Going into 2015, I made a pact with myself: less Netflix, more books. I’m hardly a literary critic, but I love—love!—escaping into a trashy romance novel and legitimately get inspired by anything that could be classified as self-help (Lean In, that’s you.)
So this year I allowed myself the time to consume every single book that crossed my path and piqued my interest, from published collections of personal essays to 900-page novels, coming to a total of around 20 books in 12 months. In case you haven’t spent as much time with your nose in a book as I have this year, here are a few of my favorites.
This book came out at the end of 2014, and it sat on my shelf for a good three months before I picked it up—but I’m glad I did.
Using a sharp sense of humor and a voice that’s both chatty and relatable, Roxane Gay discusses feminism, sexuality, culture, and politics in her third book, Bad Feminist. She’s insightful and witty and writes openly about her life experience, from girlhood into womanhood, and shares all the funny and weird shit that happens along the way. She’s opinionated about everything from abortion to Chris Brown, and through her writing, she expands the “feminist” label to be a more inclusive, layered definition with which I felt I could more closely identify.
Gay leans on personal stories to peer through the cracks in culture, politics, and feminism (a style of writing I particularly love). She also approaches feminism in a way that any and every woman—even those who don’t identify with the moniker—can relate. This quote from the book sums up her approach: “Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”
It took me a while to get into The Narrow Road when the novel was released in April, but I’m generally a fan of Richard Flanagan‘s writing, so persevered through the first two chapters, and it paid off. I picked it up, put it down, over and over, and eventually forced myself through the introduction to reach a meaty, moving story that flows between a Japanese POW camp and present-day Australia, exploring the experience of a prisoner, Dorrigo Evans. It’s sad and beautiful and (like all my favorite books) includes a love story, a coming-of-age tale, death, and war.
Normally I prefer novels with a female lead, but Avenue of Mysteries came up on my list of recommended books on Amazon when it was released in November, so I decided to give it a whirl. I was hooked after the first page, which introduces the main character, Juan Diego, a 14-year-old boy who has taught himself to read, and his struggle to survive in a Mexican slum. His mother is a prostitute, and his sister is a clairvoyant.
As Diego grows older, he leaves Mexico for the Philippines, but the plot constantly plunges you back into his past. It’s filled with violence and vivid sex scenes—you’ll love it.
I don’t know what I can add to the wealth of City on Fire reviews that already exist on the Internet other than to say that if, like me, you were gripped by every page in Gone Girl and consider Jodi Picoult heavy reading, don’t be turned off by the mammoth 911 pages in this story, and don’t feel perturbed by the dozens of lengthy, heavily intellectual dissections of City on Fire published by everyone from the New York Times to the Washington Post. Yes, this book is heavy (in size and language), but it’s also incredibly involving, and each page compels you to turn the next.
Here are the basics that you need to know and that pushed me to order a copy for myself: It’s the debut book from Garth Risk Hallberg, who was reportedly paid a whopping $2 million for the manuscript, hence all the buzz. The tale is based in New York City and spans 1976 to 1977. Hallberg writes from various perspectives, introducing to the character list two estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes, suburban teenagers caught up in downtown’s punk scene, a tenacious reporter, and a detective trying to solve a Central Park shooting as well as place what the other characters have to do with the mystery. The story circles around one night in 1977 when a blackout across the city plunges their worlds into darkness.
Unlike most of the books on this list, The Perfume Collector wasn’t published this year, but it took me over a year to snag myself a copy, despite multiple recommendations. It spans classes, eras, and cities and centers on the tales of a wealthy young woman living in London circa 1950 who is dependent on her philandering husband but hungers for independence, and a young, ambitious maid born more than a decade before her who has her eyes set on a better life. There’s some clever use of foreshadowing throughout that sparks a question in the reader’s mind and makes it easy to turn down watching the new season of Orange Is the New Black to finish another chapter. I’ve recommended this book to my sister, my mom, and all of my friends. Now I’m recommending it to you too.