I have been meticulously keeping a list of my favorite books since January. This list was lovingly nurtured in the notes app of my iPhone. A few months ago, this iPhone had to be wiped clean. And AWAY went my precious list. As a result, I had to go to Hicklebee’s, our local independent children's book store—which also happens to have the most fantastic selection of books for grown ups—to reconstruct my list. After about 5 minutes of grumbling to myself for not backing up my iPhone, I began to enjoy reconnecting with the paper “friends” I had made over the course of the year.
I also realized that bookstores heal all that ails me. In fact, when I die, can you decorate the church like a bookstore and read quotes from Professor Dumbledore and anything written by Elizabeth Gilbert? Thanks.
I’m glad we got that cleared up.
And now, here are my favorite reads of 2015.
This book reminded me of Song of Solomon in the best possible way: it pulled me in with language, a sense of place, and blended reality with a heavy dose of magic that would have given Gabriel Garcia Marquez a run for his money. It is the telling of an unthinkable fate for a little girl. But the telling of Ruby's story is so beautiful, so full of love and hope, and the characters so vivid, it makes you want to be strong for Ruby. Or as Ephraim says to her:
“If you brave enough to live it, least I can do is listen.”
Ruby made me remember that even the greatest traumas can begin their healing in small acts of love and noticing.
If I'm being honest here... had I read the book’s description, I never would have picked it up. A novel about war torn Chechnya circa mid 90s? Nope. Luckily, I fell in love with the title and the little blue suitcase on the cover and off I went. Not only was I amazed by the history of this part of the world, it gave me fresh perspective on the plight of refugees fleeing Syria. There are too many parallels to count, but never again will I ask the stupid question “Why do these refugees keep coming even though they know they’ll probably die in the effort?” Like Ruby, Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a story of love, connection and hope, even in the darkest of circumstances. And the writing? Lord have mercy, Anthony Marra can write.
You have probably read this book already, given that it’s on the top of every list in the universe, not to mention that it won the Pulitzer Prize. This book is worth the hype. Even my husband liked it, and we were able to discuss it. This has not happened since he finally got around to reading Lord of the Rings back in 2001. No joke.
I hereby nominate Ready Player One as the “Feel Good Dystopian Sci-Fi Novel of the Year.” When this was chosen in my book club, many of the gals had misgivings. It’s about virtual reality, post-pubescent boys and is filled with vintage video game trivia, for heaven’s sake! But almost every single one of us raved about it when we met to discuss it. The 80s references will have you cheering out loud in public places. RED DAWN! FERRIS BEULER! He even quotes Howard Jones!
Ready Player One is a really good time. Trust.
The premise of this book is so chilling, and so completely plausible that it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. I listened to it on my Audible app, with Claire Daines as the reader and it BLEW MY MIND. BLEW IT. It was creepy and every bit as relevant in 2015 as it was in 1986. Maybe more so! Which is incredibly depressing. But I couldn’t turn it off. It’s one of those sit-in-your-car-long-after-you’ve-arrived books.
Oh my GOD you have to download this immediately. It must be listened to for several reasons: a) Amy Poehler’s voice is so effing funny and generous as she reads, I feel like Amy and I are now super tight friends. (Amy, call me. Seriously). Anyway, the guest appearances on the Audible are too many to count, but my favorite without a doubt is the non sequitur casting of Kathleen Turner. And the stories?? Are you kidding me?!? My favorite was when she tells of being in first class on a flight with Tina Fay and the ensuing confrontation with another passenger. The end of this scene made me laugh so hard I almost lost control of my car. I was driving 70 mph. It could have been really bad. Totally worth it, though.
Oh Liz!!! May I call you that, Liz? This is a magical book you have written, Liz. Truly. I will read it over and over again. It’s like you crawled into my head, examined all of the darkest corners, shined your fairy dust flashlight on them, and gently lead me into the light of day, dusting off my cobwebs as you went. Thank you for writing this book. I will treasure it always.
P.S. Is there anything you can’t do? Just last year Signature of All Things was at the top of my list, and now this? I can’t even…
I REALLY loved this memoir from Kim Gordon, bass player, guitar player, vocalist and general badass from the band Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon’s writing style is exactly what you would hope for: low key, evocative and razor sharp. For any of us kids coming of age in the era of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon represented the ultimate cool band woman. She was stoic, brave and could totally hang with the most dour and serious dudes of the grunge scene. In fact, I think she probably intimidated them most of the time.
Discovering that Kim Gordon's trademark stoicism was a coping mechanism for growing up with a schizophrenic brother reminded me that even the coolest among us are carrying grief and agony. It reminded me that nothing is ever what it seems—not even in sunny Southern California. Maybe especially not in sunny Southern California.
Gordon captures the vibe of the place, and the laissez faire parenting style so many of us grew up with. You could almost see the quality of afternoon light in the scenes she describes. But best of all were the little vignettes... the moments when we get to drop in on a house party as she watches Henry Rollins and Black Flag tear through a set in somebody’s kitchen. Or the part when she calls Billy Corgan a “cry baby” and describes the hideous dance of narcissism between he and Courtney Love during their alleged affair. This did sting a little, because I was a huge Hole and Smashing Pumpkins fan. I cried right alongside Billy Corgan on pretty much every album he ever made with the Smashing Pumpkins. Whatever. This book was a joy to read.
That's my list, friends.
I thank all of the authors on this list who slaved away in a lonely state of creativity, and pushed through the self doubt and procrastination, and produced these beautiful books. An extra shout out to Anthony Marra, author of Constellation of Vital Phenomena, for actually responding to my breathless fan mail.