Reading Matters: My favorite reads of 2014

The luckiest thing that happened to me in 2014 was being invited back onto the book beat, where I feel so at home I’m often tempted to break into song. It’s a hard page to locate in all the news, and if you found it today, I congratulate and thank you.

Thank you, too, for your emails and calls, your book suggestions, your encouraging words.

And special thanks to those of you who’ve been in touch about your own books. That’s how I discovered Peter Chen, a native of China, who for 33 years taught microbiology and botany at Georgetown University before settling in Charlotte. I look forward to burrowing into his beautifully illustrated “Fables & Plants” and “Botanical Fables from Ancient China.”

“Byrd,” a debut novel by Raleigh lawyer Kim Church. A stubbornly poignant coming-of-age story about a N.C. woman haunted by the infant son she surrendered at birth.

“Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir,” by Frances Mayes (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) of Hillsborough. Mayes grew up in late-1950s Fitzgerald, Ga., and managed, partly through literature, to maintain emotional cohesion in the midst of a loving family’s chaos.

“Life Drawing,” by Robin Black, a graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. A literary thriller, in which a wounded ego undermines a couple’s best intentions to repair a damaged marriage.

“Lila,” by Marilynne Robinson (“Gilead”), a National Book Award finalist about a hard-scrabble woman in 1930s Iowa, whose refined soul instantly recognizes its counterpart when she slips inside a church to find shelter from the rain and lays eyes on the elderly minister.

“Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, A Memoir,” by Joseph Bathanti. The novelist and former N.C. poet laureate goes deep and wide with the universal in these stand-alone essays: Bathanti as son, student, V.I.S.T.A. volunteer, as teacher, husband, father, poet, baseball fan. Touching, funny, insightful.

“Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories,” by Ron Rash. Rash will scare you, enlighten you, dazzle and surprise you. But he’ll never bore you. These 34 muscular stories brim with Appalachian characters who live (and sometimes die) by their wits and by their pride.

“Marla,” by Andre Dubus III (“House of Sand and Fog”). A novella-length story from his collection, “Dirty Love,” that will challenge your notions about the meaning, nature and purpose of marriage.

“Incarnadine, Poems,” by Mary Szybist. A dazzling collection offering varying points of view about the Annunciation: The young Mary, future mother of Jesus, “quiet as a cloud.” The angel Gabriel, “out of God’s mouth I fell.” The narrator’s own childless self, “For you (Gabriel), I hold my breath.”

“Accepting the Disaster, Poems,” by Joshua Mehigan. Read these poems aloud. Feel Mehigan’s cadences. Wallow in his words, a rich bath of grim brilliance.

“Gabriel, Poems,” by Edward Hirsch. An elegant, book-length elegy to his 23-year-old son Gabriel, who died in 2011 of a seizure. Worth every wrenching word by the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.