Was 2014 the Year of the Debut?

Nearly a million books are published each year in the US by some estimates. Even if we trim that number down to just “literary books” (whatever that term means), there are thousands of books filling the shelves each year. As such, it can be a little silly to sum up an etire year of books in any way. And yet, years do seem to have flavors and different books become part of the conversation each time. So, at the risk of violating my own advice from two sentences ago, I’m going to suggest that 2014 might be the year of the debut.

Phil Klay

2014 was the year Phil Klay’s debut collection Redeployment won the National Book Award. It was the year Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing won a half-dozen awards. The year Andy Weir’s The Martian went from self-published debut to SF sensation (and winner of Goodreads choice award in Science Fiction).

Then there are the books that were not technically first books published, but were the first books to break an author out into a large audience. Leslie Jamison had previously published a novel, but her debut essay collection The Empathy Exams became the rare indie press book to make a the New York Times Bestseller list. Roxane Gay published a short story collection in 2011, but her 2014 debut novel (An Untamed State) and debut essay collection (Bad Feminist) saw her rocket to household name status.

Denis Johnson Laughing Monsters

This is not to say that major established writers didn’t release great books. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, among others, all got great reviews. Still, those books didn’t dominate the conversation the way that novels from established writers often do. (Think of how the following books controlled the conversation in 2013: The Goldfinch, The Tenth of December, The Circle, Doctor Sleep, Bleeding Edge, and The Flamethrowers.) This year, new voices were making a disproportionate amount of the racket.

So I’m going to call it: 2014 was the year of debuts. If you don’t believe me, here is a (by no means complete!) list of stellar 2014 debuts for your perusal:

Celese Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Scott Cheshire book

High as the Horses Bridles by Scott Cheshire

Mira Jacob book

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

Will Chancellor

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor

Catherine Lacey

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey (our review)

Diane Cook book cover

Man V. Nature by Diane Cook (read an excerpt)


Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

A replacement life

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

Saeed Jones book

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones


The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Wolf in White Van

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (our interview)


Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson


McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh

Marie Bertino

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino


Thrown by Kerry Howley


The Wilds by Julia Elliott


Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours by Luke B Goebel (read an excerpt)

Courtney Maum

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum


Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish

D Foy

Made to Break by D. Foy


Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro


Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos


Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm


Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya


The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink


An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (read our interview)


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

McBride coffee house

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

Phil Klay

Redeployment by Phil Klay (read an excerpt)

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