Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Best of 2015

Top ten books of the year
I was in grad school this past year, which put a damper on my pleasure reading. Even so, I still managed to finish just over 100 books this year. This included a satisfying crop of five-star reads—enough for another top ten list. As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best books that have appeared here at this blog over the past twelve months. These are books that I have read (or reread) and reviewed in the past calendar year. Of course, since this is Old Books by Dead Guys, many of these works were published decades ago, but some of them were new to me and may be new to you. Click on the titles below to read the full reviews.

The Death of Olivier Becaille by Emile Zola (1884)
Fiction (Novella), Classic Literature
This brief novella is narrated by a dead man. Trapped within his immobilized corpse, he can still hear and feel the goings-on around him. Though the macabre subject matter may call to mind the horror stories of Poe, this novella is actually a fine example of the kind of moving, socially conscious literature one expects from Zola, the French master of naturalism. 

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
The powerful story of a family of Swedish immigrants who settle on the plains of Nebraska. When the father dies, he designates his daughter Alexandra to manage the farm, forcing her to face the tough choice between staying put or moving on. Cather finds gripping drama in the everyday lives of these prairie farmers, and her perfect prose relates their epic tale with quiet dignity. Consider this one a prime candidate for Great American Novel.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather (1918)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
A double whammy from Cather! They’re both so good I couldn’t leave one out. Also set in Nebraska; also a masterpiece of American realism. Cather brilliantly depicts the pleasures and pains of growing up in small-town middle America through the story of Ántonia, a Bohemian immigrant girl whose accent and manners brand her as a second-class citizen among the American-born residents of her narrow-minded community.

Dust by Emanuel and Marcet Haldeman-Julius (1921)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
This forgotten gem of American realism, penned by the Kansas couple who published the Little Blue Books, tracks the trajectory of a dysfunctional marriage amid a hardscrabble life on the prairie far more bleak and brutal than that depicted by Cather. This buried treasure deserves to be rescued from obscurity.

Gladiator by Philip Wylie (1930)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature, Modern Literature, Science Fiction
Quite possibly the inspiration for the comic book Superman, this novel tells the story of a scientific “guinea pig” endowed with superhuman strength and invulnerability. Although, given the subject matter, one might expect a pulp fiction action tale, Gladiator is really a philosophical work of literature examining man’s search for meaning in the modern world.

The Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges Simenon (1931)
Fiction (Novel), Modern Literature, Mystery
The third book in the Inspector Maigret series (75 novels in all), this one turns out to be one of the Parisian detective’s most intriguing cases. Maigret travels to a town on the Loire River to investigate the murder of a traveling salesman. Simenon handles it masterfully, providing a great ride for the reader. If you’ve never read Maigret, this is a good place to start.

Black Robe by Brian Moore (1985)
Fiction (Novel), Modern Literature, Historical Fiction
In this excellent historical novel, set in 17th-century Canada, a Jesuit priest undertakes a treacherous journey through rugged wilderness to a remote mission among the Huron Indians. Though his job is to convert the Natives, he is plagued by a crisis of faith, while the very people he’s been sent to evangelize view him as a sorcerer. Reads like a James Fenimore Cooper novel with modern sex, violence, and profanity.

Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 1 by DC Comics (2008)
Comics, Pulp Fiction, Science Fiction
This collection reprints issues 54 to 72 of the DC Comics series Strange Adventures, originally published in 1955 and 1956. It contains over 500 pages of science fiction classics in beautiful black and white. While the 61 stories included here aren’t all masterpieces, in total they comprise a wonderful celebration of Fifties pop culture and the power of the imagination.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2010)
American History, Biography
Everything you’d ever want to know about the Father of Our Country, and then some, in one monumental cradle-to-the-grave biography. This exhaustive study of the life of George Washington may be a long haul, but it’s always accessible, frequently fascinating, and never boring. Chernow strikes a healthy balance between hero worship and myth-busting.

Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike by Charlotte Gray (2010)
American History, Biography
This engrossing history of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1899 vividly details the meteoric rise and abrupt decline of Dawson City, Yukon. Gray examines the lives of six fascinating characters—prospector Bill Haskell, author Jack London, entrepreneur Belinda Mulrooney, Jesuit priest Father William Judge, journalist Flora Shaw, and Mountie Sam Steele—and the part each played in the birth and death of the ultimate boomtown. 


And since this is Old Books by Dead Guys, the top ten lists never go out of style. See also my best-of lists for 2013 and 2014. Happy reading in 2016!

No comments:

Post a Comment