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Best Books in 2014

Books of the year selected by VOA Learning English.

Books of the year selected by VOA Learning English.

What books did you read this year?

Are you a fan of fact or fiction?

Today, we look at three popular books published in 2014.

American fiction writer Marilynne Robinson received wide critical praise for “Lila.” The book is her third in a series that began in 2004 with “Gilead,” named for a fictional small town in Iowa.

The story is told as a letter John Ames, an old man, is writing to his son. Ames is a quiet, gentle man who leads a Christian church in Gilead. He marries Lila late in his life and they have a son.

Lila is the narrator of “Lila.” She has a difficult childhood. A young woman named Doll is raising Lila. The two live on the move, always travelling. They are homeless and very poor but also loving.

All the Gilead books explore the nature of love and how it shows itself. Because of this the books discuss a wide number of subjects, like human rights, justice, religion and independence. The characters experience rescue of all kinds: spiritual, emotional and physical. Love, forgiveness and wonder are at the center of each act of saving.

The National Book Foundation has nominated Marilynne Robinson for a National Book Award for “Lila.” The second novel of the series, “Home” was also a finalist in 2008. The first novel, “Gilead,” won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

For teenagers, “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart was on many book critics’ best of 2014 lists. It tells about the children in a very rich family with a long history in the United States. They spend summers on a private island near the northeastern coastal state of Massachusetts. They attend private schools. They are expected to create futures complete with beautiful marriages, important careers and successful children.

But, the Sinclair family also has deep, dark secrets. They have serious problems and a troublesome habit of hiding those problems.

Several critics noted similarity in theme between “We Were Liars” and William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Publisher’s Weekly wrote “Lockhart has created a mystery with an ending most readers won’t see coming, one so horrific it will prompt some to return immediately to page one to figure out how they missed it.”

There is willful denial of fact discussed in the fictional “We Were Liars.” That idea is also investigated in a popular non-fiction book of 2014. “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” explores the future for Earth and its inhabitants based on events of its past.

Author Elizabeth Kolbert is a science writer for the New Yorker magazine. She formerly wrote for the New York Times newspaper. The New York Times listed her new book as one of the top ten best of 2014.

Ms. Kolbert suggests, in thirteen parts and about 330 pages, that man-made climate change is leading to a sixth mass extinction. She looks at many different kinds of environmental situations from the oceans to the rainforests. She studies the work of researchers past and present.

Ms. Kolbert does not pass judgment on her findings. But, she writes about environmental science in a way that non-scientist readers can understand. Her writing style gives readers the freedom to come to their own judgments.

I’m Anna Matteo.


What were your favorite books of 2014? Tell us about them in the comment section.


Words in This Story

narrator – n. a story teller

theme – n. the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.

extinction – n. the state or situation that results when something (such as a plant or animal species) has died out completely

inhabitant – n. a person or animal that lives in a particular place

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