As indicated by all of the “Best of 2014” book lists currently being published, the past year was a treasure trove of titles that deserve some time on your bookshelf (or tablet). To help you figure out which novels to catch up with on your next cruise, we’ve scoured through the critics’ picks and pulled together our list of the year’s best. (Though NPR’s clever Book Concierge is worth a separate look).
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
What It’s About: In her fourth book, Emily St. John Mandel takes the post-apocalyptic genre and elevates it into a culturally-relevant and celebrity-driven parable for today’s times. In her narrative, she follows the adventures of three characters (an actor, an actress, and a paparazzo-turned-EMT), connected by a common thread, but who inhabit three different eras: before, after and during a pandemic flu that kills 99% of the population.
Read This If You’re Cruising… on a long transatlantic or transpacific trip.
Redeployment, Phil Klay
What It’s About: Touted by the National Book Foundation, and appearing on numerous year’s end “best” lists, Phil Klay’s short story collection about the Iraq and Afghanistan frontlines gets to the brutality and humanity of what it means to serve. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Klay tackles topics from the points of view of not only artillerymen, but also a chaplain, a mortuary affairs marine, and a veteran attending law school. Klay’s ruminative tales speak volumes about what it means to be a soldier today.
Read This If You’re Cruising… on one of Celebrity’s cruises during Labor Day or during Veteran’s Day.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Roz Chast
What It’s About: Although a graphic book about a cartoonist’s elderly parents hardly seems like entertaining fodder, Roz Chast finds the humor and pathos in being an adult woman with an aging mother and father.
Read This If You’re Cruising… to a beautiful and meditative site like India or Indonesia, and are looking to reflect back on your year.
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
What It’s About: Set in 1920s London, Sarah Water’s thrilling historical crime drama follows the pending spinster Frances Wray and her widowed mother as the two are forced to take lodgers into their home to help pay the bills. Waters’ tale is set right after WWI, and manages to sneak in insights about the British class system even as it turns into a gripping read.
Read This If You’re Cruising… towards Europe.
The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
What It’s About: New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert takes a scientific look at the five mass extinctions that have taken place during the history of the earth, and breaks down how human behavior (like burning fossil fuels) has inextricably changed the planet. Kolbert’s writing will provide insight into the history of Charles Darwin’s discoveries in the island archipelago.
Read This If You’re Cruising… to the Galapagos this year.