Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
What was your favorite book reading experience in 2015? Over the past few years, I’ve started the new year by considering which couple of titles were stand-out reads for me. And then I’ve invited you to share with us in the Comments section the books that top your list. It’s a great way for each of us to create new reading lists. (Note: These books could be classics or from several years ago as well as new releases. The only parameter is that you read it in 2015.)
Here are mine:
Nonfiction favorite book:
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.
This narrative nonfiction goes onto my list of all-time favorites. Even though you know from the get-go that these nine young, impoverished college students will win the Olympic Gold, how they achieved it is a gripping, emotional roller-coaster. Not to mention that the book is beautifully written, with eloquent quotes opening each chapter from the man who built the boat that glided the rowers to fame. In every way, The Boys in the Boat is a feel-good read that heartens you and makes you glad you picked up this treasure. And, by the way, I know nothing about boats or rowing–well, until I read this book. I’m now happily informed about both. (I also found a film clip of the final race on YouTube that shows how utterly spent every man in every boat was, several actually collapsing after crossing the finish line.)
Honorable Mention: Dead Wake: The Final Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.
I guess this was my year to read boat books. In Dead Wake, Larson takes us on the Lusitania’s voyage from America to Britain as World War I heats up, and the Germans declare any ships in British waters are fair game. As with The Boys in the Boat, the outcome of the story is known as you enter into it: The Lusitania will be sunk by a German submarine, with great loss of life. But reading the details of the passengers on-board (rich, famous, poor and “unnoteworthy”) as well as the specifics of the voyage made me realize I knew next to nothing about this famous sinking, which is viewed as an important factor in the US entering the war–but which the author isn’t convinced was the case. The story is told from the hunted and the hunter’s POV as well as the political machinations at play with the US President, the British government, and even the German leaders. A fascinating narrative nonfiction, with plenty of emotional impact, this deeply researched book kept me aghast and simultaneously enthralled.
Fiction favorite book:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Like The Boys in the Boat, this WWII novel goes on my all-time favorite books. (It was a very good year that I added two books to the list.) Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel braids two compelling and complex stories together–that of a German orphan boy and how he came aid the war effort through his radio operating skills and that of a blind French girl, whose father unsuccessfully tries to save her from the ravages of war.
The summary of the book’s beauty from the Amazon write-up speaks to its power more effectively than I can: “Doerr’s ‘stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors’ (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer ‘whose sentences never fail to thrill’ (Los Angeles Times).”
Don’t miss the joy of discovering this novel.
Being a creature of habit, I like to compare my list of book recommendations to the Best of lists that crop up every December. It’s an apples to oranges comparison since these lists are limited to books produced in 2015.
If you’d like to make the same comparison, each year, the online subscription newsletter Publishers Marketplace keeps tabs of which books published in 2015 were voted most frequently to be the best of the year from 61 publications, reviewers, librarians, etc. Here’s a peek at the list with the numeral in parentheses being the number of lists the title appeared on.
The Overall Top 10 Books of 2015
1. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (31). Receiving more votes than any previous book!
2. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (25)
3. H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald (24)
4. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff (20)*
5. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (19)
6. A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin (11)
The Sellout, Paul Beatty
Purity, Jonathan Franzen
8. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (10)
Ghettoside, Jill Leovy (9)
And here are the top 10 for nonfiction and fiction:
The Best of the Best Books of 2015: Nonfiction
1. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (31)
2. H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald (25)
3. Ghettoside, Jill Leovy (10)
4. M Train, Patti Smith (9)
5. Hold Still, Sally Mann (8)
6. Negroland, Margo Jefferson (7)
Dead Wake, Erik Larson
8. The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander* (6)
Barbarian Days, William Finnegan
The Witches, Stacy Schiff
11. Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson (5)
The Best of the Best Books of 2015: Fiction
1. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (25)
2. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff (20)*
3. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (19)
4. A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin (11)
The Sellout, Paul Beatty
Purity, Jonathan Franzen
6. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (10)
8. A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson (8)
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
*Also picked by the Obamas as their favorites.
What books brightened 2015 for you?
What were your favorite reads in 2015? Click to tweet.
Want help to construct your 2016 reading list? See what fellow readers recommend. Click to tweet.