The best literature of 2014

The best novel, the best play, the best tweets – we round up our literary highlights of the year

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prelude magazine
Prelude MagazineCourtesy of Prelude magazine

The calendar year is dumb. New Year’s Eve is just a ruse to keep you cheerful until winter is half-over, then sufficiently docile with hangover to not start burning things during the rest of it. Then everybody seems to give up booze for January, which is exactly when we need it the most. The whole thing is awful. And yet, the advent of a shiny new Gregorian year is a big event for culture. Whose book sold well? Whose tanked? What disappointed? What surprised? Let's take the opportunity to round up the highlights of the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen – you might as well read until the sun comes back out. Here’s Dazed’s literary top ten.

BEST NOVEL: THE WALLCREEPER, BY NELL ZINK 

We featured Zink’s novel only a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating – The Wallcreeper is the best book of 2014. Tiffany’s demented narration screeches across sex, marriage, ornithology, sabotage, and the German countryside. Every page is an angular masterpiece. Take this bit, chosen almost at random:

““Tomorrow I’ll be busy with Olaf,” I said. “Perhaps another time.”

“You should come again in the spring,” he said. “I would very much like to show the birds and amphibians to someone as sensitive as you are.”

He didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that I was neither aging nor androgynous. His soft preacher eyes rested on mine as if to say, “Do me now, thou tramp.”

I should say in my own defense that German girls, even very respectable ones, call the procedure for getting an educated man into bed “aufreißen.” You rip him open, like a bag of chips.””

BEST ZINE: LIFE STINKS I LIKE THE KINKS #2

I grew up where The Kinks grew up – they’re part of the furniture to me. But this zine throws them into a critical light I didn’t even realise they warranted. It is a thoughtful and pretty meditation on obsession, the song “Apeman,” and the special genius wrought by bad people (the Davies brothers are bad people and that’s that). John Dalton who played bass in The Kinks from 1969-1976 worked as a builder on my mum’s house once.

BEST MEMOIR: BROWN GIRL DREAMING, BY JACQUELINE WOODSON 

Woodson’s volume of memoir poetry won America’s National Book Award for Young People's Literature this year. The feat was richly deserved not only for the intensity of its personal recollections but also the historical value and keenness of its observations, like these remarkable lines from “Ghosts”:

“In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.”

BEST TWITTER: @HOMER_MARIJUANA 

It is gone now (some rando has the handle) but this year @homer_marijuana serialised their work on twitter and achieved something perfect. In each tweet, a new hunk of cold romance joined the one that went before, telling the story of a family riven by addiction but held together by invincible love. Homer loves weed, and Bart. He does not love his other son Ken as much. Ken died.

BEST NEW MAGAZINE: PRELUDE 

Frank Guan, Stu Watson and Robert C.L Crawford's brand new poetry magazine Prelude curates an astonishing array of talent. Tao Lin, Mira Gonzalez, Willis Plummer, Morgan Parker, Jenny Zhang, and John Ashbery jostle between long and considered critical essays. Here is Cole Swenson’s contribution, “Sinclair”, excerpted with Prelude’s permission:

“To sail around London as dreamed by Madox Ford 100 years later

Iain Sinclair, seeing the rage of it, or walking as interactive cartography:

take any major city, take every single inch of it, make of it this intricate

and then make it orchestrate, or (again Sinclair) just an endless attempt

to forget (Quinn tracing the Tower of Babel all over New York) of the

ritual in which one forgets one by one the faces caused a fugue –

the psychological imperative to walk straight ahead without stopping –

it’s a rare form of amnesia – the person is usually eventually found

hundreds of miles away living a new life under a different name, invisible

ceremonies, such as the blindman’s stitch: the conviction (Sinclair again)

that one can orbit London on the M25.


Sinclair says that it is in the fugue that writing and walking fuse, which

implies, as has been proved, that writing is the erasure of memory, and

as such, annihilates the past, as does walking – i.e., you can’t walk

backward without hurting yourself, and most likely also somebody else.”

BEST WRITING ON TUMBLR: PUSSY-STRUT.TUMBLR.COM

Grad school and Tumblr are two things which are often very bad, which makes the egregious excellence of Lyle’s blog all the more outrageous. Follow for the best in writing through being a thinker and also cute and cool and invested in not doing laundry and whatever else. For example here is some really good advice on how to get smart:

“when somebody says some shit that doesn’t make sense to you, say ‘can you say more about that?’ or ‘no, i don’t know what that is’ and then listen and then later look it up”

“when u have a question about the way the world works look it up on the internet and use websites to find reputable articles and books about the thing. there are lots of websites u can use to get books and articles for free on the internet”

“when u meet someone who has expertise and they are able and willing, see if they will talk to you about their expertise”

“listen to as many kinds of people and sources of knowledge as u can”

“the world literally seethes with information, sensory input, data”

“what u must do is negotiate, filter, figure out what’s worth knowing”

“when u are invested in the implications of your knowledge you will not notice that you are working to make that knowledge”

“intelligence is for the birds but information tends toward dissemination. u can’t know it all, so decide what to know, and go to work”

BEST NON-FICTION: CUBED: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORKPLACE, BY NIKIL SAVAL

This book about the history, culture and practice of the way bureaucracy occupies space was a much-deserved hit this year. Saval traces the topography of offices in such a way that all of the twentieth century seems clearer as a result; his measured, cool prose keeps a potentially deathly-dull subject engaging.

BEST PLAY: RESEARCH: A NOVEL FOR PERFORMANCE, BY JOSEPH RIIPPI 

There are two versions of Research. On one page, the story in prose. Over on the other, it’s told in script form. The result is a cross-pollinating transgeneric work that derives extra content from its form. It opens with Lucy, a research subject, being interviewed on one side of a two-way mirror. On the other, Joseph records everything she says. The form of this book is rather like the room it describes: split in two, light unevenly flowing between the halves. Get it from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

BEST POETRY: PRELUDE TO BRUISE, BY SAEED JONES

When I saw Jones read from this new collection earlier this year, it knocked me down and propped me up at the same time. Excruciatingly intimate in places, Jones’s poetry has a remarkable kind of momentum to it because it is rhythmic. Or, at least, it comes up rhythmic in my head. That drive, that kick – derived from the words themselves – stop this collection from ever tipping into pure elegy. It is a living thing.

BEST CRITIQUE – GAY PROPAGANDA: RUSSIAN LOVE STORIES, EDITED BY MASHA GESSEN AND JOSEPH HUFF-HANSON 

The Sochi Winter Olympics threw a glaring light on Russia this year – a good year, then, to publish a book of testimony from LGBT Russians living and loving, at home and in exile. Homophobia is state-endorsed in Russia, but individuals daily enact the extraordinary bravery of continuing to exist as their ordinary, authentic selves. A remarkable collection.

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