top five books for the first half of 2015

2015 books

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: When I share with you what I’ve read and loved in the last six months. As usual, my list is all over the place, and the number one spot goes to a book I read, thought was brilliant, and only gets more brilliant in memory. If anyone wants to buy me a copy I have no specific preference about hardcover or paperback. You’re the best.

Ok, let’s do this:

5. Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo I swear this book made me breathe easier. It gives permission to be slow and plodding with your creative work and still count that time as productive. I’m on this kick lately where I’m anti-ambition. That sounds horrible, right? Here’s what I mean: We’re always told to strive for the top, and as women, we get an extra dose of “do it for the sisterhood. Blaze the trail, prove them wrong, honor those who came before you.” But who says your top is my top? What if the middle of your ambition scale is actually what fills my gut with that feeling of being alive and content and useful? So many of my large philosophical questions about life boil down to, IS IT OK TO BE DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER? Obviously, yes, but it’s more complicated than that. So this book. For me, it wasn’t just about taking your time with the process (and giving lots of practical writing advice), it also upended my high-performance striving and whispered, “you do not have to be everything right now.”

4. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan So essentially, this is fan fic. Really well done fan fic, but fan fic all the same. I would write a huge rant here about how much fan fic bothers me with its derivative characterization and indulgent plotting except my 16-year-old self reminds me I have no stones to throw at that particular glass house. AHEM. The Royal We tells about an American woman who falls in love with the Prince of England and it is hard and public and basically a reimagining of William and Kate. Speaking of. At the peak of my William and Kate fever a few weeks ago–caused by Princess Charlotte’s birth and my reading this book–I watched the BBC/Lifetime William and Kate movie. I even began to live blog it for you guys. But it is unspeakably bad. Let me offer you this bit of real dialogue ripped from the first 90 seconds to prove it:

SCENE: Prince Charles and William walk in front of what’s obviously a university.
Prince Charles:
I can’t believe you’re all grown up. I want you to know I’m very proud of you.
A surprised Prince William: Thanks, Dad.
An overly affected Prince Charles: This is the kind of thing your mother would have wanted for you.
Me, incredulous: What? Like, a college education? 

Then William makes this face:


To recap: movie = bad. This book = really fun. Find yourself a lounge chair in the sun and hop to it.

3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech A 13-year-old girl’s mother leaves. She’s too young to know exactly the heartache that motivates her mother, but you won’t be. So from the very start, you’ll sympathize with Sal, the girl. You’ll laugh as she tells a story about her friend Phoebe. You’ll get that she’s actually telling more about herself than anyone else. You’ll be thankful for Sal’s grandparents when they take her to Idaho to find her mom. And because you’re older and wiser and know more, when Sal says “I knew” twenty pages from the end of the book, your heart will break.

2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I hope I can say someday that this booked changed my life. I wrote about that here.

1. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill My friend Kristin read this book and wrote a succinct review: Dear god, so depressing. I’m here to tell you she is RIGHT. She usually is. I read this and loved the writing, but thought it was too much of a downer to be a favorite. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I kept wishing I owned it so I could read a few of the perfect sentences over and over again (“The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.”). It’s the kind of book that’s told in small fragments. On their own, they’re clever. Through the course of the book, the effect gathers steam and the smallest bit of writing can bring tears to your eyes or make you laugh (mostly bring tears to your eyes). I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where I’ve sunk so deeply into the context of the narrator and felt what I imagine she felt with each thought.

Honorable mentions:

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief You have to read this book about how nutso Scientology is. I read it and was all, Where is the petition I can sign to rid the world of these abusers of humans rights? FOR REAL.

Revolutionary Road Why do I like poignant, depressing books so much?

Lila Because Marilynne Robinson is perfect.

Skin Cleanse I am here to tell you I have had clear skin for three whole weeks because of this book. I’m going to write about it soon because it is to my skin and sanity what a life jacket is to a drowning person. (Maaaaybe overstating things?)

The Forsyte Saga Delicious Brit lit that spans decades, a category that will always be a success with me.

What about you?





  1. Lan | morestomach

    i recently read The Language of Flowers, which was sweet and kinda broke my heart. it’s set in the San Francisco area… i’m on the wait list for judy blume’s new book and i have been slow to open Americanah …

  2. shanna mallon

    You are so right about the William and Kate movie, I totally watched it too, but oh man it was such a good bad, I couldn’t turn it off, ahaha! Those royals.

    Currently I am reading Jessica Fechtor’s Stir, which comes out soon, and I AM OBSESSED WITH IT. The writing! I hope I’m not overselling it but maaaan I think it’s gonna be a fave.

  3. Katie

    you write so wonderfully about books, the only problem being that I want to add all of these to my collection!


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