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2015: The Year in Books

Updated on January 1, 2016

The Top Ten:

1. Father of the Rain, Lily King

This year I discovered Lily King. I read four novels by her, and you'll find two of them in my top ten. The other two you will find in my bottom six, which I have labeled "don't bother". So, that's pretty interesting. I loved this book. It's a story about a woman and her alcoholic father and it spans decades. It was incredibly moving and engrossing. I actually read it twice, just finished it, tears streaming down my face, and then flipped it back to page 1 and started again.

2. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

People have a lot to say about Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love, which I enjoyed, frankly, but didn't love, and which launched her into the stratosphere of author fame. I never saw the movie, but a billion women did and went nuts. I've watched two TED talks she did, and loved them. But she has a lot of hype and criticism surrounding her now, and I picked this book up with apprehension. But I was wrong to question her, because this is a fantastic book. The novel follows the Whittaker family in the mid to late 1800s; the adventurous and ruthless father who makes his fortune traveling the world as a money hungry botanist, his industrious Dutch wife, and most interestingly, their daughter Alma. Beautifully written, filled with unique characters that you fall in love with, and a truly original tale.

3. Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

This was the year of absolution for B. Kingsolver. I'm sure she'll be glad to know she is off my shit list. I was a long time lover of her novels (The Poisonwood Bible, is in my top ten of all time, and The Prodigal Summer, is another favorite.) But The Lacuna was a bitter disappointment for me, and a strangely personal one. I just couldn't let it go. So when this book was recommended to me I put it off. I didn't trust her. And I apologize. This is a great novel. Set in rural Appalachia, focusing on an environmental disaster of sorts that lands in a drowning woman's backyard, the book is transfixing.

4. An American Outrage: A Novel of Quillifarkeag, Maine, G. K. Wuori

Like all Wuori books, this is an unsettling tale. I just love his style of writing, it is incredibly unique. He doesn't back down from the edges of life, and his grasp of what life is like on those edges in small Northern Maine towns is dazzling. The main character in this sock-to-the-gut story, Ellen DeLay, is my personal hero. I'm terrified of her and I love her. There is murder, mystery, and plenty of opinionated Mainers wandering through the woodwork here. A real find.

5. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

My forty two reads this year included five Murakami books. I am a rabid fan. This was the best of those five for many reasons. It's a tale of hopeless and heroic love, which I always get swept away with. It is beautiful and lyrical and strange, like many of his books. Kafka on the Shore & Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, remain my favorites of his, but this is another gem.

6. The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson

Love, love, love Jeanette Winterson. This is a more straightforward novel for her, with a defined plot of a woman pursued by meddlesome men for suspected witchcraft/being beautiful and independently wealthy. But, as usual, it is really about love. The devious, haunting, tragic and unstoppable force of Winterson's tales of love.

7. Euphoria, Lily King

A love triangle between three anthropologists in the '30s. This book really comes alive with vivid language and engrossing characters, an intellectual and romantic firestorm.

8. Revival, Stephen King

Do I even need to say anything? I read two by Steve this year. This one was my favorite, but I loved Mr. Mercedes too.

9. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

10. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Elliot

The Solid Center

11. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

12. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, Isabel Fonseca

This is my #1 for nonfiction this year. Isabel lived with different groups of gypsies from Albania to Poland and studied their history (not an easy task, with a purposefully misleading oral history that spans continents, languages, and ages) in depth. Really fascinating and well written. The novel opens with an old gypsy saying, "Bury me standing. I've been on my knees all my life."

13. The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell

14. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King

15. Written Lives, Javier Marias

This was great. A collection of 20 essays (sort of) recounting snippets of famous authors' (Oscar Wilde, Isak Dineson, Faulkner, etc.) lives. Not the flashy well known tales, the more obscure and interesting details. Really great read.

16. Nothing Gold Can Stay, Ron Rash

17. After the Quake, Haruki Murakami

18. Original Self: Living with Paradox and Originality, Thomas Moore

19. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, Margaret Atwood

20. Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling

I loved this novel. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, but I had no problem embracing a very grown up, Peyton Place style novel from a woman who knows how to tell a story.

21. The Dark Secret of Weatherend, John Bellairs

22. The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb, John Bellairs

23. An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, Oliver Sacks

24. Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham

25. After Dark, Haruki Murakami

26. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson

27. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison

This is a nonfiction look at the connection between manic depression and artistic and creative genius. It's a good book, but fairly dry and repetitive unless you're very invested in the topic. Her personal memoir, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, is much better for the casual reader, and I'd highly recommend it.

28. Meditations: On the Monk who Dwells in Daily Life, Thomas Moore

29. The Woman who gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories, Emma Donoghue

30. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, Robert Hass (editor)

31. Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Gluck

32. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, Ron Currie Jr.

33. The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt

This was a good book, but a disappointment. I thought when I picked this one up I might be holding my #1 for the year. Not to be. It was way too long. I loved The Passion, but felt this was a bit of a swing and a miss.

34. The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

35. The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell

36. The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, Temple Grandin &Richard Panek

The Bottom (don't bother)

37. A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit, Alan Lightman

38. Glass Mountain, Cynthia Voigt

39. The English Teacher, Lily King

40. Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe

41. The Master, Colm Toibin

42. The Pleasing Hour, Lily King


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