It’s always hard to look back on a previous year of reading and consider which of the books read were “the best,” particularly when “the best” is such a generic way of looking at a book. The best suspense book? The most lyrical? The one that kept me reading late into the night? The book that keeps coming back in my thoughts, long after I’ve finished the last page? Rather than trying to prioritize the books that really grabbed me last year, I thought I would pick those that stood out, and try to explain why.
So, listed in no particular order, my favorite books from 2015. Click on the titles to read the complete reviews of each:
Stoner by John Williams: If I were going to put these in order of “favorites,” Stoner would be at the top of my list. This quiet masterpiece, which I actually ended up reading twice just because I loved it so much, goes as far into the heart and soul of a literary character as any book I’ve ever read. I must disclose that almost everyone in my book club disagreed with me – they found him frustrating and unlikable, but I found him both tragic and heroic in the way he lived his life and, although it’s been months since I read it, I continue to think about him often. Maybe not for everyone but, truly, one of the most well-developed fictional characters I’ve ever come across.
Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian: A book whose time has definitely come, as its release coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. This book is both historically important and, as a work of literature, a page-turner. By reading it, I learned as much about this chapter of history as did Orhan, a young Turkish man living in modern times, as he struggled to unwrap his family’s – and his culture’s – tragic past.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: Maybe it’s my years in education that made me feel such empathy for Pete Snow, a hapless social worker forced to deal with a survivalist father and his endangered child, but I really loved this sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking story of a flawed man trying to do the right thing within a flawed system.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: I have never made a secret of the fact that I consider Kent Haruf to be the greatest under-recognized author of our time. Sadly, Mr. Haruf died in November of 2014, but he generously left us one last slim volume to remind us that love can grow at any time and under any circumstances – not the treacly and romantic love of romance novels, but the deep, respectful love that can exist between any two people who open themselves to the possibilities.
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson: Winner of the 2015 National Book Award, it is clear that I am not the only person who loves Mr. Johnson’s quirky, deeply insightful, understanding of the human heart. Even if you are not a lover of short stories, even if you choose to read only ONE short story from 2015, make it “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine,” the final story in this collection. It may change your opinion of the genre forever!
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: You may be familiar with Roz Chast’s oddball cartoons featured frequently in The New Yorker. In this graphic novel, she has delved deeper – in fact, very deeply – into her experience caring for her parents in the last years of their lives. It’s a serious subject, and she doesn’t try to hide the difficulty, the pathos, the frustration of the experience. Instead she tries and, I believe, succeeds, in helping us all understand that if, and when, we find ourselves in the position of caring for elderly parents, we’re not alone.