The Best Books of 2015 (So Far)

2015 hasn’t been a great year for my personal life, but one thing that HAS been stellar is my reading. I’ve had my share of busts and slumps, but for the most part, I’ve read some really wonderful books. Here are my top ten favorites.

Best Books of 2015 (So Far)

1. Hall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce. Southern Gothic with a hint of magical realism, this short story collection is delightfully weird and deeply meaningful.

2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This novel about abuse and loyalty is the definition of gut-wrenching. Six months after reading Yanagihara’s sophomore novel, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

3. The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields. Seeing his mother walk off into the woods with a gigantic, hairy hominid sparks a life-long obsession in a nine-year-old boy. This fun, surreal read explores deep themes of family and the demons we all face.

4. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh. The assault of a teenage girl rocks her idyllic neighborhood in suburban Baton Rouge. Decades later, her neighbor looks back on that summer, contemplating the mystery of who did it, growing up and the loss of innocence, and the weight of guilt. Stunning and nostalgic.

5. The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija ParssinenA shocking discovery in a Texas oil refinery town shakes up the community and casts suspicion upon the teenage girls. Among them are golden girl Mercy Loius and the lonely wallflower who is fascinated by her. The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is both a wonderful coming-of-age story and a cutting criticism of the patriarchy.

6. Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. An eight-year-old girl’s survivalist father takes her from her London home to a dilapidated cabin in the woods and tells her the rest of the world is destroyed. For the next nine years, they eke out a living from the land, until she makes a discovery that leads her home. An intricate puzzle, this book pulled me in, refused to let me go, and smashed me on the rocks.

7. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Following two young Nigerian expats who are separated by immigration difficulties, Americanah is at once a tender love story, a glimpse into the immigrant experience, a fascinating tale of two countries, and a thought-provoking contemplation of  race and identity.

8. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. Part memoir about Bolick’s choice to remain single, part literary biography about the rebellious women who inspired her, and part cultural history of spinsterhood, Spinster is a thought-provoking exploration of marriage and singledom. This book gave me a lot to think about as I consider what shape I want my own life to take.

9. Citizen: American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. This collection of prose and poetry catalogues the microaggressions and blatant racism black Americans face on a daily basis. Books like this are always important, but Citizen feels especially relevant in light of the recent violence in Charleston and Baltimore. I want to force everyone I know to read this book and reflect on their own actions and attitudes.

10. Dietland by Sarai Walker. Although it make look like fluffy commercial fiction on the outside, Dietland subverts the status quo with a feminist guerilla group and a bold, daring take on conventional beauty standards and self-acceptance. Reading like a feminist Fight Club, it is equal parts fun and thought-provoking.

What are your favorite books so far this year?

Highlighting the Books of BEA 2015

On Sunday, I recapped my experience at Book Expo America (BEA), and today I’m excited to share some of the books I brought home. This year, I brought home 22 books, which is about half of last year’s number. ( I feel very good about this.) Some of them are books I was hoping to pick up, others were pitched to me, and a few simply reeled me in with enticing covers and titles. I’m really looking forward to reading all of them, but in the interest in keeping this post relatively readable, I’d like to feature the ten titles I am most excited about.*

Books of BEA 2015

1. The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (Henry Holt | Aug. 11). After a long period of joblessness, Josephine lands a job inputting numbers into The Database. But as time passes, Josephine feels increasingly anxious. As strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine’s work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her.

This sounds delightfully creepy, and it already has Shannon‘s mark of approval!

2. Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson (Random House | Aug. 18). Adam Johnson follows up The Orphan Master’s Son with a collection of short stories that are comic, tender, absurd, and totally universal. In post-Katrina Louisiana, a young man and his new girlfriend search for the mother of his son. And in the stunning title story, a woman with cancer rages against the idea of her family without her.

I missed Johnson’s last, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but I’m psyched to catch his next book.

3. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (Graywolf Press | Sep. 1). A postapocalyptic novel set a thousand years in the past, The Wake brings to life the Buccmaster, an English landowner seeking revenge in the aftermath of the Norman Invasion of 1066. Written in an updated version of Old English, The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction.

I’ve loved everything I have read from Graywolf, and this book sounds irresistibly ambitious.

4. Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Sep. 1). After a powerful silk factory owner runs down the buggy of Constance Knopp, a rebellious woman with a family secret, a dispute over damages turns into a war as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

This book, written by the author of The Drunken Botonist, just sounds like so much fun. Also, the author was a guest on the Nerdette podcast a few months ago, and she was wonderful.

5. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Gallery/Scout Books | Sep. 8). On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is devastated when a disaster takes the lives of her entire family. Alone and directionless, June drives across the country. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

I’m not familiar with Bill Clegg, but the signing line for this book was the longest I waited in — and that intrigues me.

6. Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy (Picador | Sep. 8). Doctor Damon Tweedy examines the complex ways in which both black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine, illustrating the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of most health problems in the black community.

We’ve been talking about race a lot lately, but this is one area (of many, I’m sure) I haven’t thought much about. I’m excited to learn more!

7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Riverhead | Sep. 15). Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

I loved Arcadia, and Groff’s new book sounds like it’s 100% in my wheelhouse.

8. Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Bloomsbury | Sep. 15). In this enthralling story of a life fully lived, illustrated with “found” period photographs, William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of modern history, from late 1920s Berlin to ’30s New York to the blackshirt riots in London to WWII France, told through the camera lens of one unforgettable woman, Amory Clay.

Found photographs, a trail-blazing female photographer, and a story spanning decades? I’m in.

9. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (Hogarth | Oct. 6). From the author A Constellation of Vital Phenomena comes a collection of dazzling, poignant, and lyrical interconnected stories about family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art.

I loved the beautiful writing, fully realized characters, and intricate connections of Marra’s first novel, and I can’t wait to read his new book.

10. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf | Oct. 14). When the infamous blackout of July 13, 1977 plunges New York City into darkness, the entangled lives of nine all-too-human characters will be changed irrevocably.

Weighing in at over 900 pages, this debut novel received a $2 million advance — and that, my friends, is enough to get my attention.

The rest of my BEA book haul:

BEA 2015 Book Haul

Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner — Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy — Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg — The Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart — The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa — The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth — Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson — Slab by Sala Saterstrom

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips — Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith — Dietland by Sarai Walker — The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra — The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallbarg — Deep South by Paul Theroux — Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins — Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff — Sweet Caress by William Boyde

*All descriptions are borrowed from Goodreads and edited for length.

Five Characters I’d Like to Check In With

Because sometimes you finish a book but you aren’t finished with the characters, here are five* characters I would like to check in with:

(Warning: Vague spoilers ahead.)Five Characters I'd Like to Check In With

1. Naoko from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I loved getting to know Nao through her diary, and I really want to know what she did with her life after she finished writing it. What does her life look like when Ruth finds the diary on the beach?

2. Nick, Amy, and their kid from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I thought this book’s dark, twisty shocker of an ending was perfect — but I’m dying to know what growing up in the Dunn household will be like for Nick and Amy’s child. Let’s check back in 15 years.

3. Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The ambiguous ending of this book is part of why I love it, but I still want to know what really happened to Offred!

4. Peggy Hillcoat from Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. When the novel ends, Peggy has only recently returned home from her years in the wilderness, and she’s still pretty raw. She has a hard road ahead of her, and I’d like to see how she’s doing a few years down the line.

5. Ava Bigtree from Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I could really have used the Socratic Salon when I read this book three years ago. So many feels! The ending tied things up nicely — at least for the moment — but I’d love to see how things work out for Ava in the long run.

*I know this was supposed to be Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m a rebel, so five it is!

What characters would you like to revisit?