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Thursday, November 19, 2015

This year's best

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

The lists of the best books of 2015 have been coming out this month.  I love to compare the lists to our library’s collection, and this year we seem to have most of them.  I think it’s especially important to notice those books that are included on more than one list, because it’s all so subjective.  Following are some of the books that have made more than one best-of-2015 list that we have in the Litchfield Library collection.

The novel Did You Ever Have a Family was included on Library Journal’s and Amazon’s lists of the best books of the year.  This is the first novel from author Bill Clegg, although he has published two memoirs previously.   This book about a horrible family tragedy on the day of a wedding, and the aftermath, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and widely praised.  It was also criticized by a few reviewers.  It appears that whether you appreciate the book depends on whether you want much of a plot, and whether you find the writing style profound or clichéd.  It is certainly a very dark and sad novel about loss. 

Between the World and Me is a memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, written as a letter to his teenage son.  It was included on at least four major lists of this year’s best, and it won the National Book Award for nonfiction.  It has also been a number one bestseller and in demand in our library system.  Coates writes about what it means to be black in America.  He addresses the legacy of slavery, tells stories about his growing-up years, and shares the development of his opinion that race is an artificial construct. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff has been chosen by Amazon as its book of the year.  It was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, and it is on other lists of the best of 2015.  This novel is a complex portrait of a marriage gone wrong, told by both parties.  The pair are glamorous, talented, and passionately in love, but not everything is as it appears. 

Erik Larson’s newest book is Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  It has been included on a couple of the major best-of lists this year, which is no surprise for a book by Larson, the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts.  This one is narrative nonfiction like the other two, telling a piece of history like a dramatic story instead of like a textbook.  You probably remember that the Lusitania was a passenger ship sunk by the Germans during World War I, but you probably don’t know the story like it is told in this book. 

H is for Hawk is a book that blends memoir and nature writing in a way that has reviewers lavishing praise on it, calling it “breathtaking,” “captivating,” and “dazzling.”  It has been included on a number of those year-end lists of the best books.  British author Helen MacDonald lost her father suddenly and turned to her love of falconry to deal with her grief.  She decided to train a dangerous type of bird, a goshawk, using The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s book The Goshawk to guide her.   National Geographic says it is “one of the most riveting encounters between a human being and an animal ever written.” 


When you’re trying to find something wonderful among the hundreds of thousands of traditional print books published each year (not counting self-published and e-books), these best-books lists can be a helpful way of finding something of quality.  So many books, so little time!