02 January 2016

My favorites from 2015

I am too lazy to type out the complete list of books that I read this year, and apparently Goodreads no longer makes a lovely visual that I can paste up here (though I can provide a link to what might be one? You might need to be a member of the site though.). But you don't really want the complete list anyhow, right? You might wish I updated my blog more often (and believe me, I do too. And hopefully, hopefully...) But really, you want the good stuff. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, the 10 books I enjoyed the most in 2015:

Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
David Sedaris recommended this a few years ago -- I think he recommends a book every fall, or whenever he's on book tours? and he has reliably excellent taste, so now I slavishly obey. But even amongst his many excellent picks: oh my god. This book is amazing. A detailed ethnography of a family in the Bronx. Teenage pregnancy, drugs, prisons -- a world we often see sensationalized in salacious tv shows, here related with warmth and complexity and just plain humanity. Everyone should read this book.

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
I sort of tormented myself by seeing how long I could hold out before launching into Ferrante's famed series, but in the Spring, I finally succumbed. And loved every minute of it. I'm actually just finishing the second one now -- I decided to savor the series. A riveting story of childhood and friendship, it absolutely lives up to the hype. 

Macnolia, A. Van Jordan
A gorgeous, raw, beautiful collection of poems. There is a narrative running through the book about MacNolia Cox, the first African American to reach the final round of the National Spelling Bee, in 1936, with other poems that resonate with some of the themes articulated interspersed. I dare you to read "The Night Richard Pryor Met Mudbone" and remain unmoved. It's wonderful stuff, and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Mislaid, Nell Zink
I could have sworn that I posted about this (to my horror, it appears that I haven't posted on a single one of my favorites this year. I'll spare you my promises to be better, but know that I'm making them in my head). Particularly interesting in the wake of the Rachel Dolezal scandal and reflections on intersectionality between #blacklivesmatter and the gay rights movement, Nell Zink's story of a white lesbian passing as Black with her daughter in order to escape her gay white husband seems strangely...apolitical. The novel is a comedy first and foremost, and a funny one at that. A bizarre, constantly surprising story that is also a heartfelt, loving exploration of its characters.

18th Century Fiction and the Reinvention of Wonder, by Sarah Tindal Kareem
This is for a highly specialized audience, but I had to include it because I loved it so, so much. A really smart and fascinating account of 18th century fiction that does major work in correcting the long-standing and deeply flawed dichotomy of realism vs. marvelous/romantic fiction. Kareem does an incredible job navigating incredibly dense theories and juxtaposing them with ease and elegance. I wish I had written this book.

Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon
One of the most powerful reckonings with historical trauma that I've ever read (and I've read my share of it). It is tangled, confused, wrenching, and gorgeous.

Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
My Barbara Pym love (which started with a Best Of the Year list!) continues. I also read two really great pieces about Pym this year: one in the New Yorker, and an older one from The Awl. Excellent Women has some flaws, but it's a profound meditation on the life of single women; one that stayed with me long after I'd finished it.

Tales of Desire, Tennessee Williams
Sometimes you want a slice of that steamy, sultry, dangerous heat of the South. If you love young Paul Newman movies (and I do), you'll love this collection.

Almost Never, Daniel Sada
This novel could have been written by Beckett, or Flann O'Brien, but it was written by Daniel Sada and set in Mexico. A rollicking, dry, and utterly hilarious story about a man who is caught between his mother, his lover, his fiancee, and his aunt. So funny, and so ridiculous, and so wonderful.

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
Another one that had been on the to-read shelf for quite awhile, I finally read it because I was weighing in on a round of the Chicago Reader's Greatest Chicago Book tournament. Another one that absolutely lives up to the hype, and more -- this book tells the story of the Great Migration and its lasting effects on the United States. It is an eye-opening and absolutely devastating account of the racism of the 20th century, and a really profound look at African American life. And the writing is so, so good. Read it.

They not only could have been, but actually were contenders: The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek; Can't and Won't: Stories, by Lydia Davis; The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen; Pedro Paramo, by Juan Rulfo; Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf; Blood Child, by Octavia Butler; The Folded Clock, by Heidi Javits; Against World Literature, by Emily Apter; My Struggle, vl 1, by Karl Knausgaard; A Good Fall, Ha Jin.

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