Tomorrow I’ll be posting a full cover gallery of the titles I have read in 2015. In the meantime, thought I’d post a few words about my favourite books from this year’s reading. Assembling the gallery post revealed a trend towards prefering slim books (no more than 200 pages or so) to larger tomes, possibly a reaction to reading both of Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall books and the (then) latest Knausgaard in January. For the rest of the year, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks aside, my reading has certainly leaned towards slimmer volumes of prose. All of which explains why my following favourite reads of 2015 are small volumes packed with powerful stories:
Kent Haruf’s final, posthumously published novel became the first of his books that I have read. The story of an elderly neighbours who find companionship and love in their later years is a beautifully written examination of what matters in life. Haruf’s work is much lauded for it’s humanity and its tenderness and this book is no exception. I feel sure the sheer quality of the writing in this slim volume and the compelling nature of the seemingly ordinary story of two lonely people in small town America will see Our Souls at Night become a classic. Safe to say I will be seeking out Haruf’s other work in 2016.
Another slim volume, this time a powerful memoir of Tom Preston’s time undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatment. Told in the second person throughout, the spare prose avoids melodrama to pack a real and solid emotional punch as Preston describes the claustrophobia of the hospital room and the painful and debilitating treatements he must suffer through. At a little over 80 pages, The Boy in the Mirror is the shortest of the books I read this year, yet this powerfully written and beautifully designed book manages to be both intimate and epic in scope.
Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet is easily my favourite comic discovery of 2015, just edging out Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen’s Descender and Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey’s Injection. The Bitch Planet of the title is a prison planet that incarcerates women who prove troublesome to the futuristic patriarchal society that created it and the deftly told narrative manages to have one foot in feminist allegory and the other in exploitation movie action. The kinetic and visceral artwork more than matches the compelling and confrontational nature of the book. This took the top comic slot of my reading year for being both a gripping read and an important one. It is a book that I will be recommending to my daughter once she is of an age to read it (it is an unashamedly mature content comic) both for the comic story and the feminist essays from eminent writers that appear in the back pages of each issue. Bitch Planet is a book that can and should speak to all genders and sexualities.
I was given Max Porter’s genre defying debut as a gift and spent a glorious birthday morning with a pot of freshly brewed coffee, reading it from cover to cover. Part grief memoir, part poem, part children’s book, part novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a book unlike anything else I have read recently. Told through the three voices of Dad, the Boys, and Crow, the story follows all four characters (there are two boys) through the days following the loss of Mum. Crow comes in uninvited and determined to stay until he is no longer needed. Shades of Seamus Heaney abound, mythology and children’s literature abound but this is more than simple pastiche or collage. This is a truly unique book that made me cry and laugh out loud, often with the same page. I find it heartening that a mainstream publisher has championed such a unique and not easily marketed (or indeed synopsised) title. A real highlight of my reading year.
William Gay’s collection of short stories is the only title on this list not published this year and the only title on this list that I have not yet finished reading. I am about two thirds of the way through the thirteen stories, all of them set in Tennessee, and am taking my time to savour the sheer quality of the prose on display. Gay’s characters are beautifully flawed and their meticulously crafted narratives, are never less than compelling. Without doubt I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down is the strongest collection of stories I have read this year. I plan to eek out the last few stories over the first month or so of 2016, then get started on his novels. Expect to see William Gay on my best of 2016 list.
If I had to pick a single favourite book of 2015, it would be Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. This dark, Kafkaesque tale begins when Yeong-hye, an ordinary wife of an ordinary husband, is troubled by dreams of blood which force her to renounce meat-eating. Being vegetarian in Korean society is considered unusual, borderline subversive, and as Yeong-hye’s husband, sister and brother-in-law attempt, each in turn, to regain control of the increasingly independent and disturbed Yeong-hye, events spiral increasingly out of control. Han Kang’s prose, beautifully translated here by Deborah Smith, is fierce and sharp, and she wields it with precision, crafting a tale that cuts deep into the reader. Her follow-up, Human Acts is dues from Portobello in a few weeks time and is the book that I am most excited to read in 2016. If you check out one book from this list, it should be the Vegetarian.
That’s my top books of 2015. Please feel free to use the comments to share your favourite books of the year and I’ll be back on the blog tomorrow with the full gallery of my 2015 reading and New Year wishes. Until then.