Best books of 2014: These Christmas reads are so good you won't want to give them away

From the best debut fiction to literary and celebrity memoirs, our reviewers select their pick of this year's crop...

Arifa Akbar
Monday 22 December 2014 13:00 GMT

One of the biggest and boldest trends to emerge in books this year was fourth – or even fifth? – wave feminism, which arrived in rallying calls from Laura Bates's recording of inequality in 'Everyday Sexism...' (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) to Vagenda and Femen's mission statements, among others. Out of these, Chi Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'We Should All Be Feminists' (Fourth Estate, £5), a TEDx-talk-turned-essay, would be the book I'd press into the hands of girls and boys, as an inspiration for a future "world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves".

Curmudgeons hailed the death of the novel (Will Self), or the demise of the long novel (Tim Parks), but the following pages prove them most emphatically wrong. Some of the best reads this year weighed in at more than 500 pages, though 2014 was also the year of the short story, with Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel, among other novelists, turning their hand to the short-form. Long-percolating debuts eclipsed fare from some of the most seasoned authors (Ian McEwan's middling 'The Children Act'; Martin Amis's bewildering Holocaust "comedy", 'The Zone of Interest'). So, Nathan Filer's Costa triumph was followed by Eimear McBride's Bailey's prize success.

If you hadn't heard of Patrick Modiano before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, do read his re-issued backlist and newly translated works: 'The Search Warrant' (Harvill Secker, £8.99), for one, is recommended for its clear, pared prose and haunting theme of wartime disappearance.

The Great War centenary inspired books of astonishing power, notably 'No Man's Land' (Serpent's Tail, £25), a poetry collection edited by Pete Ayrton, which proved in its global selections that the Great War was more than a Western, male phenomenon.

Among rich offerings of Korean fiction, the focus of the London Book Fair, was a bewitching tale, 'The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly' (Oneworld, £9.99) by Sun-Mi Hwang, a fabular bestseller told from the point of view of a homeless hen, which will make grown men and women cry. So too will Kyung-Sook Shin's 'Please Look after Mother' (Phoenix, £7.99), a troubling, and moving, tale of mothers and daughters, towns and cities, self-sacrifice and rebellion. 'The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm' (Princeton, £24.95) sees them published – for the first time in English – in their first edition form, a far more unsettling, exhilarating, oral and adult encounter than you might expect of 'fairy stories'.

Meanwhile, Haruki Murakami and the talented book designer, Suzanne Dean, showed us with a magical blend of word and illustration in 'The Strange Library' (Harvill Secker, £12.99) that the physical book is here to stay, and shine...

Books of the year 2014: Fiction
Books of the year 2014: Debuts
Books of the year 2014: Literary memoirs
Books of the year 2014: Drink
Books of the year 2014: Economics
Books of the year 2014: Film
Books of the year 2014: Fashion
Books of the year 2014: Biographies
Books of the year 2014: Art/gift books
Books of the year 2014: Crime
Books of the year 2014: Music
Books of the year 2014: Short stories
Books of the year 2014: Politics
Books of the year 2014: Science
Books of the year 2014: Celebrity memoirs
Books of the year 2014: History
Books of the year 2014: Fiction in translation
Books of the year 2014: Sport

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