Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Best Books I Read in 2015


I've said this before and I'll say it again: 2015 was a great year for reading. It was a year I leaned on books hard and, thanks to all those beautiful stories and words, made it through some dark moments. I wasn't in school or teaching, so I read whatever sounded good or interesting in the moment. I read hoping to become a better writer, which is always the secret and ultimate goal. And, of course, I read because I love books more than anything (not counting people and dogs).  

In 2015 I read a total of 39 books, most of which were written by women. My genre of choice was the novel, which makes sense, as I'm still trying to figure out how to write one. This year I made an effort to read more books by POC, as a way to experience stories outside the straight white narrative, which I tend to fall back on too often. I'm glad I pushed myself in this way - out of 38 books, nearly a third were written by people who don't look like me, and I can't help but feel reading those books made me a more empathetic and aware human being. As for stats and superlatives (my favorite part!) they are as follows: 

Gender breakdown: 
Women: 36
Men: 3

Genre breakdown:
Novels: 28
Nonfiction/Memoir: 7
Short stories: 1
Essays: 1
Poetry: 2

Diversity breakdown: 
White (as far as I can tell): 29
POC (as far as I can tell): 10

Month I read the most number of books: 
January/June - tied for 5 (It is not a coincidence that January and June both included plane trips, and planes just so happen to be my favorite place to read a book cover to cover.) 

Month I read the least number of books: 
August (Just one - A Little Life, which is understandable.) 

Most fun I had while reading a book: 
The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits (So charming and funny and startling. I want to be BFFs with Julavits.) 

Best take on the coming apocalypse: 
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (Not so bad for a world in which a virus wipes out 99% of the world's population.) 

Best page-turners: 
Life Drawing, Robin Black (In the first sentence, we learn the narrator's husband is dead. The rest of the book is a stressful unfolding of how it happened. Great twists and turns, and the ending left me so unsettled.) 

The Last September, Nina de Gramont (Another dead husband in the first paragraph! I guess I have a type. Don't tell my husband.) 

Most traumatizing book: 
A Little Life, because obviously. 

Most interesting books: 
Citizen, Claudia Rankine. (A rumination on race in America. Timely, important, structurally fascinating, an essay written in poetry. Unlike anything else I read this year, in a good way.) 

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill (Also written in prose poem style, hard to get into at first but once it sunk its claws into me, I couldn't escape.)

Book with the worst ending: 
Mermaids in Paradise, Lydia Millet (I still get mad every time I think about it.)

Most overrated books: 
How to Be Both, Ali Smith (I couldn't get into the experimental narrative.) 

Gold Fame Citrus, Clare Vaye Watkins (Loved the language, but not the characters or plot. I also think my reading experience suffered from a case of sky-high expectations.) 

Most underrated book: 
After Birth, Elisa Albert. (Honestly, I'm shocked this didn't end up on more Best-of-2015 lists. It's a brutal and brilliant account of new motherhood, identity, and creativity.)  

Most educational book: 
On Immunity, Eula Biss. (The vaccination debate, from one of the smartest and most talented writers we have. Read it, please - especially if you have or plan to have children.) 

Best book of the year runners up: 
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. (An overall solid book. The family at its center is fascinating, the mystery, emotions, the complicated dynamics are gripping, and the tragedy and how it unfolds are so smartly told. A nearly perfect reading experience.)

Americanah, Chimamanda Adiche (This book was a beautiful, sweeping, and ambitious story of love, identity, culture, and the idea of home. I didn't expect to be so consumed by this book, and was gratefully surprised.)   

And now, the moment you've all been reading for!

Best book of 2015: 
Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff (Yes, President Obama and I share the same favorite novel. I know some people didn't love this book, but for me the hype was absolutely warranted. This novel is fascinating, gripping, incredibly written, and so deeply intelligent it left me spinning. If I could write a book half as good as this one, I'd die happy.) 

If you're interested: the best books I read in 2014.

And finally, this year's full reading list, including those which didn't get superlatives (sorry, books), listed chronologically: 

Euphoria, Lily King
The Bees, Laline Paull
Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doer
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
The Mermaid of Brooklyn, Amy Shearn
Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
On Immunity, Eula Biss
My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff
Americanah, Chimamanda Adiche
Mermaids in Paradise, Lydia Millet
Family Life, Akhil Sharma
Draft, Erica Sklar
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Courtney Maum
How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, Lydia Netzer
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Antonia DiSclafani
Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
After Birth, Elisa Albert
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
The Knitting Circle, Ann Hood
Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk, Ben Fountain
Land of Love and Drowning, Tiffanie Yanique
Life Drawing, Robin Black
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits
The Star Side of Bird Hill, Naomi Jackson
The Daughters, Adrienne Celt
How to be Both, Ali Smith
The Last September, Nina de Gramont
Days of Awe, Lauren Fox
Wired for Story, Lisa Cron
Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein
In the Country, Mia Alvar
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

7 comments:

  1. Like you, I made an effort this year to read more women and more authors of color in my leisure reading (which I almost entirely devote to fiction due to the nature of my professional life). I read 28 novels (3 in Spanish) and one epic burlesque poem (also in Spanish). My favorites were 1Q84 and The Roundhouse. I also really enjoyed Americanah because of the style of the prose and Fates and Furies in spite of it.

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    1. I have The Roundhouse on my shelf! It was a gift from a friend but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Now I'll put it on the top of my TBR pile! And I love that you liked Fates and Furies *in spite of* the prose. It definitely has a style all its own, which appears to have been quite polarizing!

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    2. I think you will love the TNG references in The Roundhouse. It was a book that moved me to tears, stomach dropping anxiety, and laughter. F&F's prose definitely propelled me forward, but I'm not sure that aesthetically it was really my cup of tea.

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  2. So, I'm seriously stoked to add a bunch of these to my 2016 reading list. So. Much. Stoke. !

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  3. Thank you for this list. I also adored Albert's After Birth and Offill's Dept. of Speculation. You might enjoy Angela Flournoy's The Turner House -- epic, good story, and compelling characters. I'm looking for a new title for my book group; your list really helps!

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    1. You're welcome! I actually just started The Turner House last night - it's been on my nightstand for a few weeks. I'm only a few chapters in but I already love it!

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