Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass
Given my love of reading and books, I read a lot. When I’m in the middle of a book I can’t put down, I read and read and walk around with my book, stirring pots of food for my family’s dinner, reading and reading until I can finally turn the last page. In 2015, as I ventured back into the corporate work world, I’ve had less time to read as many books as in years past. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t read good books. If anything, I’ve learned I make less time for books I don’t enjoy. Ones that don’t catch me in the first sample pages are books I put down for good.
As the years go by, I’m reading a greater variety of books, and, inspired by my friend Nina Badzin, have been setting reading goals for myself for at least the past 6 years. In 2014, I read over 50 books. For 2015, I read 44, which is pretty good, considering.
Why do I make books a priority? Because I strongly believe that books help us to grow, to understand others, to walk around in others’ shoes for a while and see the world through different eyes. That, over movies and other forms of immediate entertainment, is what makes novels, and books, special. They let us enter the head of another person and experience their world, their choices, their motivations. These literary experiences make life richer, fuller, and open doors, I believe, to a better world.
It’s true. I have some definite favorites. I find many of the books I want to read from multiple book resources: Goodreads, Shelf Awareness, GreatNewBooks.org, Twitter, and through reading friends whose opinion and taste I get and trust.
My 5 Favorite Books of 2015
THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton
I didn’t set out trying to find my favorite book of 2015 — I’ve read a lot of good books lately. Several I’ve considered favorites. But then I picked up Kate Morton’s latest novel and by the time I finished, I knew I’d found it, one I authentically loved and couldn’t wait to recommend as my favorite book of 2015.
If you’ve read any of Morton’s prior books, you can guess The Lake House is a family mystery spanning generations. Morton also chose her familiar favorite backdrop, an English countryside manor, for her fifth novel, but even though the setting is familiar, she created another fresh and wholly unexpected story. Kate Morton is a genius storyteller.
What to know: if you read it, be prepared to be swept away to Cornwall, England, and not be able to set the book down until you figure out what happened to baby Theo. I wrote more about The Lake House here.
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
Some books I enjoy are more artistic and don’t draw a large readership, but the rare gems are the ones which are complex and have depth and still are accessible and enjoyable for many readers. My book recommendation this time is widely read, fairly new, and topping the bestseller lists, and there’s a good reason why—the book is fantastic from every angle, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
When I first heard of The Nightingale, I thought I’d read similar World War II based books and grown weary of them, but a few weeks later, I bought it because I heard it is about these three words: the women’s war. That, I love. The Nightingale is the most sweeping account I’ve read of World War II France, and Hannah’s focus on two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, is what makes the novel unforgettable. I wrote more about The Nightingale here.
WE ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride
When I noticed We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride’s debut novel, I heard the words “dazzling” and “unforgettable” and “tender,” and knew I wanted to read it. But then at the bookstore, I read the book jacket summary, shut the book, and placed it back on the shelf. It sounded too sad, too heartbreaking for me. But weeks passed, and a few more friends raved about it, and I returned, pulled it back off the shelf, and brought it home. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.
The story is told through the eyes of many characters—a housewife on the brink of divorce, an eight-year-old child whose immigrant family struggles to have money to buy food, an Iraq veteran who has gone too far, and a child’s services volunteer working to put lives back together. As their stories weave and their lives intersect, the suspense for how it comes together builds, and the pages simply can’t turn fast enough. I wrote more about We Are Called to Rise here.
WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The very first book I recommended at GreatNewBooks.org was The Language of Flowers. It was Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel and it had hit me hard – so much so that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of my favorite contemporary novels. For those of you who haven’t read it, The Language of Flowers is about an 18-year-old girl who ages out of the US foster care system and, when left ill-prepared and without direction, falls through the cracks of society. Her best attempts at surviving and communicating how she really feels is through the Victorian era manner of creating messages through specific flowers.
I loved Diffenbaugh’s first novel mainly because her characters were so real and the story opened up a world I’d never thought about before. It made me think. I couldn’t wait for her second. In August, her second novel came out on shelves. I bought a copy and began reading right away. It took me about two seconds to become hooked, and within 48 hours, I finished the last page. It’s called We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
I knew I should expect the story to be contemporary, based on young adults and their decisions (or lack of them). I guessed the story would involve poverty and social justice and topics which many of us don’t want to think about but need to. But the best part for me was falling into a story from which I couldn’t bear to leave until I knew what happened to the characters.
Reading a novel of Vanessa Diffenbaugh is like watching a movie with your eyes covered, peeking through the cracks of your fingers to see—just barely—what happens in the story. It was true for this one. I wrote more about We Never Asked for Wings here.
INSIDE THE O’BRIENS by Lisa Genova
When Genova’s latest book, Inside the O’Briens appeared on bookstore shelves, I bought it and saved it for a time when I could read the compelling story uninterrupted. I’m glad I did, because it was impossible to put down.
In Inside the O’Briens, Genova writes about another genetic disorder, Huntington’s disease. In the same manner of Still Alice, Inside the O’Briens introduces us to the affected person before he understands what is happening, as well as to his family. This is the part of Genova’s writing that I enjoy the most: the characters and their close-knit families. I wrote more about Inside the O’Briens here.
A visual list of the other books I’ve read in 2015, from Goodreads (a repeat on Inside the O’Briens for some reason):
The team on Great New Books.org is posting a series of Best of blogs on books for 2015. Stop by to read our recommendations: The Best Books of 2015, Favorite Quotes from Books We Read in 2015, and this week’s live on Wednesday, Books We Finally Read in 2015. Next week, the first week of 2016, we’re sharing Our Most Anticipated Books of 2016. Come join us and subscribe to receive one quality book recommendation each Wednesday direct to your inbox.
What are your favorite books of 2015? Please leave your favorites in the comments below — I love to hear recommendations!