I was going to do a “The 10 best books I read in 2015” but then I had 21 books and I cut that down but didn’t want to cull further.
Defining “best” is really hard, so one thing I’ve stuck to here is that I don’t think these are best sellers or widely recommended. The Martian was fantastic, so was Station Eleven and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but they’ve had quite a few headlines already so I’m throwing my support behind these lesser-known titles. Some you might not even have heard of, others are maybe floating around on a “some day” list and this will help solidify their place on your nightstand. Most aren’t from 2015, but this is when I read them.
In order of reading:
Ammonite, Nicola Griffiths
Fairly hard sci fi. An anthropologist visits a planet that was colonized 300 years ago, abandoned due to a virus, and where the few survivors have established a complex society.
Horrorstor, Grady Hendrix
This is the book that inspired the rule “If you put a pillow on top of it then it can’t get you” and also that made me scared of Ikea. I love horror books and this was top notch funny and scary.
The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
“A Curious History of Native People in North America” is the sub-title, and that about sums it up. Personal, funny and honest, King links the violence, land theft, government policies, and attempts at reparation between the US and Canada to give a comprehensive, if informal, history of North America post-colonization from the Native American/First Nation perspective.
Death and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov
Russian surrealism about a man who has adopted a penguin from the zoo because the city can’t afford to feed the zoo animals. He’s a writer who gets an off-the-books job to write profiles of local power players… who then start turning up dead.
Fledgling, Octavia Butler
Look, I love a good vampire myth retelling so maybe I’m biased, but Butler is a great writer and if the whole Twilight overload thing tainted the idea of vampires then this could be the palate cleanser you need. Modern, complex, engrossing… it’s the vampire world you kind of hope might be true. (Also if you like this try Daylight, by Elizabeth Knox.)
This Blinding Absence of Light, Tehar Ben Jelloun
Based on the testimony of a man who spent 18 years in an underground prison in Morocco. Literally underground – no light, little space to move. I honestly don’t have word to describe this book. It’s beautiful and haunting and occasionally funny. Never a comfortable read, but a book that I do think everyone should read.
White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi
I love Helen Oyeyemi. She does such interesting and compelling things with narrative and language. I think this might be my favourite of hers, but I’m finding it hard to describe. Miranda is a twin whose mother is gone (but what kind of gone?). She has a compulsion to eat chalk and is haunted by the house she lives in. Or is the house haunted by generations of women who lived there before her? Stop reading my description and go read the book.
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory
This was really fun and funny. What if every survivor of every horror movie/book met once a week for a support group? But what are the true motivations of the person who has brought them together… da da duuuuum.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin
One of the richest, most compelling fantasy books I’ve read in ages. This is the first in a series, I bought the compendium and read them all straight through. A girl from an outer province is brought to the ruling city as a pawn in a game of who will be king, but she’s got former gods on her side (or trying to get her on their side) and more family politics than Game of Thrones (that’s probably not true, I just wanted to make a relevant high-fantasy reference). Go. Read it. Then read the next two books.
Being There, Jerzy Kosinski
A hilarious, but frighteningly believable, novella about a man who might end up ruling the world… accidentally.
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
I can’t believe I didn’t read anything by Connie Willis until this year! A great book about time travel where everyone knows the rules of time travel… and then one of them gets broken and they have to figure out what that means for the past and the future.
Widow Basquiat, Jennifer Clements
This is kind of a memoir and kind of a biography and kind of a poem. Jennifer Clements was close friends with Suzanne Mallouk – Jean-Michel Basquiat’s long-time partner and muse – and recounts in vignettes their time together. It was Year of Basquiat for me and I loved it.
Lost Boi, Sassafras Lowry
You didn’t know you wanted to read a queer, punk, bdsm retelling of Peter Pan, did you? Well now you know and now it’s on your list!
Nevada, Imogen Binnie
Sardonic, self-distructive and disconnected from the world, Maria is a trans woman living in New York whose carefully balanced life tips over, leaving her reeling and trying to figure out what to do next… and whether $400 worth of heroin will help. Trans narratives by trans authors should be compulsory reading (see also: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, and Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote).