Each year, Punchnel’s asks our friends, staff, and contributors to offer up their picks for the year’s best albums, books, and movies. Today’s list: the best books of 2015.
|Hemingway in Love: His Own Story, A.E. Hotchner
“When you’re 21 years old, how are you supposed to know the first person you love will be the love of your life?” Hotchner’s final visit with his old friend, weeks before the famous author took his life, provides an intimate glimpse into the mind of a man consumed with regret.
|Bone Gap, Laura Ruby
Laura Ruby’s YA novel Bone Gap blends magical realism, mythological references, and chilling suspense in an exquisite love story that explores how we see beauty. Set in an Illinois town full of unforgettable characters, human and otherwise, it will leave you listening for otherworldly whispers in the rustle of cornstalks.
|Trip Through Your Wires, Sarah Layden
Carey Halpern’s boyfriend has been mysteriously murdered. Now, she must reconcile discrepancies between memory and reality as she struggles to understand what happened and why. Layden makes us confront the fluidity of the past in the hands of our unreliable senses–and shows us how to continue in the face of that uncertainty.
|“Fat,” Raymond Carver
Not new, but I do think this short story should be read by all humans. I read it at least 30 times this year. There is something haunting, perfect, terrifying held within this seemingly inane short piece about a waitress telling her friend a story. It’s Carveriffic!
|Autoportrait, Edouard Leve
This book didn’t come out this year, but I read it this year, and it just floored me. Nothing but random, unflinchingly honest sentences written by a man about himself. Both quotidian and devastating.
|And West is West, Ron Childress
Ron Childress’ And West is West follows an Air Force drone pilot and a Wall Street programmer asking themselves difficult questions about how their work affects society. Winner of the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, the novel is a smart, satisfying story of real people navigating the uneasy compromises of today’s world.
|On the Road with Del and Louise, Art Taylor
Buckle up for some kicks on Route 66 with two lovable outlaws. Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del and Louise is a zany road trip with wry humor and sweet moments. From their first meeting—Louise working behind the counter of the 7-Eleven that Del comes to rob for college money—you’ll be hooked.
|Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves tackles 5000 years of future human evolution in a novel that is shorter than most of his recent epics. The story of the cataclysmic destruction of our moon (and the results that render our Earth uninhabitable) is full of Stephenson’s technological prescience, exciting set pieces, and surprising turns. This novel is his least grounded in narrators (they tend to die…a lot), and yet I never stopped caring about the survivors and the brave new world they inherit.
|The Peripheral, William Gibson
William Gibson made a welcome return to the fringes of science and technology with The Peripheral. Much like Neuromancer and Count Zero, you are going to be thrown into a world that has its own lingo and social structures. Instead of the virtual realities of his previous books, Gibson has introduced alternate realities. Early in the novel it is disorienting but also incredibly compelling, and Gibson’s protagonist pulls you along with her until your eyes adjust and these worlds shine clear.
|The First Bad Man, Miranda July
Unpredictable and sweet and raunchy and beautiful, it’s about a woman who’s prone to magical thinking and crushing on assholes, like this Baby Boomer, midlife-crisis dude she works with. Then she starts banging her boss’s hot daughter. This book also has maybe the best masturbation scene ever written.
|A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
What I remember most about A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson’s sort-of sequel to 2013’s Life After Life, is finishing it in a cabin in Yosemite National Park on a rainy afternoon and bursting into tears. I was so invested in Atkinson’s world that when I found out—well. I’m not going to spoil it.
|Outline, Rachel Cusk
I’ve come to the conclusion that most great fiction is really about fiction—about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, and about how maybe people really don’t ever change: The only things that really change are the stories and how we make sense of them. I think this is what Outline is about.
|The End of Vandalism, Tom Drury
In February of this year, the New Yorker Fiction Podcast returned me to a twenty-year-old favorite: a meandering novel set in a fictional Iowa county, each chapter a graceful arc of deadpan characters and laser observations. The plot? Not much. You just live in this one.
|Trace, Lauret Savoy
In a surprisingly slender book of essays, Lauret Savoy traces her family back through history in travels that take her from one coast to another, interrogating not just history but geography itself and its influence on how America took shape. But Savoy’s greatest gift is an ability to guide the reader through history without ever flinching, allowing the heartache and horrors of the past to speak for themselves. One essay, which begins almost as a cartographical study of the way place names evolve and change over time, evolves into a damning analysis of how the popular story of American history warps, disfigures, and erases the histories of indigenous peoples. If this sounds like grim reading, it can be, but Savoy is also generously warm and funny throughout as she guides the reader through a landscape of history and lived experience.