I make my list of favourites as I read through the year, which keeps the list short
These are my true favourites from a particular reading year, and they are marked with an * in the lists below.
My GoodReads tally and my bookish spreadsheet disagree; either I read 248 or 297 books in 2015, and 16 of those were on my favourites list.
One thing’s certain: if I’d known that either list had logged 297 books, I’d’ve sat myself down on New Year’s Eve and read 3 more!
That’s a far-and-away record for me and, ironically, in a year when I expected to read fewer, not more, books than usual.
But, of course, that includes rereads and plays, poetry and graphic novels, and middle-grade and children’s books (some of them illustrated, if I read them more than once, or spent serious time with them).
In recent years, I’ve been eager to get the list-making out of the way. Some of them have been pretty pointed. For this year, I took a hint from the 2012 list, which was not as succinct, but it captured more of the flavour of another great reading year.
Because often it’s not just about the particular books, but reading experiences. And narrowing it down to some very impressive titles doesn’t necessarily leave room to capture those elements, even if those are the very books which will remain on my shelves the longest.
Favourite Reading Experiences, 2015
Alice Munro reading project
It was amazing to read through all of her stories, to recognize continuities and changes. Some posts were short and sweet, others a little more scholarly in tone, and others were more about a personal response to the stories, particularly some of the rereads. The project inspired a lot of back-channel chatter, but most impressive was the generous enthusiasm for the stories.
Alistair MacLeod’s short stories, Island (2001)
In contrast to the Munro project, which played out across four years, these stories were easily contained within a year. If I say too much about the waves of melancholy that sometimes swept over me while or after reading one of these stories, it would override how beautiful they are (in terms of content and crafting). I suppose what I learned from them is that I can weep over a story and still want to read it again as soon as the type settles into place on the page once more. Over and over again, I was struck by this twinned feeling, and by the sense that this is why one puts words on a page, to do that thing he does, in these stories.
David Eso and Jeanette Lynes Where the Nights are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (2015)
I loved this collection and the ritual of reading just one or two letters daily. Some of the letters are poems, others actual letters; some of the writers felt like friends and others strangers; some days I raced through the pages, others I reread some a few times in a single session. Opening this volume daily reminded me how important it is to devote small segments to time to something you value.
Favourite – and Stand-out – Books, 2015
I waited too long to read you:
*Joan Clark’s The Birthday Lunch (2015)
*David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten (1999)
*Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy (1993)
A striking combination of a staid and measured style with an uncanny insight to unexpected parallels and connections; this frontier tale spins a yarn from cascading cowboys and shining Hollywood stars.
From writers whose previous works I’d loved:
*Pauline Holdstock’s The Hunter and the Wild Girl (2015) (See: Into the Heart of the Country)
Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family (1982) (See: The Cat’s Table)
Kathleen Winter’s Freedom in American Songs (2014) (See: Annabel)
And I had the whole, completely, entirely wrong idea about you, but you were a fine match:
*Judy Fong Bates’ Midnight at the Dragon Cafe (2004)
Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce (2008)
*Jocelyne Saucier’s and the birds rained down (2011; Translator Rhonda Mullins, 2012)
Both Bates and Saucier take a group of characters whose stories you might believe you can predict, then overturn those expectations, gracefully but determinedly: such memorable tales.
Not just for the kids:
Kyo Maclear’s The Good Little Book (Illustrator Marion Arbona, 2015)
Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine’s Child Soldier (Illustrator Claudia Davila, 2015)
Griffin Ondaatje’s The Mosquito Brothers (Illustrator Erica Salcedo, 2015)
Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2015)
A quietly mesmerizing coming-of-age of a young writer. My copy was flagged all over the place, even though I never posted about it here.
Sherman Alexie’s Flight (2007)
A slim YA volume from one of my MRE authors which I finished reading in a single session; I’ve thought about “Zits” so many times since.
Almost-unbearably, disturbingly good, the stuff of nightmares:
*Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (Translated Deborah Smith, 2015)
*James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods (2015)
An indepth consideration of these challenging and fascinating stories will follow; these are books which beg to be discussed, and maybe that’s the best kind?
Re-reads that won my heart this time around:
Bonni Goldberg’s Beyond the Words (2002)
Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book (2008)
Both of these bookish volumes were ones that I enjoyed the first time around, but the timing was just perfect this time. No matter what stage you are at with your writing, and no matter whether you loved the Narnia books or some other series when you were a kid, there’s something in each of these for every writer and every reader.
*Alistair MacLeod’s Island (2001)
Elaine McClusky’s Hello, Sweetheart (2014)
She has such a great way of focussing on characters who live on the margins, but while firmly planting herself right beside them so that the entire centre shifts. Lovely.
Ian Williams’ Not Anyone’s Anything (2011)
On the matter of cats:
*Lorna Crozier’s The Wrong Cat (2015)
Lois Simmie’s Mister Got to Go series (Illustrator Cynthia Nugent)
These not only made me want to have my own hotel and my own hotel cat, but they made me want to visit Vancouver and walk those rainy streets looking for strays.
Fresh starts, Series:
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
Kurtis J. Wiebe’s Rat Queens
Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga
I’ve tried Pratchett’s books before, but we never hit it off; this time it was a perfect match and I will definitely be reading on. Even though I’ve lost track of some of my favourite graphic novel series this year, Rat Queens and Saga have reminded me that I can’t look away from this scene for very long because there is always something awesome unfolding there. On a related note, I need to read more books with footed luggage, other planets and spaced-out (but still kick-a**) halflings.
*Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (1973)
Although decades old, Galeano combines poetry and politics in an unforgettable way.
Erin Noteboom’s The Mongoose Diaries (2007)
Better known as the writer Erin Bow, this diary of the early years of motherhood is strangely compelling: intimate and real.
Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun (2014)
Putting the common parenting practices of our age into a broader context makes for an interesting and engaging conversation.
Now, with a couple of months’ reading in 2016 behind me, I can see much of last year was spent laying the groundwork for this year’s reading patterns. I was working towards reading more from my shelves and less from the library’s shelves, and I was dabbling in a variety of categories to see which (if any) reading preferences belonged to another version of my reading-self.