10 Big Books I Have Read & Loved

Not too long ago, in the book section at Target, I overheard a woman say to her companion, “I stay away from big books.” They walked away, so I didn’t get to hear any more of the conversation, but it made me think about big books.

I can imagine many reasons someone might offer for staying away from big books:

  • Big books intimidate me.
  • Big books contain too much stuff for me to keep straight in my head.
  • Big books are too heavy to carry around.
  • Reading a big book requires a long time commitment.
  • I prefer shorter books that I can read quickly.
  • Big books deal with too many big ideas. I just want an entertaining story.

For my money, a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell its story. And a long story can be just as entertaining as a short one. In fact—and I know many readers who would agree with me here—if a story is well told, I sometimes want it not to end; occasionally I purposely wait to finish a book because I don’t want to leave those characters and their world quite yet.

Here, in no particular order, are some big books that I have read and loved. For the sake of definition, I use the term big book to refer to one of 500 or more pages.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
paperback, 515 pages

cloud atlasIn this brilliant novel David Mitchell uses intertwined stories to demonstrate how individual people and their fates are connected across space and time. The literary genres featured here include autobiography, philosophical inquiry, mystery, and speculative fiction in a narrative framework that circles back on itself to create the paradox of discrete moments within the vast expanse of human experience.

This big novel is challenging but not daunting. It well rewards the time spent on a slow and careful reading. This was my introduction to David Mitchell’s work, and I am slowly working my way through the rest of his work.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
hardcover, 773 pages

the goldfinchThirteen-year-old Theo Decker is devastated by the death of his mother. Having been abandoned earlier by his father, he is taken in by the wealthy family of a former schoolmate before his father claims him and moves him from New York City to Las Vegas in pursuit of his own agenda.

Theo spends his adolescence and young adulthood in search of love, family, and a sense of identity. Intrigue in the world of art and antiques keeps the plot moving. With an ever-growing cast of compelling characters, Theo’s coming-of-age travels take him between New York, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam in a journey during which he must learn what things are worth keeping and what ones he must let go of.

This big book caused a big critical controversy over the question, “Is it art?” I’m not going to contribute to that debate, with its unsavory suggestion that any work of literature that is popular cannot also be artistic or literary. All I can tell you is that, for me, this was a real page-turner.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
hardcover, 514 pagesclamity physics

Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge, but she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some–a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel–with visual aids drawn by the author–that has won over readers of all ages.

Goodreads

If you like literary puzzles, you’ll love this big novel that requires readers to tolerate ambiguity and hold several possibilities in abeyance until the pieces all, finally, fall into place.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
paperback, 601 pages

east of eden

Set in the farmland of the Salinas Valley in California, this novel retells the stories of Adam and Eve and of the rivalry between Cain and Abel through the intertwined generations of the Trask and Hamilton families.

Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Goodreads

And there’s no question over this big novel, as there is about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, of whether it’s art. It most definitely is—an artful and rewarding reading experience.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
paperback, 503 pages

secret historyAs a classics major myself, I was easily drawn into Donna Tartt’s first novel about an inner circle of “five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty. Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn.”

Many years later one of these students, Richard Papen, pens this confession of how willing he was to be drawn into this inner circle and of how far these young men went to experience what they considered the fullness of intellectual and emotional life.

This is a big novel full of big ideas:

Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility.

Goodreads

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
hardcover, 544 pages

life after lifeOn a snowy, cold night in 1910 Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She arrives too soon and dies before drawing her first breath. On the same night Ursula Todd is born, takes a big breath, and lets out a loud cry, the beginning of but one of the many lives Ursula Todd is destined to live.

Throughout the novel Ursula Todd is reborn many times and dies many times, at different points in her life span. She seems to learn a little bit from each life that her unconscious mind carries into subsequent lives—because she is destined to live her life over and over again until she gets it right. The fate of modern civilization depends on her ability to get it right, finally.

This big book was a big hit: It was a winner in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
paperback, 555 pages

possession

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Goodreads

This is another book you’ll love if you like literary puzzles. I liked this big novel so much that I’ve read it twice.

Underworld by Don DeLillo
hardcover, 827 pages

underworld

This book is so complex that I’m going to rely on Goodreads to describe it:

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that “swerve from evenness” in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls “super-omniscience” the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union’s second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It’s an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca’s pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter–the “shot heard around the world”–and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra’s shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

Goodreads

Yet despite its complexity, the story keeps moving through all 827 pages. Similar to David Mitchell, DeLillo uses intertwined stories to create the sense of connected experience over 50 years of American life.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
paperback, 897 pages

i know this muchThis book narrates the story of identical twins Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. The novel opens when the two are adults. Thomas has schizophrenia, and Dominick is his caregiver. It’s a complex story that jumps between the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s, and the 1980s to examine family relationships, the interconnections between generations, love, and responsibility (both personal and civic). Despite the presence of several storylines in different eras playing out throughout, the novel is easy to follow.

This big novel that deals with big truths has a big, loyal following. I know three people who name I Know This Much is True as the favorite book they’ve ever read. Many others say this is the novel that has stuck with them the most of all the books they’ve ever read.

If you haven’t read it yet, I—and a lot of other people—recommend that you give it a try. Chances are that you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished page 897.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
paperback, 973 pages

pillars of earthSet in twelfth-century England, this is the story of the building of a great Gothic cathedral. Several characters people the story: Tom Builder, who dreams of working on such a structure; Philip, prior of the fictional Kingsbridge who must fight the sin of pride in his own desire to build the world’s biggest church; Jack, Tom’s son, a master stone artist; and Aliena, a noblewoman who fights patriarchal prejudice to build a business.

But perhaps the two dominant characters of the novel are the cathedral itself and the historical age in which it is built. The cathedral becomes the focal point for pride, arrogance, and greed among the Church and the nobility, and for a source of sustenance among the peasant workers. In an age when geopolitical boundaries did not exist, power belonged to whichever nobleman could muster the biggest army. Peasants were at the mercy of the nobility, and peasants lived or died according to noble whim. The Church and the nobility jockeyed for power over the masses whose labor they both exploited.

Ken Follett had written a number of thrillers before he turned to this big story, his pet project. He spent years on the research necessary to write the book. In a foreword he says that many readers tell him Pillars of the Earth is their favorite of his novels. “It’s mine, too,” he says.

What about you?

Do you avoid big books, or do you embrace them? Are there any big books that you have read and loved?

Let us know in the comments.

Reading Suggestions

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Bowie’s top 100 book list spans decades, from Richard Wright’s raw 1945 memoir Black Boy to Susan Jacoby’s 2008 analysis of U.S. anti-intellectualism in The Age of American Unreason.

his list shows a lot of love to American writers, from the aforementioned to Truman Capote, Hubert Selby, Jr., Saul Bellow, Junot Diaz, Jack Kerouac and many more. He’s also very fond of fellow Brits George Orwell, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes and loves Mishima and Bulgakov.

I’m not sure if I could even put together a list of the top 100 books I’ve read, especially one as wide-ranging as this. Read it and be humbled.

Six Religion Books Headed to the Big Screen in 2016

I wasn’t sure I’d find anything I’d be interested in on this list, but I was wrong. One book that depicts the persecution of Christians in Japan during the seventeenth century is being made into a movie starring Liam Neeson. And—and this surprises me—a new film of Ben-Hur is due out in August.

The 10 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2016

Get the scoop on these:

(10) Silence (TBA 2016)
(9) A Monster Calls (October 14)
(8) Inferno (October 14); Dan Brown’s Inferno, not Dante’s
(7) The Divergent Series: Allegiant (March 18)
(6) The BFG
(March 23)
(5) The Jungle Book (April 15)
(4) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11)
(3) The Girl on the Train (October 7)
(2) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 18)
(1) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (December 25)

The 27 Most Exciting Books Coming In 2016

Jarry Lee has put together this list of both fiction and nonfiction for BuzzFeed. Her descriptions make me want to read every one of these:

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
High Dive by Jonathan Lee
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Zero K by Don DeLillo
Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Bullies: A Friendship by Alex Abramovich
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue
The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky
You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

My 10 Favorite Books: Gloria Steinem

This is one in a number of lists by people asked what 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island.

Gloria Steinem very practically answered:

“If I were marooned on a desert island, I would want a book on edible plants and building a raft, but here are 10 I would choose for the pleasure of big and new understandings.”

I love that phrase, “big and new understandings.”

Anyway, read why she chose these books:

The Mermaid and the Minotaur, Dorothy Dinnerstein
Exterminate All the Brutes, Sven Lindqvist
Two Thousand Seasons, Ayi Kwei Armah
The Sacred Hoop, Paula Gunn Allen
Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman
At the Dark End of the Street, Danielle McGuire
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Sex and World Peace, Valerie Hudson, et al.
The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
Dark Matter, Robin Morgan

Bill Gates Blogs About Books

New York Times writer Katherine Rosman introduces us to the book area of Bill Gates’s blog, Gates Notes, in Move over, Oprah: It’s the Bill Gates book blog. Gates also writes about issues such as health care and education on the blog, but, according to Rosman, “his book reviews tend to generate the most attention.”

Blogging about books grew out of Gates’s years-long practice of “scribbling notes in the margins of books he was reading” and emailing recommendations to colleagues and friends. A few years ago he decided to post his recommendations on the blog. While his recommendations often involve books about science and public health, he has also recommended history, memoirs, and some novels.

Gates told Rosman that he reads about 50 books a year and that he prefers “old-fashioned books on paper” over digital readers. He usually avoids posting negative reviews, “explaining that he sees no need to waste anyone’s time telling them why they shouldn’t bother reading something.”

In Bill Gates on Books and Blogging Rosman continues with more information from her email interview with Gates. To her question about the role reading plays in his life, Gates answered, “reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

Gates lists the six favorite books he read in 2015 for Drake Baer in Bill Gates just revealed his 6 favorite books of 2015.

Bestselling Books of 2015

Harper Lee, Marie Kondo, and Jeff Kinney topped the print bestseller lists in 2015 for adult fiction, adult nonfiction, and juvenile books, respectively. Here are the 20 bestselling books of the year in each of those categories.

Source: Bestselling Books of 2015

Final Edition: Best Books Lists

The Books We Loved in 2015

Electric Literature’s Best Novels of 2015

The Best Children’s Books of 2015

The 15 Best Books of 2015

Adam Woog’s picks: The 10 best mysteries of 2015

10 Best Music Books of 2015

The Best Poetry Books of 2015

The Best Books Of 2015, According To O Magazine And Oprah.com

The 24 Best Literary Debuts Of 2015

Here are the most exciting new voices in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in 2015

Added bonus: links to several other “best books of 2015” lists at end of article.

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I know you’re interested in TV and movies as well as books, so here are a couple of those lists to check out.

2015’s Best TV: I Hate Top Ten Lists, but O.K., Fine, Here’s a List

A look back at 2015’s best/worst movies, in verse

My List: Best Books Read in 2015

It’s not quite the end of the year yet, but since it looks as if I won’t finish any more books in time, I might as well go ahead with my annual list.

I had an abysmal year of reading this year, only 28 books.

While most other “best books of 2015” lists include books published this year, my list includes any books I’ve read, regardless of when they were published. Here, listed alphabetically by author, are the 10 best of the 28 I read this year.

winesburgAnderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio
Connelly, Michael. The Crossing
Costello, Mary. Academy Street: A Novel
Cumming, Alan. Not My Father’s Son
Fowler, Karen Joy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Highsmith, Patricia. The Price of Salt
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write
Vine, Barbara. A Dark-Adapted Eye
Zindel, Paul. The Pigman

That’s eight novels and two works of nonfiction.

And here are a couple of 2015’s noteworthy books that I read but that did not make the cut:

Since my own reading total is so low, for those of you who’d like to see the accomplishment of a more productive reader, I offer you I read 164 books in 2015 and tracked them all in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I learned..

Links for Literature Lovers

Since my major task for today is writing my holiday newsletter, finally, I’m resorting to a link compendium for today’s blog post.

Reading Is About the Lines That Leap Off the Pages

Dwight Garner writes in the New York Times:

When I think about the outstanding things I read this year, however, what comes to mind isn’t a stack of “best books.” Instead, I recall a flickering series of moments I’ve been unable to shake: killing jokes and stolen kisses and fleeting glimpses; scenes and ideas and sleights of hand.

In a delightfully refreshing twist on the “best books I’ve read this year” theme, Garner recalls the memorable lines uttered by both fictional and nonfictional characters in the many books he’s read. He has inspired me to appreciate more, and to keep better track of, the lines that leap off the pages that I read.

16 Things All Book Nerds Are Guilty Of Doing During The Holidays

Every reader will recognize the humor here, but those who fly home for a once-a-year holiday reunion will especially appreciate this portrait of themselves.

The 10 Best Genre-Bending Books

Here are ten amazing books—I won’t claim they are the best, as there is always more to read—that simply won’t stay put in one genre district. These books each take what they need from different literary traditions and bend them into new, exciting shapes.

If you’re still planning your winter-break reading list, here’s why author Lincoln Michel recommends the following books:

  1. We Have Always Lived in the CastleIf on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
  2. Inter Ice Age 4 by Kobo Abe
  3. The Wilds by Julia Elliott
  4. Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  5. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
  6. Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem
  7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  8. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  9. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  10. 2666 by Robert Bolaño

The 10 Best Books Shorter Than 150 Pages

Author Sarah Gerard likes these short novels because they’re “little books that make a big noise.”

If you’re looking to pad your list of books read this year, there’s still time for some of these:

  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
  3. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
  4. Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
  5. The Plains by Gerald Murnane
  6. The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson
  7. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
  8. The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal
  9. Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark
  10. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

I heartily second Gerard’s recommendation of the only two books on this list that I’ve read, Heart of Darkness and Ethan Frome.

The 10 Best Short Story Collections You’ve Never Read

More recommendations, this time from short-story writer Mia Alvar, in praise of “what every great story collection has in common: fully realized worlds compressed into a few pages, and a multiplicity of perspectives shedding light on what it is to be human in the world.”

  1. In My Other Life by Joan Silber
  2. The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories, Nina Berberova, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
  3. Essence of Camphor, Naiyer Masud, translated from the Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon and others
  4. Scent of Apples by Bienvenido Santos
  5. Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto
  6. Lend Me Your Character, Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth and Michael Henry Heim
  7. Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul
  8. Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston
  9. In the Penny Arcade by Steven Millhauser
  10. Girls At War and Other Stories by Chinua Achebe

Twelve Novels You Need to Read

Blogger Sheri Dacon also has some reading recommendations for you. She describes these books as “_fairly_ recent.”

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  3. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  8. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
  9. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  10. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
  11. The Green Mile by Stephen King
  12. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I second her recommendation of those books on this list that I’ve read: #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9, #10, and #12.

3 Blogs I’ve Loved Recently

Thanks to a recent WordPress Daily Prompt for today’s post:

Give some love to three blog posts you’ve read and loved in the past week, and tell us why they’re worth reading.

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(1) SAGA SATURDAY I

This post was my introduction to AbbieLu’s site Cafe Book Bean. In this post she defines what a saga is, then lists some of her favorite ones:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Far and Away
  • East of Eden
  • The Thorn Birds

This post made me want to turn to my TBR shelves and grab a huge book to sink into. (Alas, I’ll have to wait until after January 1st to so indulge myself.) Overall, I love AbbieLu’s enthusiasm about books.

(2) #48: The Kings of Crime – II: Jim Thompson, the King of Clubs

On The Invisible Event, an unnamed Invisible Blogger writes about classic crime fiction.

This post particularly attracted me because one of the many books on my TBR shelves is Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. That book, and hence this blog post as well, are good fits for my interest in Literature & Psychology.

(3) ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

I loved finding this blog post by Marilyn Armstrong because it, too, relates to Literature & Psychology. Like Marilyn, I find the concept of time travel fascinating, and I did not know about the book she discusses here, Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies.

I hope I’ll be able to find a copy of this book!

More Best Books Lists

Seattle Times critics’ best books of 2015

Critics offer the best books reviewed this year, 16 fiction and 16 nonfiction titles.

The best celebrity memoirs of 2015

Writing in The Guardian, Viv Groskop recommends some celebrity memoirs, beginning with:

The new trend? The hybrid memoir that is actually a manifesto, a diary, a collection of essays or even a long list of life tips. The best example of this genre is Spectacles by Sue Perkins.

Groskop describes other selections as “classic autobiography,” “for serious music fans,” “something completely different,” and “a personal favourite.”

A bonus: At the bottom of the article is a list of links to The Guardian’s other best books of 2015 lists:

  • Fiction
  • Crime and Thrillers
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • Sports
  • Children’s Books
  • Nature
  • Politics
  • History
  • Paperbacks
  • Music
  • Food
  • Drink
  • Stocking-Filler Books
  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Graphic Novels
  • Photography

PW Top Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2015

If you’re interested in what books influence particular writers, the following authors discuss their favorite books of 2015:

  • William Finnegan
  • Maggie Nelson
  • Eka Kurniawan
  • James Hannaham
  • Thomas McGuane
  • Timothy Snyder
  • Andrea Wulf

Library Journal’s “Best of” Reviews

This page is the gateway to lists of the year’s best books in the following categories:

  • Crafts & DIY
  • Cookbooks
  • Poetry
  • Graphic Novels
  • SELF-e (self-published ebooks)
  • Top Ten
  • More of the Best
  • Core Nonfiction
  • Genre Fiction
  • Romance

32 books someone on your list will love

Mary Ann Gwinn, book reviewer for The Seattle Times, takes a slightly different approach for this list of the “best books for gifting” in the following categories:

  • Art and Architecture
  • Design
  • Photography
  • History and Culture
  • Nature
  • Mysteries/Espionage
  • Science Fiction
  • Local

A Duo from Maria Popova of Brain Pickings

If you don’t know the incomparable Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, here are two chances to get acquainted with her:

The Best Art Books of 2015

The Best Science Books of 2015

Best Books Lists

Is it too early for ‘best books’ lists? Nope

 

Seattle Times

I’ve waited until December 1 to start reporting on these lists, though a few of them appeared before today.

100 Notable Books of 2015

The editors of The New York Times Book Review recommend the best books in two categories: (1) fiction and poetry, and (2) nonfiction.

There’s a separate listing for Notable Children’s Books of 2015.

The 50 Best Independent Press Books of 2015

Jonathon Sturgeon compiled this list for Flavorwire. Here’s his introduction to the list:

This was the year, as Wesley Morris pointed out in the New York Times, of “a great cultural identity migration” — it was a year we wrestled with identity. This fact is everywhere evident in our independent literature — take, for example, John Keene’s exploration of race and historical identity in Counternarratives, the year’s best work of short fiction, independent or otherwise. Or Maggie Nelson’s much celebrated The Argonauts, which wrestles with family, queerness, and gender-fluidity by way of a courageous act of autotheory. It’s worth pointing out, too, that these examples, like many others on this list, rely on hybrid or altogether new forms of writing. Migrating identities, in other words, require migrating forms.

This is why I’ve chosen to include independent nonfiction on this year’s list. It’s also why I haven’t shied away from selecting from a wealth of translated fiction. National identity, or identities that build and dissolve within foreign borders, likewise migrate — sometimes into English. And they shouldn’t be ignored.

It’s an interesting approach to grouping individual works into a single list.

A suggestion: Unless you relish clicking 50 times to see the complete list, click on “View All Slides” below the “1/51” that follows the list of tags. You’ll have to look hard for this shortcut. It appears in such light type that it’s easy to miss.

PW’s Best Books 2015

Publishers Weekly ’s business is books, so it’s not surprising that they offer quite a listing. This is the portal page that takes you to the goodies, cataloged in the following categories:

  • Top 10
  • Fiction
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Poetry
  • Romance
  • SF/Fantasy/Horror
  • Comics
  • Nonfiction
  • Picture Books
  • Middle Grade
  • Young Adult
  • Religion
  • Lifestyle

2015 Goodreads Choice Awards

Most lists are compiled by critics and reviewers, but the Goodreads Choice Awards are voted on by the people who actually read the books. There are lots of categories here, too:

  • Fiction
  • Mystery & Thriller
  • Historical Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Horror
  • Humor
  • Nonfiction
  • Memoir & Autobiography
  • History & Biography
  • Science & Technologh
  • Food & Cookbooks
  • Graphic Novels & Comics
  • Poetry
  • Debut Goodreads Authors
  • Young Adult Fiction
  • Young Adult Fantasy
  • Middle Grade & Children’s
  • Picture Books

Best books of 2015 – part one

From the folks in Great Britain comes this list:

Compelling fiction, a game-changing biography and a 900-page whopper for food nerds – writers reveal which of the past year’s books they have most enjoyed

Best books of 2015 – part two

And also this one:

From provocative novels, giants real and imagined, and new novels from past masters … authors and critics select their favourite reads of 2015

Both of these pages on The Guardian allow readers to nominate their own “favourite books of the year.”

Revealed! Our top 5 non-fiction books of the year

I personally like lists that impose some restriction on the number included. After all, it’s easy to just write down the titles of all the books you read that you like. But when you’re limited and have to choose among them, which ones do you keep and which ones do you discard.

So I give bonus points to The [Toronto] Star for holding itself to a mere five books chosen by its reviewers from the “thousands of books released this year.”

Is it too early for ‘best books’ lists? Nope

Mary Ann Gwinn, book critic for the Seattle Times, “scanned the best-books picks from Publishers Weekly, Amazon Books and Library Journal and mined a little data: out of 30 books, only three made more than one list.”

You’ll have to look at the article to see which three books those are.

At the end of the article Gwinn mentions some local (Pacific Northwest) authors whose books won some kind of recognition.