Monday, January 4, 2016

Top Ten Books of 2015 (plus 1)

So, another year, and another 100 or so books read. Here are my lists for new authors and authors I have read before. Enjoy!

Authors I Have Read Before
10. Bad Haircut by Tom Perrotta: With the success of The Leftovers, Perrotta’s career looks to be ascending and this I s good place to start. Not quite as strong as Nine Inches, Perrotta still captures the suburban malaise of the towns he grew up in. Tales like “The Wiener Man’ and “Snowman are true delights, and hide little moments of beauty in lives punctuated by boredom. 
9. Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale: Another Lansdale hit. This brutal epic western is filled with the wit, gumption and creativity I’d come to expect from this Mojo storyteller. And it completes a brilliant quasi-trilogy begun with Edge of Dark Water and The Thicket. 
8. American Pastoral by Philip Roth: Despite all the academic malarkey surrounding Roth, once you discard that, he’s pretty great: funny, witty and profound, he has earned his place in the top tier of American writers, and this brilliant book from his envious 90’s resurgence is part of the reason. 
7. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: It’s sad to see, like Roth, Faber announce his retirement from writing, but He’s going out like a champ with this Sci-Fi hybrid as heartbreaking as it is mind-bending. Fans of David Mitchell should run, not walk, to pick this up. 
6. Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn: My one nonfiction book on this list truly earns its place by being creepy as hell and truly scary. Not only did it happen, but the monster at the center of it is eerily recognizable as someone we have probably encountered once in our life. 
5. Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson: Once Thom Jones passes away; Craig Davidson will take his place as a true tough guy author of literary fiction. Stories like “A Mean Utility and “Rocket Ride” and the eponymous story bring true talent and freshness to short story form, and a voice that begs to be heard loud and clear. 
4. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan: This small book about the last shift at a New England Red Lobster packs so much humanity into places we inhabit daily, bringing poetry and dignity to the everyday and meaning to the lives of the ordinary. 
3. Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos: This book, even shorter than the previous entry, begins in a child’s mind and ends in utter horror, as a young boy, whose father is a drug lord slowly loses his grip on reality, and ultimately, his innocence in this sly coming of age novella. 
2. World Gone By by Dennis Lehane: This thrilling, more compact conclusion to the Coughlin trilogy ends on a high note, as Joe’s luck finally runs thin, with a haunting ending that is the best I read this year. 
1a. Quicksand by Steve Toltz: This thrilling follow up to the vaction ruining A Fraction of the Whole, continues this weird trend Toltz mastered of losers losing hard but coming out the other end with their dignity somewhat intact. His characters are dreamers in a world that wants to destroy them, and Toltz and the reader, love them for it. 
1b. The Great Forgetting by James Renner: Another sophomore effort, this time following the brilliant debut The Man from Primrose Lane, this Twilight Zone inspired adventure through time and alternate history blew me away with its creativity, and the euphoria that came over me once everything came together is why I love reading.

Authors I Read for the First Time
 10. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda: Read early in the year, this nasty morsel (like The Corrections without an ounce of shame) still sticks with me. It’s a brilliant deconstruction on family values and moral culpability that one views as if it were a car crash. 
9. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: Oddly, the last book I read last year. This story of a sad girl coming out of her shell seeking blood and retribution plays with the reader’s feelings, mixing sympathy and disgust into an emotional cocktail with the caustic effects of nitro glycerin. 
8. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas: This big book on early onset Alzheimer’s comes with an equally big heart as we watch the people around the afflicted father deal with it as best they can, showing dignity and sacrifice and love amongst pain. 
7. Sweet Nothing by Richard Lange: Another solid collection by a writer it took me WAY too long to introduce myself to. Stories like “Baby Killer” “The 100-to 1-Club” show people at the edge of life, desperate to not make their success or failures define them. 
6. The Marauders by Tom Cooper: Easily the most fun I had this year with a new author, this crazed story of buried treasure, evil drug dealers and dreamers whose tanks are running out of gas is pure excitement. 
5. Hold the Dark by William Giraldi: You’ll be hearing more about this book when the movie comes out in a few years, from the directors of Blue Ruin no less. It is quietly brutal, in the same way No Country for Old Men was, and presents a world of sudden violence and brutal indifferent elements that is unforgettable. 
4. All Involved by Ryan Gattis: This novel, whose violence is only surpassed, barely, by my two #1’s, is a fascinating account of a little known part of LA during the riots in the early nineties. Its world, its characters and sense of place, swallowed me whole. 
3. Delicious Food by James Hannaham: One of the most interesting books I read all year, this novel of drug addiction, imprisonment and race brings with it new ideas and an original voice that floored me. It’s deeply metaphorical, deeply terrifying, and moving in its message of moving on after tragedy. 
2. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: THE book to come out this year truly delivered. At 900 pages, Hallberg brings New York on the cusp of the 80’s to vivid life with a large cast of characters, many intricacies and staggering ambition. Not just the best debut this year, but the best one in a few years. 
1a. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James: The book that almost ruined my WrestleMania trip this year is the best book I’ve read since Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Profane and filled with violence that is upsetting and vomit inducing, it is also a brilliant mediation on evil and the sharp fingernails of the past, with a voice that is distinct and profound. There were no other books like it this year.
1b. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow: The book that matches my other number one in quality and longevity is a true epic of the ever disgraceful drug war, filled with appalling moral comprises and acts of violence that stopped me cold. It’s not a pretty story by any means, but it is a one that seems necessary and one given honesty and dignity by a writer as skilled as Winslow. 

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