Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tough Choices, My Personal Favorites for 2015

I love lists and was so hoping that I could use the mellifluous sounding "115 in 2015" as my theme for this New Year's Eve post, but alas, it was not to be. I finished 111 books this year, not all of them published in 2015, just books that came to my attention. Though it was a great year for the publishing industry ( I admit that I had a difficult time finding a book I could really rave about. This year's list is a bit more personal, a list of books, fiction and non, that spoke to me on some deep level beginning with:

1. Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Trilogy. I cheated on this one since I felt that the three books are truly one long novel divided up by publisher, Europa Editions, simply for ease of reading. These novels about the strange, symbiotic relationship between two school girls, Elena and Lila, spans decades using the political and cultural evolution of Italy, from Naples to Milan, for a backdrop., 

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One

2. "Being Mortal," by Atul Gawande. This book came to me last January when my brother was facing his final days of life. Death and dying with dignity has long been an obsession of mine back to the days when my buddy Andrea Carter and I brought a six week discussion series (not very well attended, I might add) to our library. I'm still amazed at how few of us are able to speak honestly about the one thing we all share as humans - the end of life. This book should be required reading.  
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

3. "Redeployment," by Phil Klay. This powerful series of short stories brings the chaos of the war in Afghanistan into our minds and hearts. "When will we ever learn.....when will we ever learn."    

4. "Our Souls at Night" by Kent Haruf. Small but mighty, this is a gorgeous novel about two lonely souls having the courage to make a connection, flaunting small town small-mindedness, rising above salaciousness. The joy of the physical is not bound by age.   
Our Souls at Night: A novel

5. "Florence Gordon," by Brian Morton. An opinionated woman who refuses to age gracefully, beautifully rendered by a male author, Florence is this year's Olive Kitteridge in all her curmudgeonly glory. I hope to be her when I grow up.   
Florence Gordon

6. "Between the World and Me," by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Reading this book, a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, will be the closest you'll ever come to knowing what it is like to walk in another man's skin. If you want to understand the power of the #blacklivesmatter movement, if you hope to even remotely fathom what it's like to be a black man in America today, look no further.    
Between the World and Me

7. "My Song," by Harry Belafonte. This memoir is the perfect juxtaposition of Mr. Coates' cri de Coeur from a new generation. I knew that Belafonte was a force to be reckoned with in the black movement of the '60's but I had no idea what a powerful role he played and continues to play, always following his own conscience, his own song. This memoir reads like a history of the civil right movement in the twentieth century.  
My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance

8. "Small Mercies," by Eddie Joyce is an incredible debut novel, one of my must reads of 2015. Set in Staten Island, New York, in a middle-class Irish-Italian neighborhood, Joyce captures to perfection the means in which small-town Americans rally around their own during times of extreme trouble, in this case the death of a local fireman at ground zero. 
Small Mercies: A Novel

9. "The Tsar of Love and Techno," by Anthony Marra. Here's a portion of what I had to say in this starred review for "Library Journal." Love and war, loyalty and betrayal, are themes inextricably joined in the literary imagination. Marra, who dazzled readers and critics with his debut novel, "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena," once again captivates with this collection of stories spanning 75 years. Linked by generations of political rebels, artists, soldiers, and criminals, these tales pay homage to the victims of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resulting wars in Chechnya.   

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories

10. "City on Fire," by Garth Risk Hallberg. This ferociously ambitious first novel apparently didn't live up to the hype. Readers today just aren't prepared to tackle these wonderful 800-plus page behemoths. But oh, what they're missing. Difficult to describe, this is a Dickensian romp through 1970's New York city, long before Mayor Bloomberg came along to clean things up. It's a mash-up of sex, drugs, rock and roll, the art scene, AIDS, nihilist philosophers in cahoots with businessmen of dubious wealth. It's "The Bonfire of the Vanities," on steroids.    
City on Fire: A novel

Now I'd like to hear from you. I have a give-a-way, a much anticipated novel by Charles Bock. It's called "Alice and Oliver," and I've just sent my review in to "Library Journal," so I'm free to mail this out to the first person who comments on this list or is willing to share their own favorites of 2015. There's so much I haven't read. Tell me what I need to put on my list for the new year. Thanks so much for reading!


Linda said...

I think my Top Ten would have to include "Language Arts" by Kallos, "Thirteen Ways of Looking" by McCann, and "Fortune Smiles" by Johnson. (I know you don't love short stories but read Johnson's "Interesting Facts" in this collection.). Maybe I'd include Tyler's "Spool of Blue Thread"; was it published in 2015? I also loved "Redeployment," "Florence Gordon," and "Small Mercies." I'm reading "Did You Ever Have a Family" by Bill Clegg now and loving it.

Sallyb said...

Oh Linda, I have Clegg's book waiting for me at the library so I ran down yesterday to pick it up and became what we all hated - that customer who didn't understand paid holidays! Was ashamed of myself. Will get it tomorrow. OK, I'm sending Alice and Oliver to you. Thanks for commenting. I agree with you about the McCann. Had a difficult time choosing. Loved Spool as well.

Linda said...

Sally: Hoping to see you at the January LWL; why not bring me the book then? Looking forward to hearing about your cruise...and discussing the Clegg book.

Sallyb said...

Yes, will be there and will bring the book.

Andrea said...

Your list is a tour de force. Will forward it to my (more) literate friends.

Sallyb said...

Thank you Andrea. Hope that you can ahold of some of them.

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