2015 is over, for better or worse (better – definitely for better), and so this means it’s time to recap! WOO!
VITAL STATS, YEAR FIVE:
- Books Read: 159 (sweet literary jesus)
- Pages Read: 50,133
- Average Rating: 4.02 (hey, wow, pretty good year I guess)
- Highest Rating(s): – 6 out of 5. There were six books that took top honors for me this year, five of them out in 2015 – making those, I suppose, my top 5. They’re presented here in chronological order, with the sixth at the bottom.
- Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. All of the sudden, I realized what poetry could be. A vital collection from an inimitable new voice, full of music and life. Transcendent stuff.
- The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. An underrated book this year, grappling with the complexity of memory in the guise of a late-Arthurian adventure. And it worked really well on both scales.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. What the hell else can I say about this book? Just go read it and then try, as we all must, to be better.
- You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman. The first book I’ve maybe ever read that did not let me go, to the point that I had to nearly immediately re-read it. Some wondrous dark alchemy going on here.
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Raising the idea of a complex, nuanced romantic partnership to the level of myth. Beautiful writing, smart plotting, and the best couple I’ve seen in fiction in a very long time.
- I also re-read American Psycho, I just remembered – and that book is still as furious and vital and excellent as it was the first several times.
- Lowest Rating(s): – 2 out of 5. I’m pretty astonished to discover that I didn’t give anything the dreaded single star this year. I think this is a good thing, though. And there were certainly plenty of two-star-ers: Want Not, We Are Pirates, Cold Vengeance / Two Graves, Doctor Who: Paradox Lost, Everything I Never Told You, Adam – and two BIG (maybe even the two biggest) books of the year, Purity & City on Fire.
- DNF – Nothing! I finished them all this year! Muwahahaha.
2015 was a year of inspiring, heartwarming, heartbreaking, enlightening literature for me. I fell in love with a handful of new authors — I’m furiously making my way through the back-catalog of both Laura Van Den Berg and Lauren Groff after reading each of their newest works, and I’m very excited about what Catherine Lacey’s next novel and collection will bring us. I got off to a rough start with Kathleen Alcott, feeling lukewarm about Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, but then adored Infinite Home and became a devotee of her essays (like this one and this one). I challenged myself to read more nonfiction than ever before, and was very glad about it (assorted Patti Smith, Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and a diary-centric streak that included Heidi Julavits’ The Folded Clock, Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness, and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts).
As you can tell from the aforementioned titles, I was delighted to discover in reviewing my year of reading that I almost exclusively read female authors. To which I say, publishers: you’re getting better, and I think we can agree that this means we can stop giving all the awards to books about and by men (I wouldn’t complain if we went all in and published only books by women in 2018 like Kamila Shamsie wants to).
Here’s a little bit about my very favorites this year:
- Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg — I couldn’t invent a writer who more closely appeals to my literary aesthetic than Laura Van Den Berg, so that gives Find Me a big leg up. The main character, Joy, is lost in a world that –past and present– haunts her, and Van Den Berg makes you feel that palpably as you take in the story. With a two-part structure –the first set in a quarantined hospital, the second on a journey through a desolate America– some reviewers noted that the second half of the book wanders a bit, but I felt entirely the opposite. The second part is magical and frightening and hopeful, just like the future.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I don’t know how to describe my love for this book other than that reading it felt just like reading my first big novels as a kid — that sensation of being captivated, completely sucked in to the universe of the story, learning about the world. It’s also unusual that a book with such an expansive plot (over decades, across continents) never suffers from an unwelcome plot turn, but the course that Adichie charts for Ifemelu feels absolutely right. Also, let it be known, for as much as this book has been touted as an inspiring, gorgeous, feminist work (it is), it’s also really funny. Also, didja know that Lupita Nyong’o is producing and starring (as the loveable and wonderful Ifemelu) in a film adaption? Pretty excited about that.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – More than anything, this book is original. It didn’t remind me of anything I’ve ever read or seen or heard. The characters were so thoroughly unique, and the story is continuously unpredictable. It’s not really a book about terrorism, or opera, or love. It’s a book about humanity, all parts of it, trapped in a big, beautiful, terrifying house together.
- Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey — Drew had been talking about this book for nearly a year before I read it, and I held off because I knew exactly how much it would –in equal parts– delight and destroy me. It did. Through Elyria, Lacey writes about identity and self and feeling lost, so, so perfectly. I’m not as much of an escape artist as Elyria, but I am impulsive, and there have been times in my life where I’ve nearly bought a plane ticket away. To encounter a character who acts on that impulse and then to have the book not apologize for her is lovely and rare. That wildebeest…oh that wildebeest.
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff was my favorite book of the year, perhaps of my life. It is the fullest and loveliest depiction of privilege, ambition, and partnership that I’ve ever encountered. It’s smart as hell, impeccably structured, incisive, breathtaking, life-affirming — THE ADJECTIVES ARE ENDLESS. I actually have a hard time objectively articulating why I loved this book so much, because certainly much of my fierce attachment to it comes from a personal place. But that’s worth noting as well. I think everyone who is an artist, everyone who is deeply in love, and everyone who struggles with the past will cling to a thread, if not all, of this story.
Here are other books/literary things we loved this year that we’d be remiss not to shout out!
Required Reading for Bettering the State of Humanity:
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Best Site-Specific Reading Experience:
Reading Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies in a single day, deep in the woods of New Hampshire.
Best Fight Scene:
The ballroom sequence in Chris Holm’s tremendous The Killing Kind
Book That Gave Me PTSD About Waiting Tables:
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
Best Reason to Dust Off Those Reggae Records:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Best Underage Protagonist:
Madeleine from 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie Helene Bertino
Best Book From a Couple Years Ago You Might Have Missed But Should Read:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Proof that Kevin Barry can sustain being my favorite author:
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
Best Short Fiction Collection:
What the World Will Look Like when All The Water Leaves Us by Laura Van Den Berg
Best Use of that Post-Soviet Politics Class I Took in College:
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Most Personally Inspiring Memoir:
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Browntstein // M Train by Patti Smith
Laugh-out-loud Funniest Book:
How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
Best Podcast Guest:
Will Chancellor, twice, on So Many Damn Books
Best Beach Read that I didn’t read on a beach:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Well that’s all, folks. A very happy new year to you all – here’s to a whole lot more reading fun next year (including but not limited to Hemingway2016 and the conclusion of Vonnegut201x)! See you then 🙂