Day-ummmmm, you guys! I’m sitting down to write a disgustingly overdue post showing you my ten favorite books read in 2015, and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to choose. As usual, my first instinct was to look at my Goodreads stats and see which books I’d rated the highest – five stars. Usually that gives me a pretty good indication of my top ten list… but not for 2015. In 2015, I had so many five-star books, that I honestly don’t know, sitting here and writing this introductory paragraph, how I’m going to narrow it down to just ten favorites. If you’d asked me last year at this time – in the throes of a reading slump – if I thought I’d be in this position at the end of 2015 (or – cough – beginning of 2016) I’d have said you were nuts. Yet here we are, 2015 was a ridiculously good reading year, and I’m actually having a hard time deciding which were the best of the best.
In any event, somehow I’ve got the list whittled down to ten (-ish; I’ve cheated a bit, as you’ll see below, but I know my friends will forgive me). Again, these are books read in 2015. Some of them were also published in 2015, but not all. So here, in no specific order, are my top ten, best of the best, ultimate favorites from a really, really great year in books:
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner – I’d been meaning to read Stegner since at least 2007 (when a friend with great taste told me she loved his books) and now I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long. Crossing to Safety was a quiet but deceptively dramatic novel about friendship, and how it ebbs and flows through life’s changing seasons, and the mark that really deep friendship leaves on all of us. I was astounded.
Overwhelmed: Work, Play and Love When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte – Seems like an odd pick, but Overwhelmed is the book that I can’t stop thinking about. Schulte writes about that delicate balance we’re all trying to strike, between work, love, and leisure – how we fall short, how to do it better, and how the odds are stacked against us. She’s an incredible writer – she brought me to tears describing the causes and consequences of America’s broken child care system – but the real reason that this book resonated with me so powerfully was that every.single.word seemed to speak directly to my life. Schulte is a working mom, like me – but if that’s not you, it doesn’t matter and you should still read Overwhelmed. Anyone who is busy, and that’s everybody I know, will find useful information in here.
Dead Wake, by Erik Larson – Dead Wake was the book that busted me out of my reading slump in early 2015. Larson’s history of the last crossing of the Lusitania was absolutely masterful. He sets the stage with foreboding – as I told Steve, the image of the Lusitania chugging out of New York Harbor with smoke pouring out of only three smokestacks was one of the most chilling images of my entire 2015 in books. And the crescendo toward which he builds is fierce, dramatic, and heart-pounding. It’s history at its best, and it kept me feverishly turning pages even with a newborn in the house.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 and 2, by Noelle Stevenson – Until I picked up Lumberjanes, I swore I would never read comics, that the medium just wasn’t for me. Jo, April, Mal, Molly, Ripley, Jen and Rosie changed all that. I loooooooooved their adventures – mythical monsters! anagrams! math! dinosaurs! three-eyed foxes! weird old ladies! creepy boy scouts! These comics were fun, hilarious, and so smart. I can’t wait for the third volume. Ripley is my favorite – “I was a fastball!” Lumberjanes is fun TO THE MAX.
The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony – My mom recommended The Elephant Whisperer after her entire book club loved it, and I can see why – Lawrence Anthony’s memoir of his time gaining the trust of a “rogue” elephant herd was moving and powerful. Anthony agrees to take the herd onto his game reserve after it becomes clear that he’s their last hope. He has to throw out the book and learn to relate to the herd on their own terms, and it’s absolutely riveting.
The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – This is Will and Kate fanfiction, and it is AMAZING. Another one that kept me turning pages instead of napping when my newborn napped, so you know it was good. The Royal We is the story of Nick, second in line to the British throne, and Bex, his American fiancee. The best part? When the future King of England signs off a conversation with his soon-to-be girlfriend’s dad by solemnly telling him, “Go Cubs.” It’s fun and fabulous and, as my friend Katie mused, unexpectedly moving. There are few books I’ve wanted as badly as I want a sequel to The Royal We.
In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume – Blume’s first adult novel in some 17 years, In the Unlikely Event is a fictionalized account of real events that happened when Blume was a teenager and a series of planes crashed in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the span of just a few months. Because this is Judy Blume, the cast of characters is massive – but you’ll get everyone sorted out quickly, and you’ll come to care about all of them. I rooted for Miri and her friends, I got a sickening feeling when I could tell they were about to get bad news (Judy Blume does foreshadowing as well as Erik Larson does it) and I cried as the whole town grieved tragedy after tragedy. It sounds like an insanely depressing book, and parts of it were, but it was uplifting and fascinating too, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi – Satrapi’s graphic memoir of her time growing up in Iran was moving, horrifying in parts, and completely illuminating. I’ve always been intrigued by stories of growing up in foreign countries, and Iran is one of the most closed societies, hard for Americans to picture. Enter Satrapi. Her black and white illustrations perfectly conveyed the story, and I was completely riveted by her life story.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson – Gorgeous. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous memoir in poetry by an insanely talented young adult writer. Woodson writes of growing up as a person of color in both the North and the South, feeling like she didn’t belong in either world, and finally finding a home in Harlem. I read Brown Girl Dreaming on vacation this summer and finished it in a day – but it took up prime real estate in my brain for much longer than that. I loved every one of Woodson’s poems, but the one about her grandfather’s garden was my very favorite. I could feel the sun-baked soil and taste the warm products of Daddy’s labor and it was so beautiful.
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho – I first heard of Cho’s debut novel on the All the Books! podcast, when Rebecca Schinsky raved about it. My taste doesn’t always collide with Rebecca’s, but it did here – I devoured it. Cho has built an alternate Victorian England that is awash in color and teeming with magic, and her diverse cast moves through the world gracefully. I recommended the book to my BFF (another Rebecca!) and she’s loving it on audio right now. Everyone should read Sorcerer to the Crown!
So there you have it – my best of the best in 2015! I started off a bit slow, but in the end I had a great reading year. As you can see, I cheated a little – including both trade volumes of Lumberjanes that are currently out, but I think that’s okay because the first story arc covers both volumes, so there. Really, it was a marvelous year, I read so many wonderful books, and the best part was that I got to turn hundreds of pages right here…
How about you – what were some of the best books you read in 2015?