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Bookends: The Year's Best Reads 

Tuesday, Dec 23 2014
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Surely the critics at a publication like The New York Times have a method for whittling down the thousands of books published each year into a top ten. But how do the booksellers at Green Apple Books on the Park decide which books are worthy of inclusion on a year-end list? Feats of strength and alcohol, that's how. We'll spare you our methodology, but suffice it to say that, after many grueling hours of deliberation and whiskey, we've come up with the list below, which includes some of the best books published in 2014.

From local authors:

Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee (City Lights Books, 172 pages)

Man Alive came out of Thomas Page McBee's column for The Rumpus, a chronicle of his transition from female to male. His thoughtful memoir probes the assumptions of masculinity and identity.

Meanwhile in San Francisco by Wendy MacNaughton (Chronicle Books, 176 pages)

Wendy MacNaughton's Meanwhile in San Francisco, an illustrated survey of the city, reveals the colorful characters, funky landmarks, and offbeat philosophies that make this place what it is.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books, 130 pages)

Among her many and varied achievements as a writer, perhaps Rebecca Solnit's greatest accomplishment has been to introduce the term "mansplaining" into the lexicon. The title essay in this collection explains the word's origin story.

California by Edan Lepucki (Little Brown, 393 pages)

Edan Lepucki was the happy beneficiary of this summer's Amazon-Hachette spat. California, her dystopian debut novel, became a bestseller after being promoted on The Colbert Report.

Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Grove Press, 304 pages)

Rabih Alameddine's National Book Award-shortlisted novel is an ode to the solace offered by literature and features one of the most unforgettable narrators you'll ever meet.

Adam by Ariel Schrag (Mariner Books, 302 pages)

Graphic novelist Schrag's debut novel concerns itself with gender politics and sexuality in a hilarious and sensitive way.

San Francisco: Portrait of a City 1940-1960 by Fred Lyon (Princeton Architectural Press, 224 pages)

A lavish retrospective of Fred Lyon's iconic black and white photographs of mid-20th century San Francisco.

The Slanted Door by Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press, 261 pages)

A long-awaited cookbook from one of the city's destination restaurants, The Slanted Door is a compendium of modern Vietnamese recipes and stories from behind the scenes.

In a Sense (Lost & Found) by Roman Muradov (Nobrow Press, 56 pages)

Roman Muradov's debut graphic novel is a surreal and playful examination of innocence. Illustrated and written in his distinctive style, In a Sense (Lost & Found) brings to a wider audience Muradov's singular aesthetic.

The Poetry Deal by Diane di Prima (City Lights Books, 120 pages)

Legendary Beat poet Diane di Prima, who's lived in San Francisco since the 1960s, returns with a collection of poems about her city.

From national authors:

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press, 169 pages)

Citizen is one of the most relevant and necessary books published in 2014. Rankine's meditations on the pervasive and often subtle forms racism and privilege assume in American culture gives this work an urgency not often associated with contemporary poetry.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, 352 pages)

Station Eleven comes with all the trappings of the post-apocalypse but few of the hackneyed tropes of an increasingly familiar genre. Using Shakespeare as her guide, St. John Mandel moves through a ghostly landscape of a brave new world.

Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Coffee House Press, 227 pages)

2014 has been called the "Year of the Debut" and perhaps no debut has been more thrilling than Eimear McBride's Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Winner of half a dozen major awards, McBride's stream of consciousness novel is an eviscerating and moving coming of age tale.

Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Riverhead Books, 688 pages)

At the center of this stunning, sprawling debut is an assassination attempt on Bob Marley. From that central episode, Marlon James spins a polyphonic novel that brings to life the violence and intrigue of Jamaica in the 1970s and '80s.

Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim (Penguin Books, 196 pages)

Hassan Blasim's collection of stories serves as a counterpoint to Phil Klay's National Book Award-winning debut, Redeployment. Blasim's stories, streaked with horror and black humor, present an unforgettable portrait of a war-torn land.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (First Second, 240 pages)

There may have been more important comics published this year, but how could anyone argue with Box Brown's graphic biography of wrestling star Andre the Giant making a year-end list? Worth a read, if only to learn about the connection between Samuel Beckett and a young Andre.

Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (Knopf, 432 pages)

Lepore's fascinating book is as much a biography of William Moulton Marsten, the superheroine's creator and the man who invented the lie detector test, as it is a cultural history of Wonder Woman.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty (trans. Arthur Goldhammer), (Belknap Press, 685 pages)

It's not every year that a monumental book on economics becomes a publishing sensation, but that's just what happened with Thomas Piketty's opus. Celebrated and picked apart, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a reckoning of wealth inequality, economic growth, and the persistence of illusions, all backed by extensive research.

Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press, 226 pages)

Several essay collections made splashes this year, but none seemed to tap into the zeitgeist as powerfully as Jamison's. Fundamentally concerned with the limits of personal identity, Empathy Exams illuminates just what it means to be human, to suffer, and to recognize suffering in others.

The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel Sussman (University of Chicago Press, 304 pages)

Rachel Sussman has spent the last decade photographing organisms 2,000 years or older. Her beautiful book is a reminder, without false optimism, of the tenacity of life even as it teeters on the brink.

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