With all of the “Best Books of 2015” lists circling ’round the interwebs, here’s the stuff I loved most this year. Most of these came out this year. A few didn’t. But either way, I discovered them in the past twelve months and I think y’all will enjoy them.
Robert Gipe’s Trampoline: First and foremost, I think flat out this was the best debut novel this year, and the best debut to come out of Appalachia in decades. That being said, this is a story that left my heart at once warmed and shattered, Trampoline rides the razor’s edge of raw beauty. This is Appalachia illuminated with a light uniquely its own. I dare say Robert Gipe has invented his own genre. Order a copy here.
Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen: When I finished this novel my first thought was, “This will be a finalist for the National Book Award.” I told everyone I knew this. I was off a tad, but not much. It was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. I think Chigozie’s work is some of the most original prose I’ve ever read. It was a story that felt like something I knew being told in a way that was wholly his own. Very happy to see him making waves. Order a copy here.
George Singleton’s Calloustown: Aside from possibly the story “Fossils” in Half-Mammals of Dixie, I think this latest collection might hold my favorite story George has ever written. What do I think of this collection and his work as a whole: if when we come to die we are measured by how often we made others smile and laugh, George Singleton will have a seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Order a copy here.
Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew: I’m not entirely certain she’s not America’s greatest short story writer. Regardless, she’s one of my favorite and this collection is a stunner. Order a copy here.Memoirs:
Leigh Ann Henion’s Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World: More than a journey of the world’s phenomena, this book is an illumination of womanhood and motherhood. From a place where those definitions, those roles, are far too often left in the dark or misspelled in black and white, Leigh Ann Henion somehow seems to see the world in full color. She shines her flashlight, takes what we’ve been taught, and examines it closer, and what she finds is equally astounding as a year-round lightning storm or a bay where water glows. What she finds, sheds light on what it means to be human. Order a copy here.
Jeremy B. Jones’ Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland: One of the best Appalachian voices to come along in a long while, Jeremy Jones writes with poignant, lithe, prose. He may be looking at one spot on the mountain, but he’s looked at it from every ridgeline, from every cove, from every prone position in the field. What we’re left with is the multi-faceted experience that is our lives. Order a copy here.
Denton Loving’s Crimes Against Birds: Hard to say what my favorite poem is in this collection, though there are plenty that have hung with me, but my favorite image is from “Elemental:” “the sun / when it reaches behind the mountain // and its last rays of light shine through / the quivering strands of yellow sage // grass, make the hillside glow like gold, / how it forms silhouettes of the cows // on the ridge top, allows them to gaze / across the skies as they stand on top // of the whole world, beside the forked / and twisted sassafras…” All of that to say, read this book. Order a copy here.
Rebecca Gayle Howell’s Render: An Apocalypse: Quite frankly the best book of poetry I’ve read in years. Gritty. Raw. Lithe. Turns like switchbacks. Rebecca Gayle Howell is the real deal. Order a copy here.
Now all you have to do is trust me and go buy all of these books for yourself or for a friend or for anyone so long as they’re being read. And if you happen to buy it from now through Dec. 24, Penguin Random House will be spearheading the Give A Book campaign where each book you give as a gift they’ll match simply for you using the hashtag #GiveABook on Facebook and Twitter. So, first, give someone a book this holiday, and, secondly and most importantly, use the hashtag #GiveABook so that your gift reaches not only the person you love and care about but someone you’ve never met as well. Hope you all have a happy holiday season.