I’m not sure how many books I read in 2014, but I definitely remember the ones that were the best. They are Nest by Esther Ehrlich and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Where to begin?
Station Eleven was recommended by my editor at HarperCollins. When I asked for the gist of the novel, she said, “It’s post-apocalyptic.” And I said, “Eh.” And she said, “It’s not what you think.” So after lunch I got on the subway to go to the Strand (booknerd-tourist paradise), realized I was on the wrong subway, got off the subway, hailed a cab, and finally made it to the eighteen miles of books. I bought Station Eleven and it sat on my nightstand for a week or so until I finally read it. The book begins with an aging actor named Arthur Leander, who suffers a sudden and fatal heart attack during a production of King Lear. I drifted from that scene to the next and didn’t move for a few hours. I finished the book in two sittings. I’m not sure what else to say other than “wow,” so I will steal the words of other people: One reviewer said, “This is a book to make its readers mourn the life we still lead.” So says another: It “exposes the fragile beauty of the world we inhabit.”
Now, Nest. This is the story of 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister Rachel, and her parents—a psychiatrist father and dancer mother—living in Cape Cod in the early 1970s. Do yourself a favor and have about twenty-five boxes of tissues when you read this. It’s a book about family crisis, coming of age, hope, discovery, loss—you know, all those things that make you weep.