This year I read 30 books. It was really hard to choose the ten best, since I almost always stop reading a book if it doesn’t grab me immediately. I don’t want to be redundant, so I will say this one time. Every book on this list met the Cannot-Put-This-Down-And-Am-Therefore-Up-Way-Past-My-Bedtime Criteria. Unfortunately, there were a few books I couldn’t put down that didn’t make the list. (One of those was mine. If it’s weird that I couldn’t put it down, ok. But it’s true). If you want to know everything I’m reading, and let me know what’s going on in your reading life, connect with me on Goodreads. It’s like Facebook for bibliophiles and I love it. Alternatively, shoot me an email if you need a recommendation or want to give one. I love talking books!
My ten favorite books of 2015 are listed in the order in which I read them, with the most recent first.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. The book begins just after World War I on an island in Australia where a couple tends to the lighthouse. They are shocked when a rowboat carrying a dead man and an infant washes up on shore. The wife, who has just been through two miscarriages, and just two weeks prior, a stillbirth, begs her husband not to report it- at least not right away. As the only people on the island they live a happy, sheltered life as a family, aside from the sharp sense of guilt that gnaws at the the husband. Meanwhile, on the mainland, a woman is bereft over the mystery of her missing baby and husband. When the two families inevitably cross paths, there is no choice available that will satisfy all of the parties involved. I identified with all of the characters, wanting each of them to be happy, yet knowing that the happiness of one would destroy the others.
Kissing In America By Margo Rabb. This book is about a teenage girl who lost her dad in a plane crash. While her relationship with her mom is complicated by the mere fact of her being a teenager, it is stressed further by the fact that she and her mom grieve very differently from one another. This book is a coming of age story, but it’s also about mothers and daughters, love, female friendship, and self-discovery.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. When a teenage girl mysteriously drowns in the neighborhood lake, her family is desperate for answers. They know she couldn’t swim. So what was she doing alone on the lake at night? To understand the motivations of a character who never has a chance to speak for herself, Ng takes the reader on a journey that begins with her parents’ meeting. The truth of her parents’ identities, the intricacies of their marriage, and the ways in which their own experiences shape the lives of their deceased daughter and her two siblings is revealed to the reader in a way that makes it impossible not to fall in love with the entire dysfunctional family. This book is just as much a murder mystery as it is a novel about race, gender, and family dynamics.
Friendship by Emily Gould. If the HBO series Girls were a novel, I feel like this would be it. This is the story of two college friends whose paths diverge after graduation. It explores the intricacies of female friendship in a way that had me nodding my head and wondering if Gould had been spying on me and my roommates in our early 20’s. The main difference between us and the characters in this book is that we didn’t have smartphones. Will you like this book if you’re nothing like me (eg white, upper middle class female who is obsessed with the show Girls)? Maybe, maybe not. But this one really resonated with me.
Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now edited by Ann Imig. I don’t care if you are a mother. You have a mother. Or else you have a big, huge hole in your heart because you didn’t. No matter who you are, if you love good storytelling, you will love this book. Told through the lens of motherhood, these stories are about the joy, the pain, and everything in between, of the human experience. Some of my favorites: The Meat Grinder, the story of a woman whose grandmother teaches her the importance of valuing herself, Does Your Mom Play Drums?, about the former punk rocker mom who gets on stage for her ten year old son’s Nirvana act at the school talent show, and Monkey, Speak, where a mom shares the joy and the heartache that results from her refusal to censor her daughter’s speech. Each story was about two pages or so, which made it all too easy to read “just one more.”
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. A sad, single woman with an alcohol problem and a vivid imagination sees a couple on their patio through the commuter train window every morning on her way to work. Unable, or unwilling, to separate fact from fiction, she creates a story about them and their life in her mind. When the woman goes missing, she is beside herself with fear and worry, and makes it her business to find out what happened to her and who is responsible. Hawkins takes the reader on a dark, suspenseful journey through the pages of this book. The chapters are short and the pace is fast. It reminded me of Gone Girl, which I loved.
The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegal. I rarely read parenting books, but this one was recommended to me. I find myself thinking about it frequently, and not just when it relates to my kids. The basic premise of the book is that you have to understand some basic neuroanatomy in order to best support your child’s emotional development. (I happen to really enjoy geeking out on neuroscience-type stuff, but even if you don’t, this book breaks it down in a very manageable way.) The best part of this book was that it helped me understand not just my kids’ brains, but my and my husband’s brains, too. It explains why, from a neurological perspective, there’s a good reason why sometimes I just need to cry and be hugged, instead of having Dan try to fix whatever is stressing me out. It’s the same reason why, when my kid is having a total meltdown over the fact that I cut her sandwich wrong, it’s useless to explain that you get what you get and you don’t get upset- until she has calmed down. And in the meantime, I’m not spoiling her by offering a silent snuggle. Did that make any sense? Read the book. It was a game changer for me.
The Husband’s Secret by Lianne Moriarty. When a married mother of three, with a seemingly perfect life discovers that her husband is not exactly who she thought he was, she is faced with a major dilemma. This book is about honesty, relationships, and loyalty. It also serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t judge our insides against anyone else’s outside. Moriarty has a way of drawing you in from the first page, so that you just have to know what’s going to happen to her characters. This one had me constantly wondering, “What would I do if something like this happened to me?” It was fun to discuss at book club.
When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald. Yes, the Molly Ringwald. She’s not just an 80’s pop culture icon, she’s a fantastic writer, too. I read this one nearly a year ago, but I still find myself remembering random scenes from this book, as if I was there myself, or maybe I dreamed them. The book reads like a collection of short stories, but as it unfolds, you realize that each of the characters are connected to each other in some way. This book is about many things, among them love, betrayal, and infertility. What I loved about it was the way Ringwald fills you in on all the details of one particular aspect of the story, only to zoom way out, giving you a broader view of how that one story fits into a larger context, and has you shaking your head as you realize the situation is not just as you thought.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. If you’ve never read anything by Gawande, go read this, or any of his others, now. He’s a surgeon and an excellent writer, and he’s deeply concerned about the ethics of medicine. This book gets into the issues Americans face at the end of life. Gawande tackles the issue from multiple perspectives- not just as a physician, but also as a human, having watched his own father at the end of his life. He has a really engaging way of weaving statistics in with anecdotes he has culled from his experience as a physician and from his own family.