There’s no question that 2015 has been an amazing year for avid readers, booksellers, and the entire book industry. But even in a twelve-month period as jam-packed with literary goodness as this one was, it’s natural that a few personal favorites would emerge. So before 2015 becomes (forgive me) another year in the books, I wanted to hand out a few year-end “awards” to those books that stood out most clearly to me. When I look back on 2015, these are the books I’ll remember most fondly:
Favorite Family Saga: The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer. I loved this book for its characters – who were all beautifully-drawn and sympathetic in their own ways – and perhaps even more for the way it used seemingly small moments to create an entire picture of the Blair family’s life and history.
Favorite Thriller: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica. Thrillers often skirt the edges of believability; that’s what makes them so much fun! But Kubica’s Chicago-set story of a do-gooder who takes in a homeless girl and her baby was just the right amount of plausible. It was also perfectly paced and resolved in a way that I didn’t see coming.
Best Ending, Final Page Edition: My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh. It’s so rare that a book ends exactly the way I want it to…and this one did.
Best Ending, Final Line Edition: Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Awesome.
Favorite Portrait of a Marriage: Summerlong, by Dean Bakopoulos. Between thrillers and domestic dramas, I read a LOT of Marriage Stories in 2015, but no couple captured my heart quite like Don and Claire Lowry of Grinnell, Iowa. Despite their less-than-stellar behavior, I kept rooting for Don and Claire, and laughing all the way (because their story offered up something that way too many of these marriage portraits lacked: humor!).
Most Harrowing: Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish. Man, this book was a rough ride at times…but a good example of how sometimes the hardest, saddest books are among the most rewarding.
Biggest Breath of Fresh Air: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal was exactly what I wanted to read at the time – clever, sensual and funny, and best of all, it didn’t remind me of anything else I had ever read.
Best of Last Year: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I was so glad I finally got to read this book, and I truly can’t say enough about how wonderful it is. A close runner-up: Smith Henderson’s superb Fourth of July Creek (my favorite of the books I read for our store’s book club).
Best Sense of Humor: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. If you love Monty Python, the Princess Bride, Wes Anderson movies, or any combination of these things, then do yourself a favor and read this book.
The Big-Name-Author Book that Actually Lived Up to the Hype: Purity by Jonathan Franzen. A great big time-jumping, globe-hopping, thought-provoking journey of a book…and I thought it was a blast.
Should’ve Gotten More Attention: The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora and The Girl Who Slept With God by Val Brelinski. Acampora and Brelinski are both debut authors, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Favorite Short Story Collection: Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai. In my opinion, everything about Makkai’s collection, from the construction of her stories to the subtle themes tying them together, was close to perfect.
Best New Idea: The Hogarth Shakespeare project, in which major authors will reimagine the Bard’s classic plays for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson kicked things off this fall with The Gap of Time, her lovely take on A Winter’s Tale…and 2016 will bring Howard Jacobson’s redo of The Merchant of Venice and Anne Tyler’s take on The Taming of the Shrew. I. Can’t. WAIT.
My Top Five of the Year, in no particular order:
My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh – because this was one of the first books I read this year, and I’m STILL thinking about how much I loved it.
Speak, by Louisa Hall – because I was amazed at how Hall took an idea that could have been pedantic and turned it into something so readable, and so moving.
Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins – because when I think about writers with a true gift for creating lush, vibrant, memorable pictures, I think of Watkins, and this strange, compelling book.
City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg – because it was genuinely epic in scope, with a smart structure and a huge, engaging cast of characters.
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara – because it was exquisitely written, emotionally cathartic, and every bit the masterpiece I was told it was. If I had to narrow this list down to just one book, this would be it.
Happy New Year, friends and fellow readers…onward and upward to 2016!