Saturday, December 12, 2015

Glorified Love Letters' Top 10 Favorite Books of 2015

Despite my good intentions, I did not fully review many books this year, but I still read a lot — 70 books so far — with a mix of both brand new and pre-2015 releases. Far be it from me to resist shouting about my favorites over the past 12 months! So let's take a look at my Top 5 Books from 2015 and the Top 5 Books I Read Not From This Year, loosely ranked:

Top 5: 2015

5. The Book of Laney by Myfanwy Collins

Anyone who thinks that a YA book can't be a significant literary achievement would do well to read this and realize how very wrong they were about their reading biases.

Myfanwy Collins writes about longing, heartbreak, and survival better than so many other writers out there, and The Book of Laney continues to demonstrate her skills. Her first foray into YA territory, she imbues her teenage protagonist with such honesty, and one never feels like she is talking down to a non-adult reader. This is exactly the sort of book I would point to when others wonder if YA books can ever match the emotional heft of literary fiction.

I interviewed Myfanwy about the book for Persephone Magazine earlier this year.

4. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

Art is a weapon. Lidia Yuknavitch's latest novel explores the lives of people either directly or indirectly related to a photographer who has taken a very famous photo of a girl from war-torn Eastern Europe. There's a performance artist, a poet, and a filmmaker married to a writer who has fallen into a deep depression, and all the words are wrapped up in the bodily reactions people have in the face of trauma.

The narrative blurs the line between a story once told, a story repeatedly told, and the fractured fourth wall between creator and audience. It's an interesting way to approach complex themes, and though the subject matter may be tough, it's not a tough read.

3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson's memoir is a self-described work of "autotheory" which describes Nelson's relationship with the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, her pregnancy, and her views on queerness and family. The book is peppered with margin notes and asides, referencing classic works of art and literature. It's a short book that's heavy with meaning, and I almost feel like I need to reread it to really get all there is to it.

I loved this bit:
Words change depending on who speaks them; there is no cure. The answer isn’t just to introduce new words (boi, cis-gendered, andro-fag) and then set out to reify their meanings (though obviously there is power and pragmatism here). One most also become alert to the possible uses, possible contexts, the wings with which words can fly.

2. Doctor Who: Doom Coalition #1 by Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Mark Platt, and Edward Collier

This is a Big Finish-produced audio adventure featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as the returned companion Liv Chenka (from the previous Eighth Doctor series of stories, Dark Eyes).  This is easily one of the best Doctor Who audio adventures I've heard so far. Divided into four different sections, each has a different set of challenges that all relate to the overarching chaos caused by a criminal Time Lord called The Eleven. McGann's Doctor is both serious and Romantic-with-a-capital-R, and this and the forthcoming Doom Coalition sequels will inch him closer to the changes the Time War will bring.

What makes Big Finish stories different from regular audiobooks is that you also get music, background noise, and lot more context clues that aren't necessarily reliant on traditional narration. They're like throwbacks to radio dramas of old, but acted much like they would be on screen. While I still think it's a shame that one of my favorite Doctors has had very little screen time, I always enjoy hearing Paul McGann's voice. It's as handsome as he is, really, so if you needed one more thing to motivate you finally diving into these stories, I hope that helps.

1. The Rewind Files by Claire Willett

This book is so much fun. It's breathlessly paced, endlessly interesting, and full of kick-ass women. It's a little funny to me that, although I don't read much YA, two of my favorites from this year are classified as such. My 11-year-old daughter also read this after I did, and she stayed up too late for a few nights before she finished it, which is a compliment as good as any. 

Set in the 22nd Century, Regina Bellows is a junior agent at the U.S. Time Travel Bureau who helps field agents identify and fix anomolies created from poorly executed time travel. She stumbles upon a conspiracy regarding Watergate, South Africa, and her own parents, and soon she is back in 1972 trying to fix it all. It's funny, well-researched, and I'd recommend it to pretty much anybody.

Top 5: Not-2015

5. Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

This is a gorgeous graphic novel about Marie Curie, her work, and her relationship with Pierre Curie. Lauren Redniss' artwork mimics Curie's journals, and although this might be a bit basic for someone who has a lot of previous Curie knowledge, it's still a lovely a book. Though I received it awhile back, it got misplaced in the madness that is my bedroom, and rediscovering it was its own revelation. Ah, this. Yes, this is what I need right now. I'd love to read more biographies that merge art and facts in this way.

4. Iris by Jean Marsh

Yes, I'm hopelessly enamored with Jean Marsh's work in general, but this book was a surprise for me. I'd enjoyed her first novel, House of Elliott, well enough, and I figured Iris would be much of the same. Instead, it's a captivating look at post-war England, sex work, and how we define our own happiness.

3. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates

This was always on my TBR list, but I'd never gotten around to it until it was suggested by a friend right before the implosion of the book club of which we were a part. Though we never got a chance to discuss it as a group (though that friend and I have talked about it a little on our own), I am still glad I finally read it. I loved everything about it — the urgency, the girls' desperation to seen and taken seriously, the interplay between fantasy and reality. Apart from some short stories, I've never really read much by Joyce Carol Oates, though I do have vague memories of seeing the Angelina Jolie-starring adaptation of this book.

Much like Iris, there is a lot of post-WWII rebuilding going on thematically. These teenagers are too young to have had direct war experience, but their lives are still searching for meaning in an environment of adults still reeling from what this new worldwide stab at domesticity means. It's violent, yes, but it's also feminist as fuck.

2. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

If I loved everything about Foxfire, then I LOVED The Price of Salt. If you've been following this site for any length of time, you already know Patricia Highsmith is one of my favorite authors, but somehow I'd let myself go far too long without reading this book. With its adaptation Carol out this year (starring another long time love of mine, Cate Blanchett), I finally devoured it. It's so good. SO GOOD.

Originally released under the pseudonym Clare Morgan, Highsmith tells the story of two women falling in love in 1950s New York. (It's just now occurred to me how many of my favorite things this year were set in this time period. Interesting.) Carol is separated from her husband, living away from her daughter, and a feeling a bit rudderless as a result. Therese is working in a department store while trying to earn gigs as a set designer. She has a sorta-boyfriend whom she mostly tolerates until she meets Carol, and then she realizes more clearly why that relationship with him is so unsatisfying. This book has all my favorite elements — love, lust, loneliness, and longing. Read it.

1. I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

Briefly, I debated between The Price of Salt and this book for the top spot, but what gave I Loved You More its edge was my visceral reaction to it. This book fucked me up in the best way, right when I needed it. While Highsmith keeps a certain amount of narrative distance from the love, lust, loneliness, and longing, Spanbauer dives right in. Mercilessly.

The Goodreads plot description doesn't really do the book justice. The friendship between these two men — Ben, more-or-less gay; Hank, more-or-less straight — is intense and beautiful. For a time, they drift apart, and their reunion is full of its own complications. Because it's partially set in 1980s New York, illness and caregiving play a central part of the story as well. 

I cannot recommend this book enough. Easily, it's my favorite thing I read this year.