My year in fiction was at times more meh than I’d like to admit. I did read a lot of good books, but figuring out this list was a lot easier than it has been in years past. The first three titles on the list are my top three favorites, but honestly, A Bollywood Affair, The Martian, and Pride and Prejudice could just as easily have been in that third spot! Everything after the jump is in alphabetical order.
Sweetland by Michael Crummey (2015)
Sweetland is the clear standout this year. It’s the first book I read in 2015, and it’s one that I kept telling people about for a long time after. It’s about an old man on a remote island in Newfoundland who is set in his ways, the future be damned. It’s depressing as hell and to this day I still look at it on my shelf and want to die, but it wins 2015.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (2012)
Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella that’s set in New Beijing after the fourth World War; Cinder is a teenage cyborg who doesn’t know a thing about her past. I saw the book in stores for years and kept meaning to read it but never did, and now I hate myself for depriving myself of the series for so long because it’s really good!
Night at the Fiestas: Stories by Kirsten Valdez Quade (2015)
This collection is Kirsten Valdez Quade’s literary debut, and it’s amazing. A lot of the stories are set in New Mexico and are infused with Catholic, Mexican-New Mexican culture. From my review: “[It’s] a lovely, haunting, sometimes violent book.” It’s one of those rare collections where all of the stories are strong.
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (2014)
Mili Rathod was married off at the age of four; twenty years later, she’s waiting for her husband’s return. Instead, her brother-in-law shows up and tries to get her to sign papers to formally end the marriage. From my review: “[It’s] melodramatic and humorous and passionate and at times cheesy, and it is so, so, so much fun.”
Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang (1985)
This is a loosely autobiographical novel about a poet named Zhang Yonglin; he’s sent to a labor camp during China’s Cultural Revolution. It deals bluntly with male impotence, a taboo subject in Chinese culture, so it was quite a scandalous book at the time of its release. I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks.
The Martian by Andrew Weir (2014)
Mark Watney is mistakenly left for dead on Mars, and by the time anyone realises the error, it’s too late. A rescue mission is planned, but he’ll have to figure out a way to stay alive for well over a year until someone can reach him. Considering it features someone stuck by himself on a desolate planet, there’s a lot going on. It’s very entertaining.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Jane Austen is one of those authors that I always felt embarrassed for never having read, even though I’ve seen enough film and television adaptations to feel like I have. I get it now. Of all her novels, I know Pride and Prejudice‘s story the best, and I still finished with an “awwww” and a big ‘ol smile on my face.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen (2015)
I know, I know. It’s super cool to hate Franzen and call him a grumpy overrated douchebag, but I stand by this decision. He wrote a great book (which I’ve been mulling over for months now and am finally closer to properly writing about, so I’ll save specifics for that post). Haters gonna hate.
So Big by Edna Ferber (1924)
Selina Peake DeJong is dealt all kinds of hard blows in life in an era where women are much less empowered than they are now, yet she refuses to let life beat her down. She one of the most memorable heroines I’ve encountered in a long while. The book won a Pulitzer in 1925.
The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra (2015)
This is a book of connected short stories set in the 20th Century Soviet Union. The characters all suffer from the decades of Soviet rule in distinct ways, and the book’s reflections on war and family bonds are poignant. Marra’s writing — in particular, his descriptions of people and places — are phenomenal.