I took a look at what I planned on reading for the rest of the year, and I doubt I’ll read another book from this year. This means I can safely make my best of 2015 list. In another month, I’ll do a best books I read this year list.
Top 3 in no particular order:
Scarlett Thomas – The Seed Collectors
Unfortunately, one of the best books of the year could find no US publisher, so you’ll have to go through some third party British dealer (easy enough on Amazon).
I’m a long time Thomas fan. I own and have read all of her books more than once. I thought she had peaked with The End of Mr. Y, which is one of my favorite books of all time. I wasn’t as excited by Our Tragic Universe.
Her latest novel takes many of the themes and crazy ideas from Mr. Y, but presents them in a new and more mature way. This is almost a modern-day One Hundred Years of Solitude with its following a gigantic family and brief spouts of magical realism.
It is hard to say much about the book, because it is more about the overall feeling it generates in the reader than specific plot. All these characters are up against a truly modern phenomenon: we are bombarded with gurus, prophets, and self-help books promising enlightenment; yet we live in an age where it is a struggle to take the briefest of moments to reflect with screens providing instant gratification no matter how isolated we try to make ourselves.
Though the book appears to be about other things on its surface, this struggle can be seen as a unifying theme throughout all the characters. The subtlety with which Thomas can comment on what’s important in life makes this a candidate for one of the best books to come out this year. Plus it’s funny and a darn good read!
Ann-Marie MacDonald – Adult Onset
Adult Onset is a brilliant, modern return to a novel form that has been relegated to history: the character study. You’ll find reviews that complain about “too much detail” or “nothing happens” or “slow” or other such nonsense.
This is a result of the age we live in. Everyone wants instant gratification. The plot has to move at this pace, in this way, with cliffhangers here and here, with a perfect Freytag pyramid structure, you must show not tell, and on and on ad nauseum, just so the reader can coast along with minimal effort.
Sorry to disappoint, but this book causes you frustration for a reason. It is an in-depth study of a single character through a few days of her life. Despite the focus, we end up getting a huge backstory masterfully woven into description.
The book stays highly focused on getting to the bottom of a character flaw. We all desperately want neat and tidy explanations for our psychology, yet we rarely get them. It is human nature, and it is explored with touching humanity here.
As outsiders, we want to shout at the character that sometimes life is messy. Stop trying to make it something it isn’t. Yet we can look to our own lives and find ourselves behaving just as the main character. This is the essence of a great character study.
The description people complain about is done for a reason. The main character feels trapped in tedium. The description emulates these emotions by making the reader feel claustrophobic. You can sense every tiny moment of your day fill up with this stuff, and you want to escape to a moment of personal agency.
Welcome to the main character’s life. If you want plot, go read The Da Vinci Code. If you want art, you’ve found it here.
Jonathan Franzen – Purity
I’ve written more than I should have on this book already. It’s good and topical. It opens lots of good conversations. I’d definitely recommend those other two above before this one. It’s also cool to hate Franzen right now for some reason. Don’t be that cool person. Use your own brain to make a decision about this one.
Most Important Book of the Year:
Jon Ronson – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
It didn’t make the list above, because I thought the writing was pretty confusing at times and the overall coherence could have been better. The information presented is of utmost importance right now, and the investigative journalism done to get this information should be rewarded.