Top 10 Books of 2015

To be honest, I’ve become a little weary of the ubiquitous year end best-of lists as the same books seem to appear on all of them and I feel that we need to be moving away from conformity in reading and exploring what sets us on fire as individuals, rather than just choosing a book because everyone else seems to be reading it. Having said that, there’s a certain pleasure in reviewing the books you’ve read in a year and sifting through them to see which ones have really stayed with you. So I have done that, mostly for my own enjoyment. But if you read and enjoyed any of these, or if you read and didn’t enjoy them, I’d love to hear why.

Historical Fiction

Anyone who regularly reads this blog already knows how I had no interest whatsoever in reading anything by Elizabeth Gilbert until I heard her speak at Perth Writers Festival and she was so warm and witty and wise and compassionate that I immediately adopted her as my guru. But even if none of those things had happened, I have no doubt I would have adored her wonderful book The Signature of All Things, starring a most unconventional heroine carving out her own path in the 19th century world of botany – just gorgeous.

And although I am always a little ho hum about historical fiction, in reality, I obviously actually love it because I was utterly enraptured by the beautiful beautiful evocation and insight into the lives of three (fictional) insignificant players in the Second World War in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Speculative Fiction

From the past to the far future, no list of mine would be complete without at least one speculative title and this year’s great read for me in that department was Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. Imagine Heart of Darkness set on another planet with aliens who are wildly enthusiastic about the bible and a reformed alcoholic missionary trying to make sense of it all. You can’t? Well read it then, Faber has done all the work for you.

Contemporary Fiction

My favourite Australian novel of the year was the winner of the Miles Franklin, which was surprising because I usually hate the Miles Franklin winners. But Sophie Laguna‘s heartbreaking story of family violence, The Eye of the Sheep reeled me in from the very first page and never let me go. It’s hard subject matter but she makes it just bearable, and she captures with enormous compassion the complexity of the many factors which create a situation in which family violence occurs  as well as its devastating effects.

Entirely underwhelmed By Donna Tartt‘s previous books, I was hesitant to pick up the giant tome that is The Goldfinch but once I did, by golly, I couldn’t put it down. Lots of people say it’s flawed, but for me it was a world I so loved being immersed in, it was like being newly in love: the flaws were invisible.

Miranda July’s The First Bad Man probably has the strangest plot of any book I have ever read, not in the sense of being surreal, but just because the characters were so unconventional and did the most unexpected things. I think it is best summed up by saying it’s a book that makes you feel better about being out of the mould. But if you don’t consider yourself at least a little bit freaky, it may not be for you!

Resisting Categorisation!

Ali Smith’s How to Be Both is both contemporary and historical, a hard read but worth the effort. Juxtaposing the contemporary story of a teenage girl grieving for her dead mother and a gender-bending renaissance artist, it was utterly unconventional and magical in a way I find very difficult to articulate.

Non-Fiction

I have been reading a lot more non-fiction this year and there were three stand-outs in what is normally, for me, a rather neglected genre (though, of course, it is not really a genre at all, rather a collection of books of all kinds. Never mind, let’s not split hairs over terminology).

Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage – a ‘memoir’ (heavily fictionalised, I suspect) about his desire and subsequent inability to write a book about DH Lawrence is laugh-out-loud funny, and I know people say that all the time about things but I actually laughed out loud and that is very rare when reading, don’t you think? It is a meditation on writing, so if you’re also in the writing game it is hilarious and mortifying at the same time. It is also a kind of travelogue, keenly-observed, and, in the end, a work of literary criticism on Lawrence. Pure genius.

Along with Liz Gilbert, I have adopted another new guru this year and that is Stephanie Dowrick. Her collection of essays Forgiveness & Other Acts of Love blends the spiritual and the psychological to create a work that is nurturing, thought-provoking and profound; one I will return to agin and again.

The wonderfully warm-hearted and down-to-earth English novelist Matt Haig this year released Reasons to Stay Alive—a book about his experiences with depression and anxiety which is part memoir, part self-help book, part pop-psychology, and, well, you get the picture – it’s a blend of things. It’s NOT just a book for people with depression/anxiety. It’s a book for anyone who knows anyone who has depression/anxiety and let’s face it, that’s everyone. It’s informative, insightful, nurturing, incredibly accessible, sometimes funny, and surprisingly uplifting, and if you choose only one book to read from this list, or to gift to someone for Christmas, make it be this one!

Your turn: I want to know, of course, what wonderful things you’ve read this year please x

19 thoughts on “Top 10 Books of 2015

    1. What a lovely thing to say jane, thank you.

      I LOVE the graphing of reading but didn’t get round to it this year, alas.

      I’m still baffled by your rejection of TBOSNT – but reading is like that, isn’t it? So personal.

  1. Hi again Annabel! I love Stephanie Dowrick’s books. They are nurturing and are very conducive to spiritual growth. I’m looking forward to having a look at Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic too.

    1. Absolutely. I’m currently meandering through Everyday Kindness, a few pages a day and it’s wonderful to be regularly reminded, in such beautiful prose, of what matters most.

  2. Like you, I tend to focus on the books that I still think about months after reading them – not necessarily books that I ‘loved’ at the time but if something lingers then it ends up on my ‘best of’ list (for example, this year Hausfrau, A Little Life and The Natural Way of Things are all books that I can’t get out of my head).

    Agree with you about Eye of the Sheep – wonderful. I heard Sofie speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival and it gave me a whole new perspective on Jimmy Flick and how Sofie created child characters.

    Both The Goldfinch and All the Light were on my Best of 2014 lists – yes, felt like was joining the masses in singing the praises of these best-sellers but both were completely absorbing.

    I haven’t read The Signature of All Things – it’s in my TBR stack but only because I heard a few people say “It’s NOT Eat, Pray, Love!” (which I despised) – I’ll get to it next year in my year of reading from what I already own.

    1. i really want to read A Little Life. I am also really Drawn to Charlotte Wood’s book though I am terrified by it in equal measure.

      I heard Sofie speak at Ubud festival and she was fantastic – what a character. And so down to earth. I loved hearing her take on the book.

      I guess it’s okay to join the masses now and again – and some books resonate with the masses because they are genuinely brilliant. (I only wish this happened more!)

  3. I haven’t read any of the books on your list yet. I think my pick of the year goes to The Anchoress. Such a unique concept that could have turned out incredibly dull or formulaic but proved so rich and layered and open-ended. I thought the whole thing was just beautiful and am still haunted by it and mulling it over 6 months later.

      1. Robyn, my BFF is actually getting a copy for Christmas. We have many lively conversations about spirituality and I know she’ll find it a really interesting read. I love that it raises more questions than it answers!

        1. That’s music to my ears, Nicole. I was especially excited that on my umpteenth and final rewrite, I began to see ideas that I hadn’t been consciously aware of. That’s the beauty of not planning, I think — the unconscious gets a look in.

    1. I really loved The Anchoress too, though I must admit I didn’t expect too because, as you say, the subject matter didn;t scream excitement, but the inner life of the character was so beautifully rendered – an amazing study in how you can write a gripping book in which very little happens.

      1. It was actually a really pivotal point for me with my WIP as I realized that I LOVE reading books in which very little happens, but I’m not very good at writing them. Up until that point, I’d been sort of pushing back at my plot but reading The Anchoress made me see that I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to with the story because I was fighting its natural pace. I learned a lot reading it!

  4. Always interesting to read a list like this, Annabel. I loved Faber’s novel — it so slowly and gently builds to something quite profound. And it is even more moving that Faber was writing it while his wife was dying. I also read How to be Both and feel I need to read it again — it seems to have much more going on than I picked up. Not quite so convinced about The Signature of All Things: amazingly detailed and researched, and lots of good characters, but it seemed to just wander along, somehow. But then, who am I to be critical of Elizabeth Gilbert?!

    1. Yes, what a sad story about Faber’s wife and the book – it adds another layer to it to know that, doesn’t it?

      With How to Be Both, because each story had resonances in the other, I felt like I got more out pf the second story I read (which for me was the historical one), and that I should read the contemporary part again to follow those connections back (if you see what I mean). Overall, I definitely think it is a book which would reward re-reading.

  5. I love Stephanie Dowrick too – all her books are wonderful. The Doerr was on my list too – and Matt Haig is an author I really want to read. Great list, Annabel x

    1. Do you have a favourite book of hers? I’m looking for my next read by her.

      I started following Matt Haig on Twitter because of something you retweeted – which made me think you must be a fan of his writing. The Humans is my favourite book of his.

      1. I’ve found Choosing Happiness really valuable to dip in and out of. I think it has a discussion with a friend at the beginning – that bit didn’t grab me as much as the later sections.

        I wonder what that was – I haven’t read any of his, but whenever I see his name I always want to get straight on to his books. I will have to make it one of my NY reading resolutions!

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