Monday, December 21, 2015

The New Dork Review Top 10 of 2015

Man, I love reading books. This year was an especially terrific reading year (here's my Goodreads Year in Reading, if you're interested, and how could you not be? Right?!)  — new novels from some HUGE names, like The Franzen, Harper Lee, Dr.  Seuss, Toni Morrison...though none of those wound up as one of my favorites of the year. This year, I again shattered my previous record for books read (74, and counting) and pages (26,000+). I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, I finally got to some Toni Morrison backlist (Sula) and need to get to much more, and I read a ton of wonderful short story collections. And but so, here's my list of favorites of the year (note the difference between "favorite" and "best") — they are in no particular order, except for No. 1.

The Mark and the Void, by Paul Murray — This novel from the acclaimed Skippy Dies writer is so hilariously absurd, often laugh-out-loud funny. You wouldn't think a novel about bankers could be so entertaining, but Murray's skewering of the financial industry (along with a subplot about how fiction inspires reality) is really fun.

Between The World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates — The only non-fiction on my list, this book is a bit of a paradox. It's profound and deliberative and incredibly smart, but it's not an entirely enjoyable reading experience. It's only after you finish do you realize how good it is, and that it really should be required reading for everyone. Empathy. It's not underrated.

Beneath the Bonfire, by Nickolas Butler —
This short story collection follows Butler's magnificent debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. This collection is just as good...if not better. We're still in rural Wisconsin, but the stories give Butler more opportunity to introduce to a wide range of wonderful characters.

Saint Mazie, by Jami Attenberg — Fierce! That's the best way to describe Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the star of Attenberg's novel about what it means to be a good person. Mazie helps homeless people in NYC during the Great Depression, but is also a boozer, smoker, and sexer of married men. She's a wonderful, nuanced character, and this is a wonderful story told with Attenberg's deft, hip style.

The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson — If there was any book for which I was a nutjob evangelist this year, it was this one. It pains me to see The Girl On The Train (though it's a fine read) wind up on "best of the year" lists, because this is sooooooo much better.

Glow, by Ned Beauman — This will easily be the most divisive pick on this list, but I just loved how much fun it was. I think about 75 percent of people I've recommended it to haven't liked it. It's a silly, complicated book, to be sure. But I just had a great time with it.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James — Cheating on this one, because technically it came out in late 2014. But the 2015 Booker Prizer winner is so phenomenally good, I had to include it. Literally dozens of voices build a narrative about Jamaican gangsters (and an assassination attempt on Bob Marley), CIA agents, journalists, drug dealers, and hit men. Whenever I talk about this book, I can't help but compare it to The Wire...only this is better. Utterly amazing.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff — There was a 99.9 percent chance I was going to love this story about a marriage before I even read the first word. And I did. It's one of those novels that I am simply in awe of — how did she put this together, and write it so beautifully? 

The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra — One of the last books I read in 2015 is one of the best. From pre-WWII Siberia, to modern day Chechnya, these nested, tightly connected stories are stunningly good individually, but when you consider how they fit together as a whole, it's just mind-boggling..  

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara — This book, man. This effing book. It crushed my soul into a little cube, which it then used for bouillon. I read this book in February, and still can't get these characters out of my head. A harrowing, masterful, fascinating, utterly wonderful novel — not just my favorite of 2015, but the best thing I've read in a long, long, long time.


  1. Glow isn't complicated - it's convoluted & ridiculous. The plot is not good, and the writing - I'm thinking of his use of figurative language - tries so desperately to be different that it winds up being senseless. It is a truly terrible book with no internal logic. Why does everyone give Raf information? He has no leverage! Anyway, this is one time you and I disagree, my dear man. I just can't see how someone who likes DFW could possibly find anything good to say about this atrocity of a novel.

    PS: I wasn't crazy about Boxer, Beetle either but I really did love TheTeleportation Accident.

    1. Convoluted and ridiculous in the best way possible - in other words, awesome. The plot and the writing are both fantastically inventive. It's just a fun read, man - try not to take yourself too seriously. (Also, Anonymous, I don't know who you are, so your comment carries significantly less credibility.)

    2. 1) Anonymity frees me from the trappings of my subjective lot in life and places my opinion squarely as a blank opinion. If anything, this anonymity grants me greater credibility!*

      2) This isn't about taking myself "too" seriously - this is about taking literature & its many glories seriously, and as seriously as they deserve. You are conversing with an anonymous Wodehouse aficionado, sir. I am not foreign to convoluted & ridiculous in the best way possible/awesome, for that has been achieved by others. This Glow business is...drably ridiculous.

      3) The plot isn't inventive at all, old sport! It's a very, very poor man's Pynchon. What causes you to so marvel is but the window dressing, and even that, I would argue, is far from inventive.

      4) Alas! Poor Beauman. I read him, Zimmerman - he was a fellow of infinite jest & most excellent fancy. But that was in a previous work. This one is a failure. "Swing & a miss" as the good men say, or good women, for those baseball announcers who are women.

      *No, I'm not being serious.

    3. Now, I feel like making my own opinion on this novel. Thanks guys!

  2. I always get one from your list and The Kind Worth Killing may be it. I took The Girl on the Train off my TBR list, not reading it now, to many bad reviews from trusted bloggers. Happy Holidays

    1. I hope you check it out -- so so good! It made Entertainment Weekly's best of the year list too!

  3. Ok, I have been gone almost all year so have missed reviews of Fates and Furies........ I want to explore this one more. May be a great bookclub read also. Sorry for 2 comments, I read your review and had to come back.

    1. it would indeed be a great book club pick - lots to unpack in that novel!

  4. Even i love reading books. I have a collection of books in my home. I am a writer in free essay writing service. A Little Life is a fascinating and utterly wonderful novel

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