Inspired by the long-running annual series from The Millions, Libretto presents the best books we read in 2015 – regardless of year of publication.
This was the year that I rediscovered J.D. Salinger. After over a decade spent sharing my initial, less-than-savory opinion of The Catcher in the Rye with everyone who would listen, I decided I should revisit it to see if I really did still hate it as much as I professed to. Turns out, just because a character is annoying and insipid, doesn’t make the book itself annoying and insipid. I still hate Holden Caulfield, but now I like the book. But the real treasure wasn’t my newfound appreciation for Catcher, but the fact that it led me to Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, all of which I read in quick succession early this year. It was through his marvelous short stories that I truly came to know and love Salinger.
Laurent Binet’s HHhH challenged my understanding of what a novel could be. According to the back cover blurb, it tells the story of two Czech resistance fighters in their attempt to kill Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s close confidante and the orchestrator of the Final Solution. But the novel manages to be both a heart-pounding thriller and a meditation on the blurry relationship between fact and fiction. Binet himself is a character in the book, struggling to write the very novel we are reading by dragging the events out of the mire of history.
Elena Ferrante and Lucia Berlin are two authors who have been the subjects of much critical discussion lately, and I can say without reservation that they are both worth the hype. A Manual for Cleaning Women collects some of the most memorable stories by Berlin, who died in 2004. Ferrante is the enigmatic author of the Neapolitan Novels, the last of which was released this year. In sharp contrast to the many writers who maintain extraordinarily public personas on Twitter or Tumblr, Ferrante has Pynchonesquely managed to keep almost all biographical information about herself a secret.
Some other noteworthy titles from my 2015 reading list include: A Sport and a Pastime, by the late James Salter; A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura; Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James.