Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015: Thursday's Reflection

Our bookshelves overfloweth!

What a good suggestion my husband had when he suggested we go to a new favorite book store in downtown St Paul, Subtext Books, and pick out our own presents--an armload of books for each of us. Perfect. No wrapping was needed, and we were each thrilled with our respective pile. So before I offer my favorites of 2015, here's what I purchased at Subtext. Some are new titles. Some have been around for quite some time. Some books I have had on my "want to read" list, and some are titles new to me. All fiction. 
*  The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild
*  The Gate of Angels, Penelope Fitzgerald
*  The Book of New Things, Michel Faber
*  Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
*  Evergreen, Rebecca Rasmussen
*  The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett

Plus, I received The Secret Chord by Gwendolyn Brooks for Christmas from a friend. What a great pile.

But now it is time to relive the year's good reading. 

My top two favorite fiction books this year are -drum roll, please-
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and Emma by Jane Austen. I don't know why I had not read Ordinary Grace before, but I LOVED it. More than once it had me in tears, and every page was brilliantly written. This was my third time to read Emma, this time as our January book group selection. Bruce has announced he has tried, but he just can't do it, and others in the group are having a hard time with it, but, as far as I am concerned, it is the perfect lazy winter afternoon read. 

Here are my other picks, in no particular order.
* Florence Gordon, Brian Morton (wish it had been longer, however)
* The Children Act, Ian McEwan 
* Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
* The Stories of Jane Gardam
* Old Filth, Jane Gardam (A book that was on my list for a long time, and I am so glad I finally read it.)
* Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (favorite book in our book group this year)
* Vanessa and Her Sister, Priyabec Parmar
* A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (a wonderful re-discovery)
* The Nature of the Beast, Louise Penny (now we have another long wait till the next one in her mystery series)
* Circling the Sun, Paula McClain (I liked this one better than her The Paris Wife. This one is set in Africa and about Beryl Markham.) 
* To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (I did NOT like Go Set A Watchman and felt publishing it did a huge disservice to Lee, but reading that made me return to Mockingbird.)
* Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher (You will laugh out loud, but wince at the truth, as well.)
* The Tortoise and the Hare, Elizabeth Jenkins

Overrated novels in my book: Outline by Rachel Cusk, which just left me cold. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I know readers and critics alike loved this book, but I so wearied of the back and forth in the two story lines. I was interested in both, and I wanted to sink into each of them. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, which I wanted to love, but I felt it disintegrated into a predictable romance. 

Category #1: Writing Books
*  Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
*  Braving the Fire, A Guide to Writing about Grief and Loss, Jessica Handler
*  Reading Like a Writer, A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose
*  Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
*  The Art of Slow Writing, Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity, Louise DeSalvo
*  The Art of the Memoir, Mary Karr

Category #2: Spirituality Books
* Pilgrimage, The Sacred Art, Journey to the Center of the Heart, Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook
*  The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner
*  The Grace in Aging, Kathleen Dowling Singh
*  Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life, Joan Chittister
*  Pastrix, The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint, Nadia Bolz Weber
*  Gifts of the Dark Wood, Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), Eric Elnes

Category #3: Other
*  The Other Side of the Dale, Gervase Phinn
*  Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
*  H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
*  The Light of the World, A Memoir, Elizabeth Alexander
*  Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, Finding and Losing Myself in Books, Maureen Corrigan
*  Between the World and Me, Ta-Nahesi Coates. (I must admit I am ambivalent about this. I felt it was really a too long article, rather than a book, but I also feel it is a book that should not be ignored, for it gives insights into issues most of us want to ignore.)

An Invitation
What books do you recommend from 2015? If you have read any of the books I list, I would love to know your opinion. Happy reading! 


  1. Thank you for this wonderful list of books! I'll be sure to start reading!

  2. So glad the list appeals to you. Happy reading!

  3. I read a few of these this year as well and really enjoyed them: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Circling the Sun and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (read by three generations of our family this year!). Am currently reading Being Mortal. Looking back at my list, my reading highlight of 2015 was all of the Louise Penny books. Makes me want to find another author to work my way through this year. I also enjoyed: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George which I got to revisit when reading aloud to Peter, and this bizarre Y/A title that both Maren and I read on vacation called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.


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