Sunday, December 6, 2015

100 Notable Books of 2015



100 Notable Books of 2015



Sunday Book Review
NOV. 27, 2015



The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.



Fiction & Poetry

BEATLEBONE. By Kevin Barry. (Doubleday, $24.95.) In razor-sharp prose, Barry’s novel imagines John Lennon in 1978, on a journey through the west of Ireland in search of his ­creative self, conversing with an Irish driver.

THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT. By Helen Phillips. (Holt, $25.) An administrative worker’s experiences pose existential questions in Phillips’s riveting, drolly ­surreal debut novel.

BEAUTY IS A WOUND. By Eka Kurniawan. Translated by Annie Tucker. (New Directions, paper, $19.95.) A novel about Indonesia’s turbulent 20th century.

CITIZEN: An American Lyric. By Claudia Rankine. (Graywolf, paper, $20.) A meditation, in prose poems, images and essays, on what it means to be black in our ­racially divided society.

CITY ON FIRE. By Garth Risk Hallberg. (Knopf, $30.) Hallberg’s ambitious ­Dickens-scale descent into New York City circa 1976‑77 doesn’t shortchange the era’s squalor. Many of its characters are lost kids in flight from their parents.Photo
Illustration by João Fazenda

THE COMPLETE STORIES. By Clarice Lispector. Edited by Benjamin Moser. Translated by Katrina Dodson. (New Directions, $28.95.) The Brazilian was one of the true originals of Latin American literature.

DELICIOUS FOODS. By James Hannaham. (Little, Brown, $26.) This ambitious, sweeping novel of American captivity and ­exploitation involves an addicted mother laboring on a commercial farm.

THE DOOR. By Magda Szabo. Translated by Len Rix. (New York Review, paper, $16.95.) Szabo’s haunting 1987 novel examines the bonds between two very different women in Communist Hungary.

DRAGONFISH. By Vu Tran. (Norton, $26.95.) In Tran’s elegant and entertaining novel, a cop searches for his ex-wife, a ­haunted Vietnamese immigrant, in the sleazy ­underbelly of Las Vegas.

FATES AND FURIES. By Lauren Groff. ­(Riverhead, $27.95.) Groff’s complex and remarkable novel about marriage offers two critically different narratives, first from the husband’s point of view, then from the wife’s.

THE FIFTH SEASON. The Broken Earth: Book One. By N.K. Jemisin. (Orbit, paper, $15.99.) In Jemisin’s fantasy novel, ­civilization faces destruction and the earth itself is a monstrous enemy.

FINALE: A Novel of the Reagan Years. By Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $27.95.) The strong sense of foreboding that reigns here stands in arresting counterpoint to today’s notion of the Teflon president.

THE FIRST BAD MAN. By Miranda July. (Scribner, $25.) In July’s wry, smart first novel, two women’s consensually violent host-guest relationship leads to an erotic awakening.

THE FISHERMEN. By Chigozie Obioma. (Little, Brown, $26.) In its exploration of the murderous and the mysterious, the mind’s terrors and a vibrant Africa, this debut novel is heir to Chinua Achebe.

FORTUNE SMILES: Stories. By Adam Johnson. (Random House, $27.) The author of “The Orphan Master’s Son” offers a collection that is at once pervasively dark and shot through with humor.

FROM THE NEW WORLD: Poems 1976-2014. By Jorie Graham. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $29.99.) Graham’s work has more of life and of the world than that of almost any other poet now writing.

GOD HELP THE CHILD. By Toni Morrison. (Knopf, $24.95.) Child abuse cuts a jagged scar through Morrison’s novel, a brisk modern-day fairy tale with shades of the Brothers Grimm, and a blunt moral: What you do to children matters.

HARRIET WOLF’S SEVENTH BOOK OF ­WONDERS. By Julianna Baggott. (Little, Brown, $26.) The title character’s final ­novel has gone missing in this tenderhearted story about the legacy of loss.

HERE. By Richard McGuire. (Pantheon, $35.) A corner of the living room of the author’s childhood home in New Jersey is viewed over a period of eons in this graphic novel, which introduces a third dimension to the flat page.

THE HOLLOW LAND. By Jane Gardam. ­(Europa Editions, paper, $15.) Subtle linked stories about two boys’ friendship, first published in Britain in 1981, illuminate family and community ties.

HONEYDEW: Stories. By Edith Pearlman. (Little, Brown, $25.) With simultaneous intimacy and distance, the tales in Pearlman’s majestic collection excel at capturing the complex and surprising turns in seemingly ordinary lives.

HOW TO BE BOTH. By Ali Smith. (Pantheon, $25.95.) The two parts of Smith’s novel link a modern teenage girl and a 15th-­century Italian painter.

THE INCARNATIONS. By Susan Barker. (Touchstone, $26.) In Barker’s astonishing novel, a Beijing taxi driver learns of his previous lives as a bit player during 15 centuries of China’s past.

LEAVING BERLIN. By Joseph Kanon. (Atria, $27.) In Kanon’s thriller, a German-born American writer becomes a spy in East Berlin.

A LITTLE LIFE. By Hanya Yanagihara. ­(Doubleday, $30.) In Yanagihara’s novel, four friends from college grapple with adulthood in New York.

THE LOVE OBJECT: Selected Stories. By Edna O’Brien. (Little, Brown, $30.) An Ireland gripped between tradition and change finds illumination in O’Brien’s brilliant and memorable tales.

LOVING DAY. By Mat Johnson. (Spiegel & Grau, $26.) Johnson’s hero is tragic not because of the stresses of his liminal racial status but because he, like most everyone else in the novel, is haunted by ghosts of painful pasts.

MAN AT THE HELM. By Nina Stibbe. ­(Little, Brown, $25.) Two sisters try to marry off their divorced mother in this jaunty ­British social satire.

A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN: ­Selected Stories. By Lucia Berlin. Edited by Stephen Emerson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) In these unadorned linked stories, Berlin examines women under duress and figures on America’s fringes.

THE MARE. By Mary Gaitskill. (Pantheon, $26.95.) A subtle depiction of a relationship between two families, their communities and a horse touches on tricky questions of class and race.

THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION. ­By ­Kamel Daoud. Translated by John Cullen. (Other Press, paper, $14.95.) This rich and inventive Algerian novel imagines the ­story of the Arab murdered on the beach in Camus’s “The Stranger.”

MISLAID. By Nell Zink. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) Zink’s screwball comic novel about the making and unmaking of an American family lays bare our assumptions about race and sexuality.

MY STRUGGLE: Book 4. By Karl Ove Knausgaard. Translated by Don Bartlett. (Archipelago, $27.) This is the fleetest, funniest and — in keeping with its adolescent protagonist — most sophomoric of the volumes translated into English thus far.

NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS: Stories. By ­Kirstin Valdez Quade. (Norton, $25.95.) Quade is searching for truths both existential and sacred in her haunting and beautiful ­debut collection.

OUTLINE. By Rachel Cusk. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Cusk’s heartbreaking portrait of poise, sympathy, regret and rage suggests a powerful alternate route for the biographical novel.

PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE. By ­Atticus Lish. (Tyrant, paper, $15.) Lish’s gorgeous, upsetting debut novel follows the doomed love affair of a traumatized soldier and a Muslim immigrant.

PURITY. By Jonathan Franzen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.)Connections emerge slowly as lies and secrets are revealed in this intricately plotted novel about the corruptions of money and power.

THE SELLOUT. By Paul Beatty. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.)Beatty’s satire breaks open the private jokes and secrets of blackness in a way that feels powerful and profane but not escapist.

S O S: Poems 1961-2013. By Amiri Baraka. Selected by Paul Vangelisti. (Grove, $30.) A half-century of revolutionary work ­displays the firmness of Baraka’s beliefs and the heat of his fury.

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD. Book 4, The Neapolitan Novels: “Maturity, Old Age.” By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein. (Europa Editions, paper, $18.) Friends confront age and the questions of life’s meaning in the stunning final book of this brilliant series.

THE STORY OF MY TEETH. By Valeria ­Luiselli. Translated by Christina MacSweeney. (Coffee House Press, paper, $16.95.) This playful collaborative novel invites reader participation.

SUBMISSION. By Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Lorin Stein. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) In Houellebecq’s morally complex novel, an alienated French professor and a France without faith or values yield to an Islamic government.

THE SYMPATHIZER. By Viet Thanh Nguyen. (Grove, $26.) Nguyen’s tragicomic debut novel fills a void in Vietnam War literature, giving a voice to the Vietnamese and compelling the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING: Fiction. By Colum McCann. (Random House, $26.) A novella and three stories display ­McCann’s empathetic imagination and ­belief in the capabilities of literature.

THE TRUTH AND OTHER LIES. By Sascha Arango. Translated by Imogen Taylor. (Atria, $24.99.) The writer in Arango’s cunningly plotted, darkly humorous novel is a fraud — and a murderer.

THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO: Stories. By Anthony Marra. (Hogarth, $25.) Interconnected stories set in a Russian industrial city are seamlessly narrated, with flashes of dark humor.

THE TURNER HOUSE. By Angela ­Flournoy. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23.) The ­African-American family story told in this engrossing, remarkably mature first ­novel is also a story of the city of Detroit.

VANESSA AND HER SISTER. By Priya ­Parmar. (Ballantine, $26.) A novel of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, constructed around an invented diary and letters.

THE VISITING PRIVILEGE: New and Collected Stories. By Joy Williams. (Knopf, $30.) These tales, spanning a period of nearly 50 years, are marked by queasy humor and a wry nihilism.

THE WHITES. By Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. (Holt, $28.)Most readers will never come close to a New York homicide investigation, but they will instinctively know that Price’s insightful crime novel has this world down right.






Nonfiction

AMERICA’S BITTER PILL: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System. By Steven Brill. (Random House, $28.) Brill’s fresh, ­outsider curiosity makes him a superb guide to the maze of issues involved here.Photo
Illustration by João Fazenda

THE ARGONAUTS. By Maggie Nelson. (Graywolf, $23.) An exploration of the way our bodies define and limit us considers the author’s pregnancy and her partner’s own changes.

AUGUSTINE: Conversions to Confessions. By Robin Lane Fox. (Basic Books, $35.) This narrative of the first half of Augustine’s life conjures the intellectual and social milieu of the late Roman Empire with a Proustian relish for detail.

BARBARIAN DAYS: A Surfing Life. By ­William Finnegan. (Penguin Press, $27.95.)Generous yet unsparing portraits of competitive surf friendships are among the joys of Finnegan’s memoir.

BECOMING NICOLE: The Transformation of an American Family. By Amy Ellis Nutt. (Random House, $27.) A generous portrayal of a couple’s affirming response to their transgender child.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. By ­Ta-­Nehisi Coates. (Spiegel & Grau, $24.) With brilliant insight, Coates warns his teenage son about the apparent permanence of racial injustice and the danger of believing one person can make a change.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF PRIMO LEVI. Edited by Ann Goldstein. (Liveright, three volumes, $100.) Twenty-eight years after Levi’s death, this collection of everything he published brings into focus the breadth and coherence of his genius.

THE CRIME AND THE SILENCE: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime ­Jedwabne. By Anna Bikont. Translated by Alissa Valles. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) A beautifully written and devastating reconstruction of mass murder and its ­denial.

DAUGHTERS OF THE SAMURAI: A Journey From East to West and Back. By ­Janice P. Nimura. (Norton, $26.95.) In 1871, three clueless Japanese girls were sent to America, to learn how to educate their countrywomen in modern ways.

DESTINY AND POWER: The American Odys­sey of George Herbert Walker Bush. By Jon Meacham. (Random House, $35.) A judicious and balanced biography of the elder President Bush.

DO NO HARM: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. By Henry Marsh. (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, $25.99.) A neurosurgeon’s frank and absorbing account combines biography, descriptions of operations and considerations of policy.

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: A Cultural ­History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. By Michael Pye. (Pegasus, $27.95.) Pye’s view of the North Sea and European history succeeds in reorienting our thinking about the past.

EMPIRE OF COTTON: A Global History. By Sven Beckert. (Knopf, $35.) A Harvard historian shows how every stage of the industrialization of cotton rested on ­violence.

THE FLY TRAP. By Fredrik Sjoberg. Translated by Thomas Teal. (Pantheon, $24.95.) An amateur entomologist from Sweden offers a distinctive tour of the world of hoverfly collecting.

THE FOLDED CLOCK: A Diary. By Heidi ­Julavits. (Doubleday, $26.95.) Each day’s entry in Julavits’s exquisite diary pitches recklessly and headily into the essay it will become, a meditation on desire, perhaps, or ghosts, or time.

THE GAY REVOLUTION: The Story of the Struggle. By Lillian Faderman. (Simon & Schuster, $35.) The progress of gay rights, vividly described.

THE GERMAN WAR: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945. By Nicholas Stargardt. (Basic Books, $35.) A dramatic look at the lives of ordinary German men and women during World War II.

GHETTOSIDE: A True Story of Murder in America. By Jill Leovy. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) Focusing on South Los Angeles, ­Leovy ­examines the circumstances of the ­country’s disturbingly high rate of murders of ­African-American men.

GIVE US THE BALLOT: The Modern ­Struggle for Voting Rights in America. By Ari Berman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) This engrossing narrative history of voting rights since 1965 focuses on the ­debate between two competing visions.

GUANTÁNAMO DIARY. By Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Edited by Larry Siems. (Little, Brown, $29.) A longtime captive has written the most profound and disturbing account yet of what it’s like to be collateral damage in the war against terror.

H IS FOR HAWK. By Helen Macdonald. (Grove, $26.) A breathtaking account of the raising and training of a young ­goshawk illuminates two complex natures: the ­author’s and the bird’s.

HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL: A Memoir. By Carrie Brownstein. (Riverhead, $27.95.) How the Sleater-Kinney guitarist (and co-star of “Portlandia”) found herself through music.

THE INVENTION OF NATURE: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World. By Andrea Wulf. (Knopf, $30.) Wulf offers a highly readable account of the German scientist’s monumental journey in the Americas.

JONAS SALK: A Life. By Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. (Oxford University, $34.95.) Salk’s polio vaccine brought instant celebrity, but many colleagues were resentful, this excellent biography shows.

KATRINA: After the Flood. By Gary Rivlin. (Simon & Schuster, $27.)A former Times reporter examines the personalities and process behind New Orleans’s reconstruction, including the often corrupt horse trading that went on in the early days.

KILLING A KING: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of ­Israel. By Dan Ephron. (Norton, $27.95.) In an electrifying narrative, Rabin’s attempt to ­negotiate peace is juxtaposed with his ­assassin’s plan to thwart it by killing him.


LETTERS TO VÉRA. By Vladimir Nabokov. ­Edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd. (Knopf, $40.) For more than half a century, Nabokov wrote to his wife about his books, his meals and his observations, in exquisite and evocative detail.

LISTENING TO STONE: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi. By Hayden Herrera. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $40.) Noguchi’s mother, a fascinating and tragic figure, haunted his expression much as she haunts the pages of Herrera’s elegant biography.

LOITERING: New and Collected Essays. By Charles D’Ambrosio. (Tin House, paper, $15.95.) D’Ambrosio stands here revealed as one of the smartest, most literary ­essayists practicing today.

MODERNITY BRITAIN: 1957-62. By David Kynaston. (Bloomsbury, $55.) Kynaston’s brilliant multivolume postwar history continues in this tapestry of social, political and economic change.

THE MONOPOLISTS: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game. By Mary Pilon. (Bloomsbury, $27.) The real story behind Monopoly, and the woman who went unrecognized for her role in its creation.

NEGROLAND: A Memoir. By Margo Jefferson. (Pantheon, $25.) In her memoir, the former New York Times critic chronicles a lifetime as a member of Chicago’s black elite.

NEUROTRIBES: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. By Steve ­Silberman. (Avery/Penguin Random House, $29.95.) Silberman’s is a broader view of autism, beautifully presented.

OBJECTIVE TROY: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone. By Scott Shane. (Tim Duggan, $28.) A Times reporter’s account of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen killed by a drone, and the changes in policy that led to his death.

THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY: A ­Memoir. By Vivian Gornick. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) Gornick’s account encompasses her quirky New York encounters but is essentially about being alone.

ON THE MOVE: A Life. By Oliver Sacks. (Knopf, $27.95.) In this memoir, the ­writer-neurologist abandons what has been his customary restraint and reveals his own vulnerabilities.

ONE OF US: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway. By Asne Seier­stad. Translated by Sarah Death. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) An exploration of the dark side of Scandinavia today.

ORDINARY LIGHT: A Memoir. By Tracy K. Smith. (Knopf, $25.95.)The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet reflects on race, faith and a mother’s devotion, as well as the literary influences that shaped her.

THE OTHER PARIS. By Luc Sante. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.)Sante, the author of “Low Life,” here celebrates the bohemian, the criminal and the louche in the history of the City of Light.

THE PRIZE: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? By Dale Russakoff. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.) This brilliantly reported account of Newark’s attempt to right its public schools stars Cory Booker, Chris Christie and Mark Zuckerberg.

THE SHAPE OF THE NEW: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World. By Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot. (Princeton University, $35.) How capitalism, socialism, evolution and liberal democracy broke decisively with the past.

SKYFARING: A Journey With a Pilot. By Mark Vanhoenacker. (Knopf, $25.95.) Vanhoenacker has written a chronicle of his aviation career, and an elegant meditation on how flying can lift the soul.

SPINSTER: Making a Life of One’s Own. By Kate Bolick. (Crown, $26.) How does a woman move through the world alone? Bolick looks for answers in her own life and in that of others.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. By Mary Beard. (Liveright, $35.)Like New Yorkers, Romans were aggressive and acquisitive and came from somewhere else; Beard’s wonderfully concise history unpacks the secrets of the city’s success.

STALIN’S DAUGHTER: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva. By Rosemary Sullivan. (Harper, $35.) Sullivan’s biography reveals a complex and tragic figure.

STRANGERS DROWNING: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices and the Overpowering Urge to Help. By ­Larissa MacFarquhar. (Penguin Press, $27.95.) A journey through a world of severe altruism and ascetic selflessness.

$2.00 A DAY: Living on Almost Nothing in America. By Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.) Essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.

THE UNRAVELING: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq. By Emma Sky. (­PublicAffairs, $28.99.) The Briton who was the political adviser to American Gen. Ray Odierno from 2007 to 2010 offers an important and disturbing memoir.

THE WEATHER EXPERIMENT: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future. By Peter Moore. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) Unlike many British-centric meteorological histories, Moore’s evocative account pays homage to American contributions.

WITCHES OF AMERICA. By Alex Mar. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Mar presents a seeker’s memoir told through a quilted veil: a collection of strong journalistic profiles of fascinating modern practitioners of the occult.






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