This week, we’re discussing our favorite reads of 2015. Here are mine!
THE END OF THE POINT: Finding a writer you love who’s been around for a while is like finding candy in your coat pocket. I picked up this novel in paperback — it was a New York Times Notable Book in 2014 — and was instantly swept up in the lilting cadence of Elizabeth Graver’s prose and the verisimilitude of her characters in this, her fourth book. In 1942, the Porter family arrives at their remote Massachusetts beach house to find the U.S. military has commandeered a neighboring property and stationed a small garrison there to defend the coast against German U-Boats. Graver follows the family and its Scottish “help” through the pivotal events of that summer and over the next fifty years in an intimate exploration of the power of maternal love to form and cripple, and the power of a place to nurture and confine.
BEAUTIFUL RUINS: Another late find, Jess Walter’s book is the novel I’ve recommended most during 2015. It truly has something for everyone: humor, pathos, exotic places, romance, war, and history. In 1962, a beautiful American actress arrives at a remote hotel (the “Hotel Adequate View” – ha!) along Italy’s rugged southern coast, dropped off by the assistant producer of “Cleopatra” for mysterious reasons. There she touches the heart of the young hotel proprietor, who, fifty years later, shows up in Hollywood, wanting to know her fate. In a hilarious, touching, and bravura feat of storytelling, Walters weaves together the narratives of at least a dozen characters strewn across time and place all the way from World War II Italy to the tawdry modern-day Hollywood of reality TV and hollow “blockbusters,” sticking the landing in one of the best final chapters I have ever read.
H IS FOR HAWK: I know this is on a lot of top ten lists this year, but I can’t help piling on, because I loved this book. Part memoir, part field guide to British birds, and part prose poem, this remarkable book is unlike anything you will ever read. When Helen Macdonald’s beloved father, a lifelong birder, died suddenly, she mourned him by attempting one of the most difficult tasks in falconry: taming a goshawk, the largest, most fearless avian predator in Europe. I could not have cared less about birds when I started this book — but that’s okay. It’s not about birds. It’s about loss. Not only a daughter’s loss of a father, but also the loss of freedom and of the last wild places on the earth, both represented by the captured, willful goshawk.
THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD. The final installment in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan cycle completes the half-century story of a complicated, honest friendship between two women. Born in a slum outside of Naples just after World War II, Lila and Lenu — both brilliant, both flawed — are bound not only by the common experience of being the smartest children in their neighborhood at a time when girls did not go to school beyond sixth grade, but by an emotional and intellectual competitiveness that is the single defining force in each of their lives. If you love character-rich storytelling, especially about women, these books are for you.
MIDDLEMARCH. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had never read George Eliot’s masterpiece before this year. I’m including it on this list as a reminder that the “classics” are still read today for a reason — in this case, Eliot’s scathing but subtle skewering of social expectations of women in the early nineteenth century. If there are any of the Greats out there that you haven’t read, make 2016 the year you read at least a couple of them!
Happy reading, everyone!
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