Believe or not, I do, in fact, read things published after 1935. The last week of December, for example, I spent burning through the wonderful, weird world of Archie AU* in a desperate attempt to meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge (Comic books count as books right? Shut up. I read Anthony Adverse this year.).
Actually I read many amazing books this year, some of them capital-“G” Great Books. I even had to narrow my list down this time, to the ones I was truly passionate about. And it is that carefully curated list which I present to you now. Ladies and gentlemen, my top four most-loved books discovered in 2015 are:
4. Go Set a Watchman (2015) There are many books that didn’t make my list which are technically better than Go Set a Watchman. Harper Lee’s long-awaited sequel felt like an unedited first draft. Possibly because it is an unedited first draft. It has weird inconsistencies, tone shifts, and long boring passages about the history Maycomb.
But this book stayed with me on an emotional level in a way those more well-written ones didn’t. Maybe it’s because I’m around the newly-adult Scout’s age, making the issues she’s going through especially poignant, namely, establishing an identify separate from your family, even a family you love.
Not to mention I really liked what it added to larger picture of the TKAM world. Out of context, To Kill a Mockingbird is basically a perfect book. In the context of American society, however, it carries an undeniable amount of questionable cultural baggage. It’s icky that the one book about race high school students read is written by a white woman, for instance. It also reinforces (maybe even started?) the problematic white savior trope.
And even though Go Set A Watchman was written first, it almost feels like it was written in response to those very issues. We the readers, along with Scout, see our childhood hero fall. Atticus Finch, it turns out, is not a savior; he’s just a man, a complicated man who grew up in the deep South during the Civil War, no less, with all the attendant biases and weaknesses. (And it’s a great credit to first book that we were too immersed in her childish hero-worship to realize it).
And no, I don’t agree with those who think this book “ruined” Atticus as a character. It is perfectly consistent for a person to have a code of ethics that disapproves of an innocent being executed, while still having a big honking personal blind spot labeled “racism” (But I do feel bad if you named your kid Atticus or got his name tattooed or something. That sucks.).
3. From Hell (1999) The highest compliment I can give this book is I wish I could read it again for the first time. This very graphic graphic novel, written by the great graphic novelist Alan Moore, is a conspiracy-laden interpretation of Jack the Ripper. It’s hardly a whodunnit, but instead, an investigation into the culture that made the Ripper, not just the man, but the phenomenon. The rising press and its use as an outlet for scandal, the depravity of the London slums, the 19th century obsession with the occult, the very architectural bones of London itself all come together in this fascinating, well-researched, and highly dubious story.
2. Golem and the Jinni (2013) Like Kindred last year, The Golem and the Jinni feels like a story written specifically for me. Here, the Venn diagram includes a complex fantasy plot rich in lesser-known mythology; retro New York City featuring many romps through Central Park; a wonderfully despicable villain; and a gentle, wise rabbi. What I love most about the setting is that, rather than taking place in overplayed glamorous New York, this story is immersed in the Big Apple’s thriving immigrant communities (Yiddish and Syrian, respectively), which are rendered in vivid and well-researched detail.
1. Station Eleven (2014) Until the last month of the year, I would not have believed I could find a book I loved more than The Golem and the Jinni, certainly not a post-apocalyptic one. But, guys, Station Eleven…really, I think you should just go read it now and not let my opinions interfere with your own beautiful journey of discovery.
Well, since you chose not to listen to me, let me tell you just a few of the many things I loved about this book: It makes great use of flashbacks, giving equal time to both before and after The Event. And the characters are so interesting and well-drawn I care just as much about their divorces and mid-life crises as their survival in the lawless afterworld.
It is one of the few apocalyptic stories I’ve seen where the end of society was caused by random chance, rather than humans, something the characters themselves struggle to accept. In fact, thematically, it ties in really well with a nonfiction book I reviewed last year, The Hot Zone, which makes the terrifying observation that in today’s world, every world- ending epidemic on the planet is only one plane ride away.
It explores the power, the danger, the necessity of art, using love-of-my-life William Shakespeare as a reoccurring motif.
It has an impressibly diverse cast of characters (in the race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation sense), without making a thing about.
It is genuinely frightening without feeling heavy, dark, or hopeless.
Really, Station Eleven is the kind of book I am so passionate about it actually makes me less eloquent instead of more. Just go read it, is really all I’m trying to say.
* To my everlasting shame, I loved it.