I’ve never done one of these before and I’m ashamed to say it’s because I’ve put a lot more emphasis on TV and film, much to the detriment of the storyteller in me. But every once in a while I do have a book in my hands. What I’ve compiled here is a list of books that spoke to me on a personal level while expanding my world view (great books know how to strike a delicate balance between the two). These aren’t all exclusively 2015 releases, just ones that I stumbled upon over the year, though you might recognize one or two. However you want to define it, here are the 5 best books that I read in 2015.
Geek-extraordinaire Felicia Day chronicles her very humble beginnings as a homeschooled child to her joyous discovery of online gaming – a subculture that often doesn’t welcome women with open arms, yet she embraced gaming all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or a novice; Felicia Day strikes a conversational tone that makes you feel as if you’re getting to know her over dinner. She takes us through the inspiration behind The Guild – the web-series that launched her unique brand of all things nerd, the crippling pressure of spear-heading said brand, and processes her feelings on Gamergate. At the end, she leaves us with a thoughtful reminder that in the vile and Nyan Cat-ridden corners of the internet, we are all weirdos. Something about that is oddly comforting.
Nate Piven just signed a lucrative book deal, making him the most eligible bachelor in New York’s literary scene. By chance he meets Hannah – a bright-eyed writer who dreams of securing a book deal of her own. Never mind the fact that Nate happens to meet her at a party thrown by an old flame still very much in love with him, just minutes before bumping into an ex whom he broke up with after a pregnancy scare. Simply put, Nate doesn’t quite know how lucky he is not only to be in love, but to have loved. What follows is a self-destructive pattern of unrequited love that Nate is doomed to follow, made all the more frustrating by how apathetic he can be. His indifference is characteristic of all men, further heightened by the swipe-right mentality of the modern age. This is an indictment of the modern man and a bold debut for author Adelle Waldman.
The premise is deceptively simple: an unnamed narrator writes a novel in an attempt to reconcile a turbulent relationship. But since a novel by its very nature is a labor of love, does that mean the narrator is still tragically in love with a man who broke her so long ago? This meta-analysis allows Lydia Davis to contextualize what it is we’re trying to do when reflecting on a past relationship. This could very well be Davis trying to reconcile experiences of her own because with brutal clarity, Davis captures the confusion, agony, and perpetual loneliness of heartbreak, and does so quite hauntingly in a pivotal moment where the narrator witnesses for herself that she has effectively been replaced by the person she loves, yet she can’t let go. Davis reminds us that the deepest wounds are inflicted by the people we hold dear. I had to put this book down quite often because Davis’ prose is so terrifyingly precise that it recalled my own experiences of heartbreak. This is a brave piece of literature that speaks openly and honestly about the destructive nature of relationships, and I don’t think I’d be brave enough to read this book twice.
Three months ago, Sarah St. John lost her son in an avalanche and is desperately trying to put one foot forward. But moving forward isn’t the same as moving on, and sometimes the only way to bury the pain is by digging up the past. Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants, examines another vacation destination and points out with thoughtful precision that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. There’s pain, loss, and grief (this novel in particular is spot on about the nature of grief). With Hemmings’ light touch, the story never veers into morbidity. She finds hilarity and hope in unexpected places, even as our protagonist wonders quite heartbreakingly if she is still a mother now that her son is gone. If The Descendants was a coming-of-age tale centered on fatherhood, then The Possibilities is about the solemn duty of motherhood. Sarah St. John stumbles across a number of revelations in her journey to grieve, but the most startling one happens to be the simplest: life, even after death, is still full of possibilities.
This book has been on my must read list for so long that once I got my hands on it, I was eager to dive in. But the book’s emotional depth is so perpetually haunting that oft times I found myself gasping for air. A baby miraculously washes up on the shores of a desolate lighthouse, and keeper Tom and his wife Izzy make a choice that will have serious repercussions for all three of them. The setup is fairly easy, but there are no easy answers for the characters. They’re oblivious to the magnitude of their sins and are doomed to face them for the rest of their lives. We, the readers, are culprits as well. We bear these secrets alongside them and are helpless as we watch Tom and Izzy get swept away by life’s unforgiving current. I, too, was swept away by Stedman’s delicate prose. She paints the Australian coastline with excruciating detail, beautifully rendering this tale of tragedy that is undeniably Shakespearean in nature, yet timeless in its impact. The Light Between Oceans broke me in ways I did not expect, and I can safely say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. My one regret is that I did not read this book sooner.