Some of NPR’s best books of 2014 include Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams,” Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” and Ben Lerner’s “10:04.” From non-fiction to novels, these books are top picks from NPR’s end of year book round-up.
Novelist Leslie Jamison brings a literary eye to her highly-praised essay collection “The Empathy Exams.” Jamison’s insightful, humorous and often morose essays explore the esoteric fringes of modern culture from poverty tourism to medical acting. In her capacity to distill the fundamentals of human nature from the strangest of sources, Jamison has won comparisons to Joan Didion, John Jerimiah Sullivan and the late David Foster Wallace.
Post-apocalyptic survival has become a well-worn literary trope in the 2010s, but Emily St. John Mandel’s debut novel “Station Eleven” transcends the genre with its warmth and narrative charm. The book’s protagonists are members of a traveling theater troupe, eking out a living performing the works of Shakespeare in a pandemic-ravaged United States. Jumping back and forth between pre- and post-apocalyptic life, the novel meditates on loss, survival and the capacity for wonder.
Poet Ben Lerner won serious praise for his autobiographical debut novel “Leaving the Atocha Station,” and follow-up “10:04” continues in a similar style, focusing on a young New York poet grappling with the unexpected success of his first novel. Hurricane Sandy, an ominous medical diagnosis and approaching fatherhood all collide in a novel that bursts with ideas but is never overblown.