How I have agonized over my Top 10 Books of the year! You would think something was actually riding on this, that it matters to the world that I get this list right! Working up the list was a pleasant kind of agony, though.
I go through the same process each year to figure out my Top 10. I reread my list of books read, and I write down every title I might consider putting on a Top 10 list. Then I begin whittling. Last year, when I read 200 books (not including picture books), it was quite difficult to narrow it down to 10. This year, when I’ve read only 84 books (not including picture books), there weren’t as many contenders.
The Additional Wrinkle:
This year, I complicated things by adding the nearly 500 picture books I read this year to the mix. Usually I make a separate Top 10 picture book list (never fear, I’ll still be posting a Top 10 Fiction PB and a Top 10 Nonfiction PB list. Because lists!) and because I do that, I haven’t included them on my main Top 10 list. But I realized that I spend as much time continuing to think about some of the picture book titles I read as longer books. So why exclude them? And in the end,three picture books ended up making my Top 10 for the year, and a fourth would be my first runner-up if I included extra titles (which I’m not.)
What’s “best” mean anyway?
It’s interesting to make these annual year-end best of lists, because the books that I expect throughout the year will be on it don’t always make it in the end. For instance, I thought all along this year that All Alone in the Universe and Dept of Speculation would make my Top 10, but in the end, different books edged them out as the titles that were most important to me this year. “Best” is a slippery category. So this is simply the list of the books that I’ve liked most, thought about most, found most engaging, interesting, lovable. If I could only keep ten books from 2015, these would be the ones. (This list is in no particular order.)
I read Jason Reynolds’s When I Was the Greatest in January, and I am still thinking about Ali and Jazz and Doris and Needles and Noodles. This book has huge appeal for reluctant readers and offers them what so many page-turney stories that appeal to reluctant readers don’t offer–gorgeous prose and nuanced plots.
Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write is a collection of brief (sometimes very brief) essays on art, feminism, writing, theater, and motherhood. I eventually stopped copying passages into my notebook because I was basically copying the entire book. I love the brevity and intensity and surprise of these pieces. In some ways, Ruhl is responsible for my year-long reading slump because I kept starting new books trying to recapture the experience of reading this book–and failing, because I’ve never read anything quite like 100 Essays.
Here’s my other favorite book this year about writing and motherhood and art and feminism, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich. The reviews make it sound like this book is mostly about dating, and relationships are certainly part of the story, but this graphic novel is about so much more than navigating the world of online dating. It’s a story about memory and loss and how we use art to mediate experience. Gorgeously drawn, intelligently written, this is my favorite graphic novel of the year.
I am obsessed with Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat, who has her own obsession–ballet. She’s wonderfully annoying and pushy and self-involved and doesn’t understand some pretty basic requirements of friendship (not forcing everyone to only do what you want to do, for instance). She and Sparkles Pony come to an impasse when they can’t agree on a shared activity (actually it’s more like Ballet Cat can’t manage a compromise. It’s ballet or nothing), but then they share some secret secrets and work it out. Perfection.
Here is my bold claim of the day: in a year of strong picture books, Phillip Stead and Erin Stead’s Lenny & Lucy is the very best title published in 2015. The Steads have some pretty deep thoughts about the work of picture books, and Lenny & Lucy, more than any of their other books, exemplifies those philosophies and theories. It feels timeless; it’s complex; there are gaps and unresolutions (to make up a word) that might mystify the adult reader but invite the child reader to enter the story world.
I never get tired of books that mine the territory so beautifully explored in my favorite book from 2014, This One Summer, and though Roller Girl is, on the surface, very different from This One Summer, there are interesting similarities. I’m not sure that Roller Girl has been taken quite as seriously as a work of art as it should be. It ends happily, with dramatic success and resolution, rather than on the minor wistful key of a story like This One Summer or even Sunny Side Up. Roller Girl is about finding the place where we fit in and the people we most connect with. It’s about finding ourselves–and realizing that who we thought we were will change as we grow up.
What can I say about Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown? It’s the book that broke my reading slump and reminded me why I love to read–not to check off challenges, not to read the books I’m supposed to read because I need to teach them or book talk–but for the pure pleasure of sinking into story and getting lost in a fictional world.
I finished Sy Montgomery’s Soul of an Octopus last week and apparently completely forgot to blog about it!! It’s marvelous–the kind of nonfiction that provides the same pleasure of sinking into a story and getting lost. I had no idea octopuses were such fascinating creatures. So much interesting information about octopuses is shared, but Montgomery is after something bigger here: an argument that animals do, in fact, possess conscious thought. If you have either pets or common sense, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but humans really do struggle with the notion that we don’t have a monopoly on feelings, character, intelligence, and soul, so for many, this is probably a very out-there argument.
I agonized most, perhaps, over this pick. It was between this book and Last Stop on Market Street for the final spot in my Top 10, and I ended up going with Trombone Shorty because I’ve shared the book so many times and I’ve loved it more every time I’ve read it. It’s a celebration of family, music, dedication, and, perhaps most of all, place. It’s a gorgeous love letter to New Orleans and the creative inspiration it provides Troy Andrews.
The last book on my list is also about New Orleans. Don Brown’s exquisite Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans deserves all the awards this year. This is an incredible story about what people do when disaster hits. Brown’s art in this graphic novel is so powerful that he doesn’t need a lot of words to tell the story, but the words he does choose are equally powerful. Every time I read a book by Don Brown, I marvel at the artistry, and this is perhaps his best.