Christine Sneed’s Best Reads of 2014

CSauth1My name is Christine Sneed.  I am the author of the novel Little Known Facts, the story collection Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, and the forthcoming novel Paris, He Said (May 2015).  I am the recipient of the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction, the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, and the Society of Midland Authors Prize for best adult fiction.  I live in Evanston and teach for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and for Northwestern University.

1) Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff (2009)

There are nine stories in this book, if I remember correctly, and several are based on the lives of real people; Groff is such a lyrical writer, often slyly funny, always interesting. Some of the stories were published in The Best American Short Stories anthology, and she’s also contributed to the O. Henry Prize Stories anthology. Her third book, the novel Arcadia, was on many best-of lists of 2012, and her first book (and first novel), The Monsters of Templeton, was also well reviewed and was a bestseller.

2) Men in Black (no relation to the films) by Scott Spencer (1995)

Spencer is one of my favorite writers, and this book, about a serious novelist who, in order to support his family, has resorted to writing books that he doesn’t care about (e.g. Traveling with Your Pet and The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Football), is funny, moving, and beautifully written. One of the scenes I like best is an interaction between the main character and Robert Redford, and it takes place in the green room at WGN. I loved this book! Spencer somehow manages to be both brilliant and ridiculously entertaining.

before the end3) Before the End, After the Beginning by Dagoberto Gilb (2011)

A very smart, hold-on-you’re-in-for-a-wild-ride collection of stories. I liked these stories so much that I’ll be reading this book again soon because it’s a required text for one of my spring term fiction workshops. Gilb is Mexican American, and he writes with sensitivity and insight about race and cultural and socioeconomic identity.

4) Lay it on My Heart by Angela Pneuman (2014)

This novel is a coming-of-age story with an intelligent and sympathetic first-person narrator, Charmaine, whose father returns from a month in Israel, believing himself to be a prophet. Charmaine and her young, long-suffering mother must find a way to cope with his mental collapse. Pneuman writes with such pathos and humor. Her first book, the story collection Home Remedies, is also excellent.

5) Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead (2012)

Shipstead was still in her 20s when she wrote this very fine debut novel about family, class, and weddings. The characters are flawed and real; there’s so much to admire. I also like its Martha’s Vineyard-like setting. A fun novel that’s also deeply intelligent and perceptive about desire, tradition, snobbery, and duty.

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