Hey y’all. I’m back again for one last semester of this column, so, to quote Ray Arnold, played impeccably by Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold onto yer butts.” Before we get into some new stuff, I want to look back a bit on the year that was 2015. To do so, let’s delve into some lists. Here are my ten favorite books from 2015:
1. The Sellout — Paul Beatty
2. The Musical Brain and Other Stories — Cesar Aira
3. The Argonauts — Maggie Nelson
4. Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. After Birth — Elisa Albert
6. Book of Numbers — Joshua Cohen
7. Against the Country — Ben Metcalf
8. Tender Data — Monica McClure
9. Fauxhawk — Ben Doller
10. Mislaid — Nell Zink
I thought that 2015 was a pretty incredible year for unique voices in literature. That may be the one theme that most strongly connects all of my top ten books. Each of these works comes from an extremely different place, and they deliver us to that place and back again through a narrative style that is utterly singular. Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers takes on the form of the modern tech world and somehow shows us the process of artistic creation by doing so. After Birth, by Elisa Albert, brings us into the pained world of post-partum motherhood, while The Argonauts gives us a different, hopeful and tender view of modern family life (and Maggie Nelson is at the top of her game, marrying multiple genres together flawlessly.) Tender Data and Fauxhawk present us with distinctly 21st century visions of poetry. Mislaid looks back on the previous century of American life, and pushes us to examine what our contemporary idea of identity politics is really all about. And Cesar Aira is, well, Cesar Aira.
If you haven’t read him yet, do so, and then join me in rooting for him to win the Nobel one of these years. On that note, I made a concentrated effort to read more translated literature this year, and it’s not a decision I regret. Two of the best works in translation I read were Eka Kurniawan’s magical realist take on Indonesian history, Beauty is a Wound, and Alejandro Zambra’s short story collection-by-way-of-computer folder My Documents. Both could have been on this list.