My year in reading was one of empathy. The voices and narrators behind these books enlarged my world in the way only books can do: permanently and with the bighearted force of being alive in in the world today. (NB: Most of these are 2015 releases, with a couple from previous years.)
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Smarter people than I have dozens of pieces about this one. (Go read them.) To the awards, hosannas, and bestseller lists I would only add: every American teenager should read this.
The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Monique Wittig blew my mind in college; Nelson put it back together again. If only we could all be as trenchant, honest, and intelligent about love and family. Have you ever underlined every sentence in a book?
Treasure Island!!!, Sara Levine
There are plenty of comic novels about self-destructive monsters, but none of them have used classic literature as a cudgel against the millennials’ post-college doldrums. Someone in Hollywood should hand Levine a big check to do whatever she wants.
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, Will Chancellor
An adventure novel with a dead-on parody of the art world. Ulysses, water polo, Baudrillard, and Iceland collide in Chancellor’s wonderful story of an errant father and son shedding former lives for strange new ones.
Counternarratives, John Keene
A perfect fictional pairing with Coates’s book. Keene is flat-out brilliant, reinventing short fiction with the flair and maturity of the late David Foster Wallace.
The Following Story, Cees Nooteboom
Kundera’s always left me cold, but I warmed to his spiritual Dutch cousin. This novella is reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman’s best work, where giddy experimentation gives way to serious inquiry into death and memory. Plus it’s funny.
Making Nice, Matt Sumell
Everyone who reads Jesus’ Son wants to write like Denis Johnson, and no one can. Except for Sumell.
Monastery, Eduardo Halfon
A globe-trotting Guatemalan Jew picks at the seams of modern identity. Our Latin American Geoff Dyer.
The Miraculous, Raphael Rubinstein
I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t enjoy this book. The only problem with these campfire tales about contemporary art is they don’t continue for a thousand pages.
B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal, J. C. Hallman
This comes practically swaddled in red flags: A book-length love letter to Nicholson Baker? Why? Really? Yes. And it’s great fun. Hallman charges ahead as the world tries to ruin his literary project, his relationships, and his life.
The Maintenance of Headway, Magnus Mills
The bus driver novel you didn’t know you needed. With a light touch Mills shows us the beauty and comedy of London’s transit system, while reminding us bureaucracy is, at the end of the day, socially acceptable derangement.
The “I’m Getting to It” Pile
I’m reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. It’s amazing, but I doubt I’ll finish it before 2016.