Friday, December 11, 2015

Best of 2015: my little list

BEST OF 2015;

This year was tough. I was reading a wider variety of books related to school and work and less fiction.  But the books I chose for this list were ones that I didn't just like, but that knocked me out entirely.  Beyond great fiction, they have the added element of making one think.  Like a self-help book wrapped up in a great story.

My best books of 2015:  Outside of Eyrie and Bettyville, my absolute favorites, the rest are in no particular order.

Bettyville by George Hodgman:

This memoir speaks to so many levels of my life.  Maybe it's a personal connection, or just a great memoir inspired by an amazing woman. When she died earlier this year, I wept.  She was badass and tender in a subtle way. George Hodgman manages to bring out all her dimensions in a funny and emotional life story.  It is not just a picture of her and her history, but of community and friendship and the perils of caregiving. Hodgman combines heart with brutal honesty.  This is the book I recommend to everyone.

Eyrie by Tim Winton:

It's weird to fall in love with a fictional character. But this angst-filled and lost man is read as someone you just want to care for and love.  He's lost in a world determined to shut him out because of an industrial cover-up.  His relationships with family and old friends determine the man he has become.  He's awful, selfish, sweet, and totally lost.  Endearing is an understatement.

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison:

Evison writes about an intriguing woman, and leaves you a little lost when you realize how he plays with your emotions so simply by his fantastic writing.  She's sad. Lonely. She's evil. Intolerable. Tortured. Sweet again.  The push and pull between one's hopes and one's realities makes this hard to put down, especially as nothing is predictable.  And despite her often-strange and sometimes irritating persona, he doesn't take the cheap shot to simply make her a joke.

Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin:

A literary fiction title filled with humor and wisdom: an intriguing combination.   Seeing the production of whisky with all its varieties as a metaphor for one's life is brilliant.  Especially great if you are into Orwell himself, as the research and anecdotes are fascinating.

The Point of Vanishing by Howard Axelrod:

Perhaps it is a personal dream of mine, but Axelrod takes a personal tragedy and chooses to embrace a life alone to rediscover his own identity and to create a life outside the boundaries of his upwardly-mobile path to success.  Painful, honest, brilliant. Review forthcoming.

Growing a New Tail by Lisa . Taylor

This collection of short stories paints pictures of women, men, children and neighborhoods in a way that is brutally honest and entirely sympathetic. The characters she paints are the invisible members of society that face momentous battles all alone, with no fanfare for their successes nor tears for their losses.  Review forthcoming.

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke:
This memoir details O'Rourke's last year with her mother who died of cancer.  Rather than focus on the pain and ugliness, O'Rourke's book is a celebration of an amazing woman and also a portrait of a family in loss and confusion.  It made me cry as I read it with thoughts of my own mother.  It is honest without a saccharine sweet ending.

Shader by Daniel Nester:

This memoir hit me like a rock. All of my teenage years distilled into one book. Memories of songs, trends, and the confusion of adolescence all boiled down into one honest portrayal of a suburban family facing divorce, poverty, and New Jersey.  Certain scenes are like snapshots of teenage memories that are apparently universal. One winces as they remember.

All the Birds Singing, by Evie Wyld:

Suspenseful is the only way to describe this non-linear fictional title that is frightening on so many levels.  Childhood pain and abuse coupled with the aftereffects of a life chosen to be lived alone.  The protagonist is a tough woman with secrets that are never fully revealed.  You will not put this down.

Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski:

Horse racing in Saratoga Springs takes on a sinister air as winners and losers are not defined by winning.  At the same time, an urban black man has to make a difficult decision based on the bad judgment of others.  Wisniewski combines both storylines together for a fast-paced and intriguing examination of greed and betrayal.


Ada Limon's Bright Dead Things is poetry for anyone with heart.  Her pictures translated into verse are as easy to envision as a photograph. Brilliant, subtle, simple.  Review forthcoming.

New discoveries for 2015: 

Patrick Modiano's work was given to me by means of three novels. All are fantastic, moody and deep. I didn't pick a favorite as they are too complex to distill that way. Discomfiting is a bitter description.  

For television, check out the BBC's crime show, River, as well as Peaky Blinders and Call the Midwife.

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