Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Top 10 of 2015

I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I lay, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adopted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of boks. Trasmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass--an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me lfe, and life kills me.
-An Unnecessary Woman
Rabih Alameddine

Well, another year has come and gone, more quickly than usual in fact--if you want time to fly, go ahead and plan a wedding!  Overall, this year has been filled with pretty wonderful things--getting married to a pretty fantastic dude, watching my sister get married to another fantastic dude, getting to see so many friends and family, and taking a few trips. And that's not even to mention the great list of books I've read! 2016 will certainly be a bit different, but I have no doubt that the books will stand up to the fabulous ones from years past.

In 2014, I decided to read all of the National Book Award shortlist nominees, which turned out to be a pretty fantastic little project for myself (though the timeline of reading bled into 2015). It was so fun that I decided to make in an annual thing and invited a few friends, near and far, to join me in reading them in 2015 which made the project even more fun. The books that I read for these little jaunts have certainly been big influences on the list this year.

This year has been a busy one and there is almost too much to say about it, so I think I'll just get to the list and my usual caveats. This year, I read 57 books which is 10 more than last year not sure how that happened!). The books on this list are ones that I completed reading between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015. These books were not necessarily published in 2015 (though most of them were published within the last three years) and anything that I have reread this year is not eligible for the Top 10. At the end of the top list, you'll find the list of all the books I have read this year. Also, the titles of the Top 10 books link to the book on Amazon (but go buy it in a bookstore).

So here it is:

Stephanie's Top Ten Books of 2015

10) The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks: As usual, Geraldine Brooks proves her genius in this retelling of the story of King David through the eyes of his right-hand-man and prophet Natan. Natan has visions and tells David of them, influencing his next moves in many cases. I didn't know much about the story of King David to start out with, but that certainly didn't matter much as I read along. The rich characters, settings, and events that take place really make the book so enjoyable. I was really captivated by David's rise and fall and is often strained relationship with Natan and with his various wives. It kept me intrigued until the very end.

9) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I have a feeling that this is on everyone's list this year. The National Book Award winner for non-fiction, this has been one of the most-talked about books of 2015. Written as a letter to his son, Coates writes about his experience of being black in America. Coates combines research, clear writing, and his own experiences to present a compelling view of American blackness from the perspective of a man who has had to find his own way in a world in which he is considered second class for nothing besides his own skin color. He talks about finding his passion at Howard University, talks about his friend who was killed by the Prince George's County police, his visit to a Civil War site, and puts it all into perspective of an often ignored viewpoint. A good book to read with others, it certainly makes you think.

8) My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: This is the first in a series of novels by Elena Ferrante following two friends growing up together in Italy. Though not a whole lot actually takes place in the novel, it's beautifully written and really explores the ups and downs and ins and outs of female friendship. I adored the prose--it really drew me in and made me care about the characters. I haven't had a chance to pick up the other books that follow this one, but the final installment came out this year and I'm excited to hopefully get to it in 2016!

7) The Storied Life of AJ Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin: My mother-in-law was the one to recommend this wonderful, lighthearted, beautiful book to me. The story follows a bookseller on a small island whose life hasn't quite turned out the way he had planned. After a precious book of his is stolen, he receives a strange package on his doorstep in the form of a baby girl. A story about how life throws surprises our way, this sweet (but not too sweet) novel is a great one for a long weekend or for when you just need a pick-me-up.

6) On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman: This non-fiction book really stuck with me. As a graduate student in Philadelphia decides to follow the lives of several young black men in a poor neighborhood. Goffman rents an apartment on the same street as the young men she observes and becomes part of their daily lives. Goffman documents their lives through jail time, family accomplishments and troubles, incidents with the police, and how the men and the women in their lives try to live on a daily basis. A fascinating look at the American justice system and the lives of poor, black Americans, this is worth the read. I particularly loved the methodology she wrote at the end, explaining how she worked on the project and why.

5) A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: This is not a book for the faint of heart. 700+ pages, this whopper of a book is not what you might call an easy read. It follows the lives of four guys who meet in college and live together. All four are unique in their own way, but in the end the real focus is on Jude, a severely abused and partially disabled man who fights his own demons daily. The writing was great and the author really kept me reading by knowing exactly when to reveal certain facts about Jude's past. Now, before you go out and get this one, know that there were parts where I had to put the book down and walk away to clear my head. But the complexity of the plot and my investment in the characters made me keep reading. (This was a National Book Award nominee for 2015... thanks to Cassie Graesser for helping me get through it. :) )

4) Delicious Foods by James Hannaham: I was pretty surprised that I didn't see this book on more end-of-year lists. I was riveted by this book about a woman whose son wakes up one day to find his drug-addicted mother gone without a trace. As he looks for her, he finds her "working" on a farm as a modern-day slave. Brilliantly told from the perspectives of the mother, the son, and most fascinating, the drug that is the true slave-holder of the mother, this is one that I couldn't put down.

3) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Another National Book Award nominee from 2014, this was an outstanding book that I really did not think I'd like. It takes place in an America that has suffered from a pandemic that has killed off most of the people in the world. Following a few groups of people who are working to survive, one of the focuses is a man who declares himself a prophet and is a pretty fascinating character. Mostly following the journey of "The Traveling Symphony," this book takes the reader back and forth in time and on twists and turns that you never expect.

2) The Turner House by Angela Flournoy: I love a novel that has an "epic" kind of feeling to it, telling the story of multiple generations of a family and this book fit the bill. It follows the Turner family who have grown up in a house in Detroit for years. As the matriarch of the family begins to lose her health, the 13 Turner children have to decide what to do with the house that losing money in a crumbling Detroit. The story focuses on a few of the children, particularly the oldest whose obsession with a ghost that has been haunting him since childhood changes his life. I loved the prose of this and the way it portrayed a family as well as the way it showed Detroit for the vibrancy it once and still has.

1) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I'm guessing that this doesn't come as a shock to any of you that this was my favorite book of 2015, seeing as I've recommended it to everyone and often! I loved the parallel and intertwining of tales of Marie-Laure and Werner, the setting of World War II and the secrets they both carry. Beautifully written and truly heartbreaking, I was obsessed with this book and could not put it down. How this didn't win the National Book Award is beyond me, but at least it got the Pulitzer! This is a long one, but it is absolutely worth every word.

So that's it, dudes. It was hard to decide the top ten this year! Below is the full list of all the books I read in 2015. Anything with an asterisk is an honorable mention!

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • *The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond (a light one, but a fun read!)
  • 14 by Peter Clines
  • Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Sprecht
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
  • The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway
  • *Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.
  • *An Unnecessary Woman by Rabin Alameddine
  • The Precious One by Maria de los Santos
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
  • *Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
  • Zoli by Colum McCann
  • *Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
  • Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
  • Mobile Library by David Whitehouse
  • *I Am Radar by Reif Larsen
  • *In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
  • God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
  • Delicious Foods by James Hannaha
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
  • Boys Don't Knit (in Public) by T.S. Eastman
  • St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
  • The Sunrise by Victoria Hilsop
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • *Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  • *Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
  • On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman
  • Friendship by Emily Gould
  • *Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • *Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope
  • *Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
  • *The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres
  • *Purity by Jonathan Franzen
  • *Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
  • *Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • *Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • M Train by Patti Smith
  • The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
  • Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson
  • *Fortune Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Refund by Karen E. Bender
  • *Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • After Alice by Gregory Maguire
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • *The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
There you have it. My 2015 in reading in a nutshell. I hope that you all had a great year of reading in 2015 and am wishing you good books in 2016! :)

I'll leave you with two of my favorite pictures from our wedding... because my husband is super thoughtful. 

Wishing you a happy and literary 2016, 

PS: Here are the other Top Ten lists from years past: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014