The Best of The Millions: 2014

December 29, 2014 | 3 books mentioned 5 min read

The Millions is going to be very quiet this week, a great opportunity for readers to catch up on some of the most notable pieces from the site during the year. To start, we’ll divide the most popular posts on The Millions into two categories, beginning with the 20 most popular pieces published on the site in 2014:

1. Sam Anderson and David Rees decided, for science, to do a deep dive on Dan Brown’s thriller Inferno. The result was Dumbest Thing Ever: Scribbling in the Margins of Dan Brown’s Inferno and some of the funniest marginalia you’ll ever read.

2. Oh, The Favorites You’ll Give: Literary Twitter’s Best Tweets: Many readers are well aware of the many charms that literary Twitter has to offer. We looked at the most “popular” tweets of some of the most well-known literary personalities on Twitter.

3. Style Sheet: A Conversation with My Copyeditor: Our own Edan Lepucki’s made waves this year with her bestselling novel California, and as the book hit shelves, she took the opportunity to show us how the sausage is made. Among several behind-the-scenes interviews, Edan’s visit with her copyeditor proved to be the most fascinating for our readers.

4. Read Me! Please!: Book Titles Rewritten to Get More Clicks: 2014 was the year of clickbait, snippets of twisted English pumped full of hyperbole and lacking in specificity, a concoction designed to wring maximum clicks from readers. Our own Janet Potter and Nick Moran pondered how some literary classics might have employed this same strategy. The results are hilarious… and terrifying.

5. 28 Books You Should Read If You Want To: Leery of proliferating lists exhorting us to read these 100 books (or those 100 completely different books) before we die, Janet Potter concocted her own reading list, one that feels more true to how we find the books that shape our lives. It begins: “You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about at the registers while you’re browsing in a bookstore.”

6. Our pair of Most Anticipated posts were popular among readers looking for something new to read. Our 2015 book preview is coming soon.

7. Commercial Grammar: It’s easy to shrug off bad grammar in a logorrheic age, but Fiona Maazel outlined the danger of letting our language be manhandled by marketers.

8. 55 Thoughts for English Teachers: “All of a sudden, I have been teaching public school English for a decade.” Our own Nick Ripatrazone with some powerful reflections on teaching high school English.

9. Italo Calvino’s Science Fiction Masterpiece: Calvino is beloved for his unique brand of literary fiction, but Ted Gioia argued persuasively that more attention should be paid to Calvino’s “science fiction masterpiece” Cosmicomics.

10. Our star-studded Year in Reading was a big hit across the internet.

11. Only at The Millions could a review — albeit an undeniably persuasive one — of a 1,200-page work of literary criticism be one of the most popular pieces of the year. Jonathan Russell Clark painted a compelling picture of Michael Schmidt’s mammoth The Novel: A Biography

12. The Common Core Vs. Books: When Teachers Are Unable to Foster a Love of Reading in Students: The debate over Common Core standards raged across the U.S. in 2014. Alex Kalamaroff urged readers to reflect on what these standards might mean for the next generation of readers.

13. Shakespeare’s Greatest Play? 5 Experts Share Their Opinions: For the Latest in his series of roundtables, our own Kevin Hartnett asked five experts to name the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays.

14. There Are Two Kinds of Novelists…: Let’s be honest. Our own Matt Seidel is right. When you boil it down, there are really only two kinds of novelists…

15. We Cast The Goldfinch Movie so Hollywood Doesn’t Have To: Word of a film adaptation gave us all the excuse we needed to keep talking about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Our own Janet Potter and Edan Lepucki saved everyone a lot of trouble and went ahead and put together a cast for the movie.

16. Judging Books by Their Covers 2014: U.S. Vs. U.K.: This unscientific look at book covers had readers taking sides in a trans-Atlantic design debate.

17: Thug: A Life of Caravaggio in Sixty-Nine Paragraphs: Pimp, brawler, Old Master. Stephen Akey introduced us to the epic life of Caravaggio.

18. Here Come the Americans: The 2014 Booker Prize Longlist: Readers love playing along during the annual literary prize season, but the addition of Americans to this year’s Booker Prize was cause for heightened curiosity (and consternation).

19: How to be James Joyce, or the Habits of Great Writers: It’s tempting to think that by copying the habits of the greats, you can become one. Elizabeth Winkler looked at some books about how history’s greatest writers wrote and found habits as widely varied as the books they produced.

20: Cooking with Hemingway: Maybe it’s easier then to simply eat like the greats? Stephanie Bernhard tried cooking like Hemingway and came away sated, if sometimes perplexed.

There are also a number of older pieces that Millions readers return to again and again. This list of top “evergreens” comprises pieces that went up before 2014 but continued to find new readers.

1. The Weird 1969 New Wave Sci-Fi Novel that Correctly Predicted the Current Day: Ted Gioia profiled John Brunner’s uncanny novel Stand on Zanzibar, which included, way back in 1969, a President Obomi and visionary ideas like satellite TV and the mainstreaming of gay lifestyles.

2. Dickens’s Best Novel? Six Experts Share Their Opinions: Kevin Hartnett polled the experts to discover the best on offer from the prolific 19th century master.

3. The Ultimate List: 25 Gifts That Writers Will Actually Use: For the picky writers in your life, Hannah Gerson delivered an array of ideas that will keep the creative juices flowing.

4. The Greatest American Novel? 9 Experts Share Their Opinions: Kevin Hartnett convened a panel of experts to offer their answers on a high-stakes literary question, What is the Great American Novel? The answers he received are thought-provoking, enlightening, and, of course, controversial.

5. The Best of the Millennium (So Far): Our late-2009 series invited a distinguished panel of writers and thinkers to nominate the best books of the decade. The ensuing list stoked controversy and interest that has lingered. The write-ups of the “winner” and runners-up have also remained popular. We also invited our readers to compile a “best of the decade” list. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the readers’ list seemed to receive a warmer reception.

6. Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? 8 Experts on Who’s Greater: Readers also returned to Kevin Hartnett’s Russian lit throwdown, for which he asked eight scholars and avid lay readers to present their cases for Tolstoy or Dostoevsky as the king of Russian literature.

7. A Year in Reading 2013: 2013’s series stayed popular in 2014.

8. Hard to Pronounce Literary Names Redux: the Definitive Edition: Seven years on, our “definitive” literary pronunciation guide is still a favorite at The Millions. There must be a lot of people name-dropping Goethe out there.

9. Ask the Writing Teacher: The MFA Debate: Writers pondering “To MFA or not to MFA” keep finding Edan Lepucki’s thoughtful advice from her popular Ask the Writing Teacher column.

10. How Many Novelists are at Work in America? At the end of 2013, Dominic Smith pondered a scary question. The answer? More than you think.

Where did all these readers come from? Google (and Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Reddit) sent quite a few of course, but many Millions readers came from other sites too. These were the top 10 sites to send us traffic in 2014:

1. Flavorwire
2. Arts & Letters Daily
3. MetaFilter
4. The Paris Review
5. BookRiot
7. The Hairpin
8. The Rumpus
9. NPR
10. New York Times

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.