The Best Books I Read in 2015

January 11, 2016

I didn't want to let the first part of January go by without paying some homage to my favorite reads of last year. Just a single one of these picks was published in 2015; I found the majority of my joy in backlist books and, to no one's greater surprise than my own, backlist audio books. I can't believe I was staunchly refusing to listen to them back in July. Your loss, past Shaina.

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin

I first read Le Guin this year during a fabulous buddy-read of The Lathe of Heaven with Julianne, but this second book took the Ursula cake for me. This is middle-grade at its finest, with (non-white!) wizards and friendship and journeys across the sea, all with the goal of discovering that some of our worst demons live inside of us, and we're just going to have to make room. I still want to distribute this to every child I see.

All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld

Oh, I don't even think I have words here (except the ones I linked to above). That's what Wyld's debut does to you; it sucks you into its unnerving atmosphere and takes your breath away, leaving you awestruck by its sparse, fragile beauty and fearful of what could have possibly happened to our heroine to get her where she is. If you're a fan of the unsettling, find this one ASAP. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari

The one 2015 debut and nonfiction read on my list! Hari skillfully weaves together the story of the American war on drugs and hits on all the topics that make me twitch, including the racism ingrained in how drug laws are enforced and how poorly we really understand drug addiction. Infuriating? Yes. Fascinating, accessible, and well-researched? Also yes. Anyone who cares a whit about these topics would get a lot out of this one.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

Another one I simply don't have words for. June might be a teenaged protagonist, but, if the book club I read this with is any indication, all ages can enjoy this relentless gut-punch of a read. Be prepared for grieving families, AIDS, and all of the hidden-away love that can possibly be crammed into one book. I will bankroll Carol Rifka Brunt if it means she'll give me an experience even remotely close to Wolves in the near future.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey (audio)

This book left me all kinds of conflicted. This story packs in some of the most memorable characters I've ever read, due in large part to Tom Parker's unparalleled performance, and the focus on mental illness and the thorny pit of modern masculinity are all up my alley. But then I remember the treatment of every single woman in the book, and I'm uncertain all over again. The sheer amount of time I spent turning this one in my mind earns it a spot among my top reads.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (audio)

I haven't written a proper review for this one yet. I finished the book while trapped in the Denver airport last month, and all I could do afterward was whine incoherently and drink another margarita. This book is the very definition of sprawling, and yet Irving somehow brings it all together in the end and manages to avoid it feeling too neat. I didn't think anything could top The Cider House Rules for me, but Owen Meany did just that.

Next year, I hope more than one nonfiction selection makes this list. My nonfiction reading picked up considerably at the end of last year and the start of this year (*cough* 36-hour Hamilton audio book *cough*), and I hope this trend continues and helps me find some new, semi- to fully-factual favorites.

I would ask you to share your favorites of 2015, but I think you all beat me to this post by a mile. Have you read any of my picks? What did you think?

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