm basically Julia Roberts' niece too. We Were Liars was one of those Roberts picks and took me all of 4 hours to read from cover to cover. For two reasons: 1. it's a relatively short, YA fiction novel 2. it's one of those that you MUST know how it ends NOW. It's a story of a group of cousins who summer together on their family's private island (it's not as bougie as it sounds's pretty bougie). Something horrible happens and the consequences eat up the last half of the book....the only thing is, you're not exactly sure what's gone on. The narrator is suffering from PTSD-related amnesia and so are you, the reader. Maybe you'd see the ending coming but I sure didn't. It's a mysterious, confusing and at times frustrating journey to the conclusion but the pay-off is sweet (unlike the pay-off in The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. I read that book almost two years ago and I'm still not over it. I spend time on message boards and forums I'm still so mad). 

Honorable Mentions

Just Kids, Patti Smith

The Andy Cohen Diaries, Andy Cohen

Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Nancy Horan

My least favorite -- American Pastoral, Philip Roth (I think I'm supposed to have liked this one if I want to be smart or whatever, but good lord. Bor-ring).

Annddd because I just want to, the rest of the books I read this year.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Courtney Maum

The Book of Strange New Things, Michael Faber

California, Edan Lepucki

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Loving Frank, Nancy Horan

We Are Water, Wally Lamb

The Sun Also Rises, Earnest Hemingway

Gourmet Rhapsody, Muriel Barbery

I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley

The Giver, Lois Lowery

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

The Good Luck of Right Now, Matthew Quick

Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O'Neill

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead

The Last Days of California, Mary Miller

2am at the Cat's Pajamas, Marie-Helene Bertino

White Oleander, Janet Fitch

The Silkworm, Robert Gailbraith

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

The Vacationers, Emma Straub

Beloved, Toni Morrison

I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron

It Starts with Food, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

The Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron