In no particular order, these are books that really stood out for me in 2015. You might want to read them too.
I'm not always a huge fan of graphic novels but this one was so fantastic. El Deafo is shelved as a Young Adult novel but I really think it is lovely for so many ages. In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most about this book was that Helen, who is 9, read it with me. Scratch that. I brought it home from the library and she stole it from me and read it first!
El Deafo is Cece Bell's memoir of hearing loss as a child. She tells of getting a Phonic Ear, a kind of hearing aid with a box that she wore on a necklace. I loved the way Bell wrote things as she heard them which kind of helps the reader feel like they are hearing impaired along with the author. The drawings are cute and quirky and really add to the story. Definitely worth reading.
I love books, I love food, I love books about food, this is a great novel about food. That's all you need to know about this book. I really enjoyed the way the author used different tastes and flavors as a way of telling the main character’s life story. It made me wonder how my life story would be told, probably through the lens of the books that were important at different stages of my life. It’s interesting to think of the many ways a person’s biography could be shared.
The main character of Kitchens of the Great Midwest is Eva Thorvald. Eva is a chef with a “once in a generation palate” who becomes successful for her pop up dinner parties. Her story is told through the ingredients and dishes that eventually form a dinner party menu that is her life story. She is a lovely heroine. She is kind, never gaining success at the expense of others. She is innovative and wants to explore the boundaries of her field but, at the same time, she honors the traditions of the past. Eva is a compelling foundation for the novel.
The food of Kitchens of the Great Northwest is also fantastic. I love a book with flavor and this book is flavorful in the extreme. My mouth burned when reading about the spicy pepper oil at the beginning. I could taste the bursting sweetness of the succotash. I experienced the perfection of the main character’s first fancy dining experience. The food descriptions told the story in ways other words couldn’t.
I enjoyed this one so much that I bought one as a Christmas present. Could be a present for you, I guess you'll find out soon enough :).
About halfway through the year I started listening to the All the Books podcast from Book Riot. It's usually about the week's new releases and is a reliable source for new additions to your to be read list. From time to time, though, they throw in recommendations for older books. I can't remember for sure when they recommended Stoner but I'm so glad I took notice of the recommendation.
Stoner is a quiet book about a quiet life lived honorably. The book opens with young John Stoner being given an unexpected opportunity to attend the state university. That start opens his eyes to the quiet pleasures of an academic life. He surprises his parents by changing his major from agriculture to English literature. The book then follows his career, initially very promising but stymied by a rival. In the end, though, he chooses to keep performing to the best of his abilities.
The book is a lovely meditation on solitude and the beauty of the mundane. While it doesn't have the theological depth of Marilynne Robinson's novels, I think her fans will enjoy this one.
I kind of think this book is a love letter to the church. Sarah Bessey's words constantly remind us of her deep love of Jesus and of the church. She is open about the ways she's been hurt, about the time she's doubted, about the ways she's changed over time. She is also very clear about the importance of community. I will read anything Sarah Bessey writes. In fact, are you reading her blog? You should be.
I am still thinking about this book. I feel like it might be the best book I read this year. I reviewed it here earlier this year. Read the review here.
On a non-book note, I love, love, love the Hamilton cast recording. I am not really a music fan usually but this is just so amazing. "My Shot" is an excellent running song, "Satisfied" brings me to tears every single time, "Dear Theodosia" is a lovely ode to parenthood, "The Room Where It Happens" is a favorite of my kids. Really, the whole album is worth listening to on repeat.