2014 was a really, really good year for my non-fiction reading. I read some excellent non-fiction books, such as: Rough Stone Rolling, Too Big Too Know, and The Worst Hard Time. When trying to select the best non-fiction I read in a year, I base my decision mostly on how the book stuck with me. Did I keep thinking about it after I finished? I find most non-fiction interesting, but I don't find all non-fiction memorable. (Abigail and John is a good example of a book that was interesting but not very memorable). Yet, even with this standard, I still find it difficult to select just one non-fiction from this year as being the best. Alas, a selection must be made, and here it is.
Non-Fiction: Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys
Kay Hymowitz's book--Manning Up--is a truly provocative read. It clashes harshly with many existing and accepted social norms and politically correct standards. The book highlights the unintended (and perhaps intended) consequences of the feminist movement(s) on modern society. While reading the book I couldn't help but think what a mess it would have created in many of my classes at Rollins College. Coming from the background I do and having the convictions I do, I would have loved being a part of those conversations and debates. On some levels, I enjoy being a contrarian, and this book gives you a reason to be one.
Reading Manning Up pulled back the curtain on a world I simply do not understand. With the changing of gender roles in society and the liberalization of sexuality, I am most certainly not aligned with today's accepted moral standards. While reading Manning Up I was both shocked and enlightened because it highlights many of those standards that are so alien to me. I feel more educated and more capable in speaking to important societal issues regarding gender roles and sexuality in modern society. That's a big win and a big reason for reading any non-fiction book. Furthermore, I believe Manning Up is compelling enough that even those in disagreement with what the books posits could learn a thing or two about their own viewpoint by reading it.
Manning Up is memorable. I have already mentioned it to several of my associates and will no doubt continue to do so throughout the years. Even though I loved Rough Stone Rolling and Too Big to Know, I don't think those books will come up in conversations as much as Manning Up. It's not a perfect criteria to judge a book by, but it works for my purposes. Manning Up was the best and most memorable non-fiction book I read in 2014.
Fiction: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Unlike picking the best non-fiction book I read in 2014, picking the best fiction book is extremely easy. Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read and one of the best books as well.
I want people to read A Canticle for Leibowitz because it accomplishes a few things. First, it proves, even to my skeptical mind, that modern literature can still be profound. Ray Bradbury was not the only 20th century author after all who still could write genuinely beautiful and profound prose and not just the illusion of it. (I exaggerate, but you get the point). Canticle has just as many important ideas as A Tale of Two Cities or To Kill a Mockingbird and expresses them in a subtle but meaningful way. Real literature is not dead in our modern age, although it can be hard to find, and Canticle proves it.
Secondly, A Canticle for Leibowitz deals with no-joke ideas and issues. Its final chapter gave me more than enough to ponder and debate for a long, long time. I realize many readers are readers to escape, but in this case they need to be educated. The didactic virtue of a book like Canticle cannot and should not be overlooked. High School students should read it and discuss the cyclical nature of history and the consequences of historical events.
Reading Canticle reminded me why I love books so much. I live for those moments when a story, in whatever form it comes, enlightens me in an unforgettable way. I love being moved, enlightened, and entertained by a story. I like big, important ideas and the discussion of them. Canticle was that for me. It is, like everything, a variation on a theme; however, it is a singular variation that produces a singular effect. It's an outstanding book, which ought to be read by many.
Other Topics of Interest:
Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2012
Best Books of 2013: Non-fiction
Best Books of 2013: Fiction