Bustle Books Writers Pick Their Favorite Books Of The Year
Not to brag, but the Bustle Books writing team is serious #SquadGoals for all book nerds out there. We literally make it our business to read as much as we can, across the spectrum from fiction to nonfiction to young adult to children's books. So if you are looking for serious book recommendations on what you may have missed this year, we're here to help. Our writing squad pulled together to offer up each of our favorite books of the year. (OK, fine, picking favorites is near impossible, so sometimes we picked two ... or, OK, fine: three.)
Do you have a favorite Bustle Books writer that you follow for all of her great book recs? You can scroll right to her and jot down her picks. You'll see some recommendations repeated across different writers, and sometimes you'll find under-appreciated books that are getting their due by dedicated readers. There are big names and lesser-known writers, debuts and anticipated follow-ups. There's even a picture book. But as always, we love to shout out some of our favorite ladies in the industry who captivated us with their works this year.
So take a peek into what we were reading this year (it was a lot) and what stood out as some of our favorite picks of 2015.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was one of my favorite new books of 2015. I thought that not only was its backstory fascinating given the fact that it was set in a world that was originally introduced by Rowell in the book Fangirl, but the world itself was wonderfully fleshed out and very fascinating. Of course there is the added bonus of it being an LGBT love story and Carry On worked it into the story without it being the entire story, and I thought that was really special.
Probably a million people will pick this buuut... Asking For It by Louise O'Neill has been without a doubt the most powerful book I've read this year. I read it all in one day, and was then left sobbing in my bed because it was so real, and so harrowing. Asking For It challenges everything that is said about rape. It doesn't shy away from presenting a victim that does things "wrong" (as if that was in an acceptable way to describe a rape victim...) — so you're left with no room to make lame excuses for this ~particular~ victim; you have to admit that no woman is EVER "asking for it". I will officially be reading anything else O'Neill has to write, because I just know that it will be changing the world.
The other book that I loved this year has been Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. I didn't put it down all day, despite being on an away weekend with a group of friends who were not particularly happy at me for ignoring them! Forget your favorite genre; this novel covers them all. I was hooked when it was a twisted romance; I was gripped when it became a compelling social commentary; I was absolutely riveted when it turned into something else entirely... (no spoilers!)
I know, I know. Everyone may be sick of hearing about it at this point, but even though The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was one of the first major book releases of the year, it remained one of my favorites despite everything else that came after it! It's hard for a book to keep me guessing, but Hawkins did.
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but with Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, it was hard not to (in a good way!) The shiny flowers draw you in, but the beautifully written, heartbreaking story of affairs and love will keep you there. I fell in love with the first page, and couldn't put it down. Even months later, I'm still thinking about it!
I loved the newest book in J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mystery series, aka Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil. I thought the first book in the series was a compelling mystery, and the second book had great characterization, but the third had both and was captivating from start to finish. I took this book with me everywhere because I couldn't put it down.
Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes was my favorite YA read of the year. The characters were interesting, and the world building was clear and vivid. The concept was interesting, but most importantly, the writing was strong enough to back it up, which made me an instant fan. Plus the story had some twists I didn't see coming, which is rare. I'm anxious to read the next in the series! Both of these books (sort of) had cliffhanger endings, which I usually don't like... because I NEED to know what happens next! So here's to a new year, when I'll hopefully get the answers I want so desperately!
I was a huge fan of her humor essays, so I had high hopes for The Clasp by Sloane Crosley and she didn't disappoint. You still get her funny, offbeat observations, but there’s also an element of suspense that I didn't expect. I thought her depiction of Los Angeles was a little bit stereotypical, but besides that I loved the book. It looks at those friendships you forge in college or in your early 20s, and what happens to them as you all move apart physically and emotionally.
I also loved Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You. It was surprisingly poetic and emotional — I cried more than once for sure. There’s a chapter about her father that’s a real tearjerker, and some of her stories about bad boyfriends are pretty funny and relatable.
Also, I wrote a book called Brokenomics that came out this year — can I recommend that one? I definitely think everyone should check it out!
Photojournalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Lynsey Addario is everything I want to be as a writer and artist, and her singular dedication to taking her audience deep into the individual lives behind all the newspaper headlines is inspiring. With an artful balance of strength amidst vulnerability, the words and images contained in her memoir It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War do everything that great journalism is supposed to — dive headfirst into spaces of destruction and strive to find the truth within the confusion, the hope within the heartache, and the goodness within the horror. We need more truth-tellers like Addario, who dare to step close enough to danger to capture the intimate, human faces of war.
Maggie Nelson’s memoir The Argonauts is a small in page count, but her message packs an intense punch. She writes truthfully about the challenges of family, partnership, and motherhood without ever giving any indication that her own self is becoming diminished in the midst of her evolution into these new roles. You get the sense from this book that Nelson is a writer who looks life in the face and doesn’t flinch — one for whom domestic partnership and motherhood expand, rather than detract from, her identity. It’s beautiful.
Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam has its own special magic: It's a book that will both comfort you and electroshock you. The story of a Bangladeshi family in Brooklyn during the 2000s, the book is centered on their lives during a summer of transformation, from the older daughter, Ella's, attempts to understand her own sexuality and her life-long hallucinations, to the father, Anwar's, struggle with temptation and regret. Pulsating with rich characters and told with exquisite prose, Bright Lines leads you through explorations of sexuality, gender identity, faith, culture, family and more.
Sometimes it's easy to forget the books we really read earlier in the year, but Elisa Albert's After Birth has managed to stay with me. A raw and unfiltered look at motherhood, Ari's inability to find stability a year after the difficult birth of son reminds us how much we still need to discuss when it comes to the expectations society places on women. After Birth is unflinching and not afraid of presenting women who say "screw you" to any unlikable female character stereotypes.
I hate to play favorites when it comes to books. But out of all the books I read this year, one made me laugh out loud more than any other (earning me several strange looks on the subway), and that was Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me? Kaling's second memoir is full of wit and wisdom: her humor is sharp, but she can still keep it real when she needs to.
Out of all the fiction I read this year, however, the biggest pay-off was almost certainly Saga: Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Saga goes to show just how beautiful, smart and inventive a comic can be, and the fifth collected volume did not disappoint. It's worth checking out even if you're not usually the comic book type, because this is a story that transcends its medium.
I read so many great books in 2015, it’s difficult to narrow it down to my top two favorites. In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen was what I wanted The Interestings to be, with its tangled web of interconnected characters. I reviewed Find Me, a lyrical dystopian novel by Laura van den Berg, right here on Bustle, and I think everyone else should read it, too. If I can sneak in a third: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is the most intense, immersive reading experience I’ve had since A Secret History.
Although 2015 inundated us with engaging, enthralling, and genuinely exceptional works of adult fiction and nonfiction, as the new year approaches and I think back on the books that captured my heart this past year, one particular children's book stands out. With Last Stop on Market Street, Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson perfectly capture the spirit of a bus ride across town, presenting characters and conundrums we all feel keenly in our daily lives and so rarely stop to ponder. Questions like "why don't I have an iPod just like everyone else on the bus" hover delicately in the air and overlap with concerns about the strange figures and foreign places that all come together on a long commute. Lovingly diverse, yet achingly familiar, Last Stop on Market Street is a book that represents a new world — my world — a world of inequalities and variations, a world of love, compassion, and mystery — a world well worth exploring through Peña and Robinson's exceptional storytelling, whether you're 6, 16, or 60.
Even if short story collections aren't your standard fare, Mia Alvar's In the Country: Stories is well worth a read. Each narrative is full of captivating characters and vibrant settings, and captures aspects of Filipino culture and history through various lenses. Alvar writes beautifully and makes it impossible to refrain from feeling emotionally involved.
I'm addicted to nonfiction, and this year's Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman blew me away. These are untold stories of women on the fringes of history who did fascinating, bold, incredible things that were left out of the text books. The characters are vibrant, the writing is superb, and the stories are the kind you can't wait to share with someone else.
As if Portlandia and the Sleater-Kinney discography weren't enough to pluck a little tune with my heartstrings. And as if Carrie Brownstein, a glimmering yet underrated role model in both the comedy and music industries, hadn't already won me over after she "put a bird on it." Her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, released in October, accounts her time spent on and off the road with '90s punk outfit Sleater-Kinney, railing the streets of Olympia, Washington when punk when was in its prime and derailing sexism in the industry. A self-portrait written in Brownstein's notoriously charming voice, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is both a naked self-portrait and an unconventional, unapologetic voice for women in music.
I read Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser in a single sitting one night, and it felt like I was at the coolest sleepover ever. Glaser's debut novel is the story of two girls who become intense friends at art school. That their lives diverge after college doesn't give away the gut-punch of an ending. What makes this book worth checking out is the writing, which is snarky and funny and so unpretentious — a total feat when chronicling kids who use slang like "crit" (for critique). You'll laugh out loud while reading this — and then immediately track down Glaser's previous books: Moods, a collection of poetry, and Pee On Water, short stories.
She's a darling of the Paris Review and the author of McGlue, a brutal novella about a drunken sailor with a haunted past that anyone who's battled inner demons will relate to; in Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh shows what happens when literary writers tackle the psychological thriller genre: their protagonists chew and spit chocolates and, without shame, stalk their crushes. This dark page-turner explores the age-old compulsion of radical reinvention — the main character, Eileen, is burning to erase herself — and the lengths people will go to to achieve their transformations.
Olivay by Deborah Reed: This year was marred by acts of terrorism large and small, domestic and abroad. It's difficult to process and quantify these relentless tragedies, but Reed makes a Boston bombing-like attack feel tangible and human in its catastrophe by shrinking the lens down to two people trapped in an apartment. This is a novel that explores the spectrum of ways we torture one another — and most importantly, sabotage our own hearts. The captivating characters Reed renders are as complicated, flawed and beautiful as our very troubled world.
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller: Like the darkest of Grimm's fairy tales, Fuller's debut novel is a lush, engrossing nightmare in the woods. This harrowing novel reveals the saga of a young girl kidnapped by her doomsdayer father, and the creative, desperate, wondrous ways she discovers to survive. The writing is simple, the story is haunting, and the last paragraph is a kick in the teeth. A book to remember all year long.
Spinster by Kate Bolick: This memoir-slash-microhistory weaves together the history of single women, a few mini-biographies of famous spinsters, and Bolick's own experiences as a woman with relationship wanderlust and a desire to be independent. It's an incredible book that every woman should read.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: I'm pretty much forcing this book on everyone I know. Eat, Pray, Love author Liz Gilbert's guide to creative living has all the inspiration you need to follow your bliss, even if it doesn't pay the bills.
You sir, you took my order, my pulse, my bullshit; to you, boy grown up, the gentleman, soldier, professor, or caveman; to you and that guy at the concession stand; thank you for lying on the hood of that car and watching stars plummet, thank you for the tour of the elevator cage, the sound booth, the alley; thank you for the kaleidoscope, the get-well tequila, the painting, the truth...
It was that moment, just handful of words into Mary-Louise Parker's Dear Mr. You, in the introduction, mind you, that I was hooked. My favorite favorite memoir writer is Mary Karr, and perhaps some of her vibe and 'tude rubbed off on Parker while the actress started to play Karr in the upcoming TV series. I'll admit, I was dubious about a celebrity collection of essays (or letters in this case), but I'm here to admit I was wrong: I loved it.
I laughed so hard listening to the audiobook of Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me? on the bus that the man next to me got up and moved seats. Why can't she be my BFF? And when it comes to YA, I had the most fun spending time in Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes world. I found myself thinking about it trying to fall asleep, when I was shampooing in the shower, and when I was trying to write about any other book. That's what a writer is supposed to do.
Image: Caroline Wurtzel for Bustle