Originally published December 31, 2015
It was the year of the doorstop book.
If I put Purity in one hand and City On Fire in the other and started doing reps, I’d have myself a serious set of guns. 2015’s booklist is heavy on the mega-thick, this-won’t-be-read-in-one-weekend, investment piece kind of book.
From A Little Life, to Jane Smiley’s 100 Years trilogy, Stephen King’s Finders Keepers to the aforementioned Purity and City on Fire—while the book count for the year may be off slightly from those previous, the page count certainly isn’t.
For friends and longtime readers, this post is near and dear to me, as it was the catalyst for my blog—the sharing of everything I read each year with friends, family an fellow book lovers. I love to talk books, and hear about what my friends have read. It’s a conversation that is often energetic, exciting and free of contempt—the beauty of books is that there is something for everyone to love.
So here goes—everything I read in 2015:
City on Fire | Garth Risk Halberg
This book got a lot of buzz, much of deserved—but it won’t be for everyone. At 900 pages, it’s a book you have to commit to finish because it’ll take a few hundred pages just to get into it, and, like “The Goldfinch,” may have benefited from a heavier edit. That said, it really is a fantastic tale of an eclectic group of dysfunctional New Yorkers and a reminder about how we are all connected to one another, loosely or otherwise.
F*ck Feelings | Dr. Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett
This year’s obligatory self-help read, I found the authors’ straight-forward approach (i.e., it isn’t about fixing yourself or curing anyone else. Instead, it’s about adjusting expectations to reasonable levels and giving yourself credit for not going apeshit at the Thanksgiving table) to be refreshing. Plus, it’s funny. And I’m a big believer in humor as a spiritual salve.
Golden Age | Jane Smiley
Smiley knocks it out of the park with the third and final book in her “Hundred Years” series, and makes me wish I had another 400 pages of the Langdon clan waiting for me somewhere.
Whisper If You Need Me | Dina Silver
Silver’s first official YA book (I think “One Pink Line” is also a great read for teens) demonstrates her authentic capability to weave emotional, diverse tales not just for the chick-lit genre but for younger audiences as well. It’s time to go back to summer camp, y’all.
How to be a Grown-Up | Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Meh. You’ll read it start to finish because it’s short and it’s chick-lit and we all have a soap opera fetish we need to feed, but this is at the bottom-end of my stack for the year. I found the protagonist on the whiny side and for her marriage to be at best, unrealistic.
Purity | Jonathan Franzen
Franzen fans will love this, the story of a young college grad named Pip who wants her Mom to stop being so freaky, for her housemate to love her and to find her father so he can pay her college loans. Readers go in a dozen different directions in this novel, another dig-in-your-heels-because-you’ll-be-reading-this-for-awhile kind of book.
The Gratitude Diaries | Janice Kaplan
This was a book that found me after writing a blog post about gratitude (which I still struggle with.) I was lucky enough to speak with Janice Kaplan about her year-long experiment in practicing gratitude, and how it changed her point of view long after her experiment was over. Gratitude is not a destination, people. It’s a journey. A conscious one you have to sign up for each and every day.
Luckiest Girl Alive | Jessica Knoll
Another one of the”it” list reads this year, young Ani’s path to rebuilding her life after tragedy strikes her school and suspicions about her role in it make this book most assuredly a page turner. Great weekend/beach/rainy day read.
The Country of Ice Cream Star | Sandra Newman
One of two post-apocalyptic reads this year, I found the literary construct to be difficult to navigate but tremendously innovative. And, thinking about what it would be like to live in the days and years after disease wipes out nearly everyone, and that reaching a certain age meant certain death, it’s easy to understand the different paths that different subsets of society follow.
Missoula | Jon Krakauer
Having picked this up just after the Patrick Kane brouhaha started this summer, I found this true story of how one town responded to acquaintance rape, especially when associated with celebrity, to be awkward and painful but very honest and thought-provoking. One of the best pieces of long-form journalism o the subject I have ever read.
Mosquitoland | Dave Arnold
The second-most recommended book title doled out this year—and my favorite YA for 2015. Loved, loved, loved Mim Malone and her quest to find her mother—thus the literary foil for a journey to find herself. Read this. I promise you won’t regret it.
The Nakeds | Lisa Glatt
Looking back, I really enjoyed this book—for one, it wasn’t as super-sized as some of the work I read this year. For another, the main characters—a tween girl in the midst of coping with a debilitating leg injury suffered at the hands of another main character, an older teen boy whose erratic driving leaves him with an equally debilitating emotional injury, make for great storytelling. Oh, and the girl’s parents divorce and her mom becomes a practicing nudist with a skeevy boyfriend. Yeah, you try to stay normal.
Primates of Park Avenue | Wednesday Martin
I read this so that you wouldn’t have to—one of those tell-all memoirs lazily hiding behind a fictional screen. Please. It wasn’t that it was awful, I just look back now and wonder what I could have read with that time instead?
Early Warning | Jane Smiley
Book 2 in her “100 Years” trilogy, Smiley take readers out onto another branch of the Langdon family tree, honing in on the kids born on but that subsequently left the farm — either to start their own or to forge a new path altogether. And while we were introduced to a literary form of the nature vs. nurture argument in Book 1, it’s this second go-round that brings the fun to family dysfunction.
Finders Keepers | Stephen King
Wowza! Book Two in King’s “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy brings back some old school King moments, albeit not until the very end. I am on pins and needles waiting for Book 3 in 2016.
In the Unlikely Event | Judy Blume
Fans have been clamoring of ages, waiting for Blume to put out another “non-YA” fiction piece, and with this story, loosely based on her childhood experience of having three plane crashes within several months in her town, she does not disappoint. Nor does it limit itself in terms of an audience. While geared toward adults, I would easily hand this over to my daughter to read.
Sick in the Head | Judd Apatow
A great collection of interviews with all the people we find funny, and a very cool construct in that some of the interviews take place with Apatow as a teen just trying to learn everything he can about the craft and the people who make a living at making people laugh. Perfect kind of book for gift giving because I guarantee there’s at least one person interviewed that your prospective recipient will like.
A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara
Hands down, the book I recommended most when asked for a suggestion, with the caveat that it’s both insanely long and incredibly tragic. But.So.Damn.Good. You will fall in love with this story about a quartet of young men, lifelong friends, and your heart will break into a thousand pieces. Oh, Jude.
Lucid | Jay Bonansinga
North Shore resident and Walking Dead wunderkind Jay Bonansinga set forth down a new path this year with this, his first official foray into YA. The tale of Lori Blaine, her insomnia and the door she sees and eventually opens in her sleep will keep you turning the page until suddenly you reach the end and find yourself wondering when the sequel is coming. Great for tweens on up.
Believer | David Axelrod
An epic memoir for political junkies, Axelrod’s stories stirred the romantic waters of old school journalism for me—the kind of writer I always fantasized about becoming but in the end just didn’t have the requisite amount of hutzpah to pull off. Long time Chicago denizens will be taken back to the days of Old Man Daley and Mayor Byrne, and all are offered inside peeks into the machinations of national campaigns including Clinton, Gore and Obama’s runs for office. So, so good.
In Some Other World, Maybe | Shari Goldhagen
I picked this book in much the same way I choose my wine—it had a cute, colorful cover. And I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the story of several lives loosely connected through a shared experience of a cult movie classic. Months later, I’m still a little torn over Phoebe’s romantic outcome. Another good beach/vacation/book club read.
I’ll Give You the Sun | Jandy Nelson
OK, so funny story—Little Litzy was in 8th grade this spring and like my mom did for me around that age, I gave her a copy of “Forever” by Judy Blume and told her if she had any questions, to ask me and we could talk. At the same time, she handed me her copy of Nelson’s epic YA piece. Yeah, it appears she’s already well aware of sex and drugs and homosexuality and less-than-completely-consensual intercourse as it’s written about in YA literature. Who knew Blume’s books would end up on the chaste side of the equation? Really, a great book and worthy of a mother-daughter book club experience.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up | Marie Kondo
Want a cleaner house? Organized life? THE ABILITY TO FIND THAT GD GARLIC PRESS IN THE UTENSIL DRAWER?!? Just Kondo it.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things | Alice Hoffman
I found this story of a young woman trapped by the only father she’s ever known and forced to become a mermaid for his Jersey shore freak show to be incredibly romantic. Yes, romantic. I also think “The X Files” is a love story. So, yeah.
The Girl on the Train | Paula Hawkins
One of this year’s”it” books and compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” Hawkins’ story about a really messed up young woman trying to make sense of the lives of those she whizzes past on her hungover commute each morning makes for a great beach/weekend/soccer practice read. Not too heavy, but definitely addictive.
Building Stories | Chris Ware
Is it a book? A puzzle? A board game? Centered around a Chicago apartment building, its residents each with different but equally compelling stories to tell, this series of short graphic stories is a different kind of reading experience altogether. (Note to readers with little kids: While not a copy of Hustler, sex is depicted several times. So be careful what you leave out on the coffee table.)
A Sudden Light | Garth Stein
I quite liked this ghost story set in a tree house-like mansion in the Seattle wilderness, as a father and son set course on making things right with a grandfather and aunt. And a ghost or two from the past. Good book club read, especially a Halloween or Father/Son themed-month.
Us | David Nicholls
Not every love story is supposed to have a happy ending. Not every marriage goes the distance. So what do you do when your partner wants to call it quits? Traipse through Europe on a forced family vacation, off course. Because there’s no stress there. Great alternative pick for a February book club’s obligatory love-themed tome.
Station Eleven | Emily St. John Mandel
Of the two post-apocalyptic reads this year, this was indeed my favorite—as first- and second-generation survivors of a flu-like epidemic work to survive against all odds. I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for a sequel, Emily. Where is it?
The Sculptor | Scott McCloud
Prior to an interview assignment, I was unaware of Scott McCloud and the significant impact he’s made on the protection of artists’ work, so it was a pleasure to both speak with him and to subsequently read my first graphic novel. There’s more than one way to evoke emotion through literary arts, and McCloud found his groove with this piece about what an artist is wiling to sacrifice for success.
East of Mecca | Sheila Flaherty
Chicago-based Flaherty paints an anxiety-ridden portrait of life for women in Saudi Arabia as she tells the tale of a Midwestern family that’s transferred to the Middle East as part of a job assignment. Fictionalized for sure, but not off the mark, making it an enlightening—and intense—read.
Some Luck | Jane Smiley
The first in Smiley’s trilogy about the Langdon clan, an Iowa farming family, over the course of 100 years and several generations. Walter and Rosanna, along with their children, are about to take readers on a wild ride.
Deep Down Dark | Hector Tobar
The true tale of the 30+ Chilean miners trapped underground for weeks on end that was the inspiration for the fall 2015 feature film. I loves me some Antonio Banderas, but trust me, the book is always better.