These are not necessarily books published in 2015 (in fact, I don’t think any of them were published this past year), just ones I read for the first time this year. Pretty much the only thing these books have in common is that they all made me cry. (So did lots of others that didn’t make the cut. I’m a pretty easy cry. These ones were special, though).
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
My new favourite novel ever. It even edged out Middlemarch (!). This is one of those books that makes me wish I had a way of contacting the author and sending her a long rambling message about how much it meant to me. (I know Twitter sometimes facilitates that now, but she doesn’t appear to have it). It helped reignite my faith that God is really good at a time when I was struggling with that, and also helped me to look around and see how many amazing friendships I am blessed with. Seriously, please everybody just read it. (Yesterday I picked up Lila, the companion novel, and I’m simultaneously very nervous about it and very excited).
“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in this life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.”
Gaudy Night by DL Sayers
Okay, so I have a soft spot for books set in the ivory towers of Oxbridge. This much is undeniable. The mystery is compelling and interesting, as well. However, the thing that really endears this book to me is the effort made by Sayers to emphasise how Harriet and Peter really become equals before they enter into a relationship, and the absolute respect with which Peter treats her. (Also, flirting by way of Latin puns!). This scene, where Harriet is about to take on a dangerous task of some sort, is really lovely.
“More generously still, he had not only refrained from offers of help and advice which she might have resented; he had deliberately acknowledged that she had the right to run her own risks. ‘Do be careful of yourself’; ‘I hate to think of your being exposed to unpleasantness’; ‘If only I could be there to protect you’; any such phrase would express the normal male reaction. Not one man in ten thousand would say to the woman he loved, or any woman, ‘Disagreeableness and danger will not turn you back, and God forbid they should’. That was an admission of equality, and she had not expected it of him. If he conceived of marriage along those lines, then the whole problem would have to be reviewed in that new light; but that seemed hardly likely”.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
This is basically just cowboys on an epic journey. It addresses themes of ageing, horses, romance, cooking, paternity, death, heartbreak etc., but it’s pretty much just an adventure, filled with incredible characters. It really stuck with me, and, even though it’s 900 pages long, I’ll definitely be rereading it—probably soon. I keep trying to peer-pressure my friends into reading it so we can all just gush together about how much we love it. No joy yet.
“‘My main skills are talking and cooking biscuits,’ Augustus said. ‘And getting drunk on the porch’.”
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
This book makes the list because it was so theologically interesting. Greene was a devout but troubled Catholic. To me, this book highlights the issues we encounter when we try to insert a high priest other than Jesus in between ourselves and God (in this case the confessional), when we try to earn our salvation instead of joyfully accepting it as a free gift. Scobie, the lead character, gets tied in theological knots trying to work out how to atone for his own sin without compromising the eternities of those around him: a burden, in short, that he can’t possibly bear. I find Graham Greene’s writing consistently fascinating, and I can’t wait to read The Power and the Glory, the next of his books on my list.
“Except for the sound of the rain, on the road, on the roofs, on the umbrella, there was absolute silence: only the dying moan of the sirens continued for a moment or two to vibrate within the ear. It seemed to Scobie later that this was the ultimate border he had reached in happiness: being in darkness, alone, with the rain falling, without love or pity”.
5) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I read this back in January, and at the time, I wouldn’t have listed it as a favourite—but I can’t stop thinking about it, twelve months later. There are two different viewpoints, overall, but used in incredibly clever ways—I can’t say much else without giving away important spoilers—and also I cried so much. More than anything else, though, I loved the way it portrayed friendship. So often, friendships between young women are portrayed as superficial, mostly devoted to eating chocolate and talking about boys. There is still some of that in this book, just like there is still some of that in, you know, life, but it’s far from the focus of the friendship. Unlike every other book on this list, the prose wasn’t gorgeous or spellbinding, but it made the list because I can’t stop thinking about it. Also, it gets five stars just for plot twists and red herrings.
“People are complicated. There is so much more to everybody than you realize. You see someone in school everyday, or at work, in the canteen, and you share a cigarette of a coffee with them, and you talk about the weather or last night’s air raid. But you don’t talk so much about what was the nastiest thing you ever said to your mother, or how you pretended to be David Balfour, the hero of Kidnapped, for the whole of the year when you were 13, or what you imagine yourself doing with the pilot who looks like Leslie Howard if you were alone in his bunk after a dance.”
This has been a great reading year for me, even if I haven’t blogged as consistently as I intended. Here’s to more brilliant books in 2016!