2015 Booklist

My ten favorite books that I read this year, in alphabetical order by author:

i love you more than you know

Jonathan Ames, I Love You More Than You Know

Impulsively picking up a used copy of this essay collection at The Book Trader in Philly, I cracked it open while sitting across from the fountain at Logan Square, and instantly found a new favorite writer. Ames’ candidness isn’t for everyone (the blurb describing him as “an edgier David Sedaris” is an understatement), but along with a willingness to depict himself in the worst possible light, he comes across as utterly sincere and human (and also laugh-out-loud funny). I’ve since devoured two more similar books of his, but this is the best of them.

bad kid

David Crabb, Bad Kid

Crabb and I are the same age. While my own teenage years differ from his considerably (he did copious amounts of drugs, whereas I was more (perhaps unintentionally) straight edge), I spent much of his memoir nodding my head in recognition. With a self-deprecating wit that keeps in check any hint of self-importance, he recounts what it was really like to be a (mostly closeted) gay high school student in the early ‘90s: the music, the fashion, the tempestuous rush of surging emotions and anxieties, all of it an evocative backdrop for his gradual journey to self-acceptance.

clasp

Sloane Crosley, The Clasp

Crosley’s first novel builds on the promise of her two earlier essay collections. Initially straightforward but increasingly more convoluted, its story, while tautly constructed is just a receptacle for its three distinct, cliché-free primary characters, college friends who reunite about a decade after graduation at a wedding. While her prose is as darkly funny as ever (especially via an ancillary character responsible for the book’s title), her three leads are never less than likable, despite their considerable neuroses and quirks.

purity

Jonathan Franzen, Purity

Franzen gets a lot of flack for being an unpleasant shit in real life, and that’s too bad because his latest doorstop of a novel might be his best yet. It has a finely drawn female protagonist, an ever-expanding supporting ensemble, a big but effective narrative twist halfway through and such timely concerns as the notion of privacy and the consequences of exposing it (a la Julian Assange). And, unlike a few other lengthy tomes I read this year, none of its 500+ pages felt unnecessary.

First Bad Man

Miranda July, The First Bad Man

This might July’s best work since her wonderful debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know ten years ago. However, it wouldn’t necessarily make for a great film—the peculiar symbiosis it details seems better suited to thought than action, which is not a bad thing, especially when confronted with a lead character as vivid, enigmatic, winning and annoying as Cheryl Glickman. July also excels at fully committing to a wildly strange and challenging concept until it nearly seems conventional (though thankfully her writing never is).

my struggle book two

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book 2: A Man In Love

I should probably reserve a spot on these year-end lists for each volume of Knausgaard’s six-part magnum opus as I make my way through them. Volume 2 is much longer than its predecessor, and yet even more concentrated, mostly confined to the author’s relationship with his wife. I fear I can’t do justice in describing just what these books achieve in the length of a small blurb, because via his singular point-of-view, Knausgaard can often alter one’s perception of the entire world.

how to build a girl

Caitlin Moran, How To Build A Girl

Moran’s deservedly a national treasure in the UK. While her first novel is no less Anglo-centric than her nonfiction work, it’s still essential for American anglophiles and for teenage girls of all cultures. Covering roughly the same time period as Bad Kid (that’s all the two books share in common), it’s explicitly autobiographical but Moran proves she can adapt her own coming-of-age into a story anyone can relate to without dumbing it down or obscuring its powerful feminist leanings.

markandvoid

Paul Murray, The Mark and The Void

If Skippy Dies was the quintessential modern comic novel about Irish boarding schools, Murray’s long-awaited follow-up does the same for investment banking—admittedly an unlikely milieu for the author’s Oscar Wilde-like humor, but his attention to those specific idiosyncrasies that really flesh out a character suggests he could take any setting and make it funny (and also riveting and considerably emotional). He even manages to insert an author character named Paul into the story without taking the reader out of it.

visions and revisions

Dale Peck, Visions and Revisions

Ever since his early landmark experimental novels, Peck has suffused his fiction with autobiographical elements (and vice-versa). Even this slim but potent “memoir” concludes with an extended prose poem of sorts. Still, for someone who has built up a self-mythology that’s not always easily discernible, it’s refreshing to read this actual autobiographical account—even one made up of letters, essays, journal entries and other ephemeral remnants of a life lived.

Fosse-by-Sam-Wasson

Sam Wasson, Fosse

Given my love of All That Jazz, I’ve always wanted to find out more about Bob Fosse’s life, to see how “real” a representation Roy Scheider’s alter ego was. Even at 700 pages, Wasson’s biography doesn’t provide a clear answer to that question, in part because Fosse was such a complex character himself. While the subject’s obsessiveness and perfectionism both make for an entertaining read, Wasson’s greatest achievement is simply detailing and lending context to Fosse’s own historic accomplishments.

My complete 2015 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):

1. Jason Heller, Taft 2012
2. Andrea Martin, Lady Parts
3. Bob Odenkirk, A Load of Hooey
4. Patton Oswalt, Silver Screen Fiend
5. David Thomson, The Big Screen: The Story of The Movies
6. Sam Wasson, Fosse
7. Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
8. Douglas Coupland, Generation A
9. Robert Hofler, Sexplosion!
10. Clifford Chase, Winkie*
11. Hilton Als, White Girls
12. Robert Christgau, Going Into The City
13. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book Two: A Man In Love
14. Miranda July, The First Bad Man
15. David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts*
16. Amanda Petrusich, Pink Moon (33 1/3 series)
17. Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole
18. Jonathan Ames, I Love You More Than You Know
19. Nick Hornby, Funny Girl
20. David and Joe Henry, Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him
21. Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again At A Decent Hour
22. Tracey Thorn, Naked At The Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing
23. Julia Glass, The Widower’s Tale
24. Dale Peck, Visions and Revisions
25. Jonathan Ames, My Less Than Secret Life
26. Gina Arnold, Exile in Guyville (33 1/3 series)
27. Kurt Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House*
28. Maria Semple, This One Is Mine
29. Isaac Oliver, Intimacy Idiot
30. Caitlin Moran, How To Build A Girl
31. Barney Hoskyns, Hotel California
32. Jack Kerouac, On The Road*
33. William Hjortsberg, Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan
34. David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and other Essays
35. Jonathan Lethem, Lucky Alan and Other Stories
36. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay*
37. Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City
38. Jonathan Ames, The Double Life Is Twice as Good
39. Jonathan Franzen, Purity
40. Hanya Yanagihara, The People In The Trees
41. Daniel Clowes, The Complete Eightball 1-18
42. Jim Gaffigan, Food: A Love Story
43. Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters*
44. Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing In America, The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster and In Watermelon Sugar
45. Paul Murray, The Mark and The Void
46. Sloane Crosley, The Clasp
47. David Crabb, Bad Kid
48. Derek Jarman, Modern Nature*

Beyond the top ten, I also really liked the beautifully reprinted edition of Clowes’ indispensible alt-comic book (the original home of Ghost World), Yanagihara’s unique and unsettling debut novel (her follow-up, A Little Life is my most anticipated read of 2016), Andrea Martin’s memoir (a reminder as to why she should be a national treasure), the Toltz novel (a dollar bin find!) and Oliver’s promising debut essay collection. Since I spent nearly three months wading through it, I also have to mention Hjortsberg’s alternately dazzling and redundant Brautigan biography; it might’ve made my top ten if it was half its actual length.

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