My favorite adult reads of 2015 were (in order of most recently devoured): A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
In 2015, excellent non-fiction titles raced neck and neck with the best fiction. Between the World and Me and Being Mortal were both illuminating “must-reads” for 2015. The first is an articulate howl from a Howard-educated, Atlantic writer telling his son about the reality of living as a black man in America, and the other is a doctor’s elegant argument about respecting the dignity of those facing the end of life. Coates is a journalist and educator whose emotional outpouring focused readers on persistent racial injustices in this country. Gawande is a surgeon and researcher (who writes for The New Yorker in his spare time) whose his ability to to convert complicated medical issues into topics for every day conversation won my heart.
When you fall in love with a book, you can’t help but develop a little crush on the writer, too. Who created this story that has kept me up at night? I can’t help but be curious about the authors behind books that I have loved, and was pleasantly surprised at the interesting authors behind the books that were on my list for 2015.
Hanya Yanagihara wrote the surprise hit of 2015 (A Little Life is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize). She worked as an Editor at Large for Conde Naste for years, and is currently a style editor for T Magazine. What I love is that Hanya doesn’t plan to leave her day job, despite her sudden literary fame. The novel, which clocks in over 700 pages, tells an indelible story of male friendship that I couldn’t put down, and won’t easily forget.
Lauren Groff is an Amherst grad who lives in Florida with a husband and two kids and regularly knocks out arresting tales that blend mythic archetypes and vivid contemporary detail. Fates and Furies is her third novel, and tells the story of a marriage from two points of view. Although it doesn’t wind up delivering on it’s full promise, I enjoyed riding along with a young writer as she bursts onto the main stage of the literary world with formidable confidence and wit.
Helen Macdonald is a naturalist and scholar in England whose response to the shock of her father’s death was to raise a goshawk. Part grief memoir, part naturalist manifesto, and part literary history (she delves into the work of author T.H. White, who was also a falconer), H is for Hawk is so unusual that you’ll either love it or hate it. I happened to have loved it precisely because of the eccentricities of the author and her topic, as did many critics… but you have to be in the mood for steamy British moors and sharp talons.
Finally, what might be my favorite discovery of the year are the stories of Lucia Berlin, a writer who was never appreciated in her lifetime, but scribbled out stories as she led an itinerant, often drunken and unglamorous life in the West, raising sons on her own. She died before her work was widely celebrated, but thanks to a few literary angels (thanks Lydia Davis), Berlin’s work has been brought to the public’s attention. A Manual for Cleaning Women was another publishing surprise in 2015, and Lucia has many fans finally. To read her short stories is to go along on her rough journey, to love each tarnished character that she celebrates on the page. Her clear, nonjudgmental vision of the world comes through in unfussy, pristine prose.