The nice thing about the word “favorite” is that I don’t have to tart up my picks with the word “best”; I don’t have to pretend that I want to argue about what makes something the best, and who gets to decide that, or have the ghosts of all the other people with their best-ie opinions hovering over my shoulder, wondering why I didn’t include X or Y or why I am so passionately tired of hearing about Boyhood and Birdman. “Favorite” is much better than the illusion of objectivity; it means it’s ok to talk about things that made me feel, or think, or just be bowled over. These are the things I’m taking with me into next year, and the ones after.
All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld
This is my book, this year, the one I hand to every shopper who says “I just want something really good” and is willing to spring for a hardcover. The structure alone is a thing of carefully orchestrated beauty, but within Wyld’s perfect framework is a crisp and eerie story of a young woman going very much her own way.
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
It feels so obvious, now, to talk about how brilliant David Mitchell is, like, duh, everyone knows that. But part of his brilliance is that it’s always different, even as it has a through-line, a thread of connective tissue that links one book to another. What makes me love his books with a big, open-hearted love is that they are so carefully, gently, wisely bare of anything resembling cynicism. There is always something left for us, even at the end of the world.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
There is always something left for us at the end of the world as Emily St. John Mandel tells it, also. Station Eleven is the most hopeful post-apocalyptic story I’ve ever read, a campfire tale for an age of fear.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King
And while we’re talking about the end of the world, let’s talk about the one Glory O’Brien sees after she and her best friend ingest a dried-up bat. When Glory looks at people, she sees their futures, and what she sees is very not good. But it’s a future, and it’s her future, and when I put down King’s tart, empathetic YA novel, I burst into tears for no reason that I could put my finger on except that knowing too much and too little at the same time feels like the condition we’re all suffering from. No bats required.
“We don’t know enough about ourselves. I think it’s better to know that you don’t know, that way you can grow with the mystery as the mystery grows in you. But, these days, of course, everybody knows everything, that’s why so many people are so lost.” — If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin (1974)
Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley
The perfect oh-god-I’ve-fucked-up-my-twenties book — and a beautiful object as well.
“My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.” — Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Friendship, Emily Gould
Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo
Euphoria, Lily King
Yes and yes and yes; yes to precise, hilarious, sometimes painful depictions of female friendship and life in New York (two topics that are very easy to muck up, but Gould makes it look easy not to); yes to one of the best books about music and art and existing in a largely male world I have ever read; yes to science and sex and Lily King’s perfect sentences. Yes.
Stilwater, Rafael de Grenade
You’ve done the thing where you’re reading a book, and you like it well enough, and it is lovely and full of images you conjure up, not knowing what you’re doing, really, and then you put the book down and think you’ve left it behind, only to find that it’s staying with you, bubbling up to the top of your thoughts long after it should’ve faded. Right? Right. That’s this book, which I read, in fits and starts, on my Australian honeymoon. I thought I left it on a book swap shelf in a hostel in Cairns, but it’s still here, another story of the kind I must like best: women doing things I have never done, and then making me understand them.
Clariel, Garth Nix
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb
Because I will never tire of books that take me back to imaginary lands that exist like carefully rolled up maps in my head. Nix, back in his Old Kingdom, tells the the story of Clariel, who didn’t want to do what her parents wanted, and wound up not the hero the reader might expect; Grossman’s Fillory, long may Queen Janet reign in my heart; Hobb’s Six Duchies, where the next generation of characters is born and the most heart-wrenching deaths are the most ordinary: the kind in which a string of days simply comes to an end.
Citizen, Claudia Rankine
This one will take me a while to absorb. Timely and timeless, elegant and stark, full of pain and grace and beauty, it’s a vital book for now, and for always.
Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang (2013)
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran (2013)
Because a White Man’ll Never Do It, Kevin Gilbert (1973)
I read Gene Luen Yang’s beautiful, two-part graphic novel on the dangers of an overabundance of faith on New Year’s Day, and what a way to start a year. Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt books are like finding a new best friend who doesn’t actually give a shit if you’re her friend or not; DeWitt’s candid, self-destructive self-containment is a thing of fearless, fucked-up magic. It took me weeks to make my furious way through Kevin Gilbert’s Because a White Man’ll Never Do It, a 40-year-old book about race in Australia that rings entirely too familiar.
After Birth, Elisa Albert (2015)
This disconcertingly slim book is terrifying, infuriating, glorious, incandescent, and all about two women and the little beings they’ve brought into the world. Theirs is a compact, specific, fraught universe, and Albert makes it explode.
Only Lovers Left Alive
I have long been in thrall to awards season, even though, ever year, I curse like a sailor and throw marshmallows at the television when the wrong people win. This might, at last, be the year to break me of this habit — and I know, I know, the Golden Globes are always a little bit bonkers, but I can no longer care even a little bit, even for the pretty dresses, about an awards universe that overlooks the precise beauty of Belle, the sharp humor of Obvious Child, the absurd talent of Tatiana Maslany, and the absorbing atmosphere of Only Lovers Left Alive — a movie I want to live in, at least in part because I love the way Jarmusch makes a case for finding the glory in the time you’re in, even if that time is forever.
Tristan and Yseult, Kneehigh Theatre (at St. Ann’s Warehouse)
Last year, I loved Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride, but this production was even better — a downright magical performance, equal parts theater, dance, and music, melded with chemistry and ingeniously staged. Performers trade roles, the audience becomes the guests at a wedding, balloons fly around the room, candles flare and relationships transform. I would’ve gone again, if I could.
Then She Fell, Third Rail Projects (at Kingsland Ward at St. John’s)
As a piece of theater you walk around in, it’s hard to avoid comparing Then She Fell to Sleep No More, but it’s its own beast, more immersive and yet smaller, much more intimate. The Red Queen bosses you around; Alice needs her hair brushed; Charles Dodgson will ask you to take dictation, then stuff your scrap of scribbled-on paper into a tiny bottle and throw it into a pool. A doctor showed me a card trick and I missed the tea party. Voyeuristic, bittersweet, dreamlike, it was an experience that sent me off into the night feeling, just a little bit, like I was glowing.
Brody Dalle (at the Bell House)
The first time I heard the Distillers, my utter delight mixed with a pang of rage: Why didn’t anybody tell me about this before? How could I have gone so long without knowing? (Possibly somebody did tell me and I have only myself to blame; I am not always good at listening.) This year, more than a decade after I pulled Coral Fang out of a stack of promo CDs at the record store where I worked, I finally got to see Dalle on stage. I got a little drunk, I screamed, I wished that I had known, when I was an angry, shy teenager, that you could do that. Be that. I’m still learning.
Molly Templeton (@mollytempleton) lives in Brooklyn. She works at WORD Bookstore and writes about film for the Eugene Weekly.
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