Probably one of the most asked questions I get is "what are you reading?" If you know me, you know that I am always ready to gush about my favorite books and discuss them with friends. While I love the classics -- nothing quite compares to my favorite Anna Karenina by Tolstoy or Portrait of a Young Lady by James, not to mention Andre Dubus II and of course Hemingway and so on -- I also love reading great contemporary authors. For me, great books are timeless, regardless of the year they were written and when I get to read them.
With that said, here's my top picks for 2015. While many were written a few years back, I am still catching up to the great books published in 2015!
We Are Not Ourselves by Mathew Thomas
An engrossing family chronicle that spans generations. Lyrical and grounded in reality, Thomas' novel is a tour-de-force of that explores the life and times of the Leary family. Eileen Tumulty Leary is the novel's focal point, and her resistance to ennui as well as her deep-rooted sensitivity propels the novel. Eileen is a finely-crafted protagonist, with evolving complexities and aspirations. Thomas creates an unforgettable and moving view of a family struggling to survive the everyday hurdles and tragedies of life. Tender and heartbreaking at times, with a rich honesty, this is a novel to savor.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Yanagihara's novel grips the reader in unexpected ways. With a deep sensitivity, the author meshes the complexities of friendship and exposes the intricacies of pain and lasting hurt. Although the novel is dark and disturbing in its exploration of the depths of human cruelty, there is also beauty woven throughout. The power of friendship and love as well as the ability to navigate and survive tragedy permeates with readers long after this story concludes. This is an important book. One that I believe most of us need to read, not only to be reminded of what friendship is, but to understand the pain and suffering humans inflict and endure, and how critical it is to be of service to one another.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Quindlen's skillful novel unfolds with grace and ease as the reader gets to know the Latham family. Mary Beth Latham is a devoted wife and mother of three teenage children who navigates the complexities of family life, until an act of violence shocks her world, and she is left to figure how to endure after every last one of the things she feared most occurs. The narrative, haunting and evocative, is satiated with truth, pain, and longing. A beautiful, and well-rendered tale of the courage and tenacity it takes to keep going.
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
A re-read for me, but one that was long over due since my encounter with the amazing Wally Lamb last January at Key West Writer's Festival. Dolores Price's journey from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood is one that resonates on a deep and profound level. Lamb explores self worth, self love, and the ultimate healing power of acceptance throughout this coming of age story. Despite the endless disappointments that Dolores encounters, with her grim sense of humor, she emerges as an unconventional heroine who is both broken and unbreakable. This novel was more beautiful and powerful than I remembered it from my first reading, some 10 years back.
Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner
This book came at just the right time for me, because sometimes you need to read a love story. I was immersed in Rachel Blum and Andy Landis' lives from the get-go. For me, this was an example of how alternating points of view can add flavor and texture to a novel. Both characters have their flaws and their innate beauty, too, and Weiner enables us to grow up with them both, witnessing the trials and tribulations of their lives. Rachel and Andy's fateful intersections teach us about the various climates of people's lives, and how sometimes your life can be measured by who you love and the right timing.
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Garp will always be one of my literary heroes as will the odd events and characters that flavor his existence. Despite Garp's surreal experiences, there is a human element and sorrow to this story that makes it resonate on a variety of planes. Re-reading this book, I am amazed at not only the bizarre tales that fill the narrative, but the well-shaped intricacies of Irving's novel. From Garp's "The Pension Grillparzer," which is somehow always there with Garp, to the Under Toad, which his son fears, this is a novel which not only infiltrates the reader's mind and soul, but its craftsmanship enriches all who read it.
Bark by Lorrie Moore (short story collection)
I love everything Lorrie Moore writes, so I was looking forward to reading this collection, which did not disappoint. The eight stories were full of Moore's unique blend of humor, quirkiness, as well as a sense of ennui and restlessness. She explores life after divorce, politics, the dead ends that confront us, and the power of regret. Moore's characters are real people with everyday issues with whom we feel instant connections as well a desire to sometimes reject. Her characters seek new paths, and while suffering exists, many opt to keep going, keep believing, and keep finding something to aspire to.
Funny Once by Antonya Nelson (short story collection)
The nine short stories in this collection were moving and poignant. There was an on-the-road atmosphere to these stories, a desire to keep going, have a drink, take in the wide-open landscapes. Nelson tackles old age, teenage dilemmas, siblings, death, alcohol, responsibility, and bad behavior all under one cover. Throughout the collection, her cast of characters strive for their youth, although many are growing older. Despair lurks within these stories, too, as well as a fierce desire to live more, to undo past actions, and to take more chances. In the title story, "Funny Once," Nelson gives us the quirky, memorable, aspiring to be sober Phoebe, who listening to a drunk person share a joke and repeat the punch line more than once, makes a mental note that "It's only funny once."
Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougal
McDougal's Natural Born Heroes is a blend of archaeology, Greek mythology, military history, and information on health and fitness that counters much of what we know and have grown accustomed to. Within his account, McDougal redefines the heroic ideal by illustrating that we are all capable of heroic acts if we train our bodies accordingly. He removes the mythological element of heroism and explores how somewhat ordinary men became extraordinary -- natural born heroes -- during the course of history and wars. "The art of the hero," McDougal discovers, "wasn't about being brave; it was about being so competent that bravery wasn't an issue."
The Creative Habit by Twlya Tharp
At first glance, this is a great how-to book for aspiring and developed artists to fine tune their craft, complete with creative exercises and reminders. But as you delve into the book, it's so much more than a how-to book. For me, this was an exploration of Tharp's struggles and successes as an artist, which I learned a lot from, considering that she is perhaps one of the greatest dance choreographers of her time. The book had a deeply personal and intimate feel, as if Tharp was sharing secrets of the creative realm as a way of assisting readers in their own creative endeavors. Definitely not just for dancers -- any creative professional or business professional will benefit from Tharp's insights and exploration of creativity, inspiration, and the grit that creativity demands.
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngert
Growing up in Brooklyn, Shteyngert's memoir felt familiar and nostalgic to me. Shteyngart shares the American immigrant experience in a way that may be particularly relevant in these times -- he and his family came to America as Soviet Jews. The memoir reverts from past to present throughout, with wit, insights, and a memorable narrative voice. This is a story of seeking refuge not only in one's own family, but in one's community, and new country. Intimate and moving as well as hilarious at times, this memoir not only sheds light on a critical time in our country's history, but on what it means to find one's true calling and home in a new, strange world.
The Dark Path by David Schickler
It may just be because I love reading stories of religious callings, but I found Schickler's memoir to be enriching and enlightening. We follow Schickler's journey down "the dark path" as he grapples with the prospect of becoming a Catholic priest, or an eventual husband. As the novel unfolds, he discerns becoming a Jesuit, later takes on a job teaching at a prep school in Vermont, and eventually starts talking to a psychiatrist who prescribes him anti-depressants, which he resists taking for some time. Humorous, honest, and an exploration of a life in progress, Schickler's memoir raises questions that we all face: what's the right path for me?
Awareness by Anthony de Mello
A staple year after year, and month after month. In larger than life, say-it-like-it-is style, infused with humor, honesty, and wit, de Mello's Awareness is a beautiful bridge between spiritual thought and how easy it is to live our lives asleep.
Experiments in Truth by Ram Das
As above, a staple year after year, and month after month. Like Anthony de Mello, Ram Das is humorous, witty, honest, and a natural story teller. There is something for everyone at all levels of spirituality in this collection of the psychologist's early lectures.