Dan Kois’ Favorite Books of 2014

Fifteen great novels, comics, and collections from Slate’s books editor.

Graphic by Slate.

Slate’s Best Books of 2014 coverage:

Monday: Slate staff picks.
 The best lines of 2014.
 Overlooked books of 2014.
 The Slate Book Review Top 10.
 Dan Kois’ favorite books of the year.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. McSweeney’s.

A harrowing and often very funny novel, set in Winnipeg and Toronto, about two sisters raised in a Mennonite household: one a writer at loose ends, and the other a world-famous pianist on the verge of suicide. Every page yields a surprise, a laugh, or a line that will make your breath catch in your throat.

Facility Integrity by Nick Maandag. Pigeon Press.

A blunt instrument of a comic about a company that bans all employees from pooping on the clock, and the miserable new bathroom attendant who must enforce the policy. Like Lightning Rods, primarily set in office bathrooms, and like Lightning Rods, an unsparing and hilarious story of capitalism at its most sociopathic.


Flashlight by Lizi Boyd. Chronicle Books.

A little boy camps in the woods, and late at night he and his flashlight meet the neighbors: raccoons, deer, frogs, and bugs. A charming and cleverly drawn picture book that needs no words to create a tiny, magical world.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. Quirk Books.

The second in Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, Hollow City mixes spooky vintage photos and action-packed storytelling to continue the story of Jacob Portman and his fellow “peculiars” as they travel through time to war-torn London.

It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden. Uncivilized Books.

Two spare cartoon stories that follow characters lost in exotic places, searching for connection. Alden’s penciled artwork is rough, energetic, and evocative, and the stories will stay with you long after you read them.


Jeremiah by Cathy G. Johnson. Self-published.

A stranger comes to a farm and meets the two young people there: Jeremiah, who barely speaks, and his cousin Catie, who keeps secrets. In perfect little watercolored comic panels, Johnson tells a moving story about three lost souls alone in the world.


The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. Viking.

Grossman sticks the landing, mostly, in this deeply satisfying conclusion to the Magicians trilogy—which allows Fillory the glorious ending it deserves, while reminding readers that maybe this wasn’t Quentin Coldwater’s story all along.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. Marvel.

Marvel’s newest superhero is a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City, and that would be pretty notable in and of itself—but the adventures of Kamala Khan are also funny, exciting, mysterious—and drawn with loose-limbed energy and joy by Alphona.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. Graywolf Press.

Biss’ elegant book-length essay covers a lot of ground: public health, science, parental anxiety, gender, and more. But at its heart it’s a thoughtful illustration of the notion that all ideas connect to each other, and that no mind is immune from the fears—or the joys—the modern world presents.


Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks. Penguin.

What’s that? It’s a book that collects deep, rich, process-intensive interviews with Amy Poehler, George Saunders, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Merchant, Mike Schur, and more? Oh and also Mel Brooks?! Oh and also there’s Paul Feig’s Freaks and Geeks character bible?!  It seems unnecessary to type more words here.


The Quick by Lauren Owen. Random House.

A big fat Gothic thriller from a debut novelist, this emotional story of a sister looking for her lost brother in fin-de-siècle London is exciting, beautifully written, and scary. And that’s before the big surprise.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Knopf.

A post-apocalyptic novel that casts a gimlet eye on our pre-apocalyptic times. A troupe of Shakespearians travels the Midwest 20 years after a plague that killed 99.99 percent of humanity; their story, and those of the people they meet (and those  who never made it, and the world long gone) make for a gripping meditation on what we value and what we can’t lose.


This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. First Second.

Two girls on the cusp of adolescence meet, as they do every year, on summer vacation; the ways they grow apart are as touching as the reasons they cling together. A clear-eyed comic about girlhood from a pair of sisters who combine thoughtful storytelling with evocative cartooning.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. McElderry Books.

A collection of rich and disturbing fairy tales from a bright young talent in visual storytelling. Carroll embraces the darkness at the heart of elemental stories, but her tales—ghastly and beautiful—are creations all her own.

The Witch and Other Tales Retold by Jean Thompson. Blue Rider Press.

Familiar fairy tales get a modern twist in this witty and sharp-toothed collection. Hansel and Gretel become a pair of orphans sent to a cruel foster mother; Cinderella’s prince lives in a ratty group house with his bros; Little Red Riding Hood has a surprise for the boy with the wolfish smile.—

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