There's nothing like a book to show you your place in the world. Think you're troubled? Try Tartt. Think you know the South? Read Faulkner. Think you're an idiot? I guarantee Don Quixote has more claim to the title than you.
A book is, in fact, the only mind-altering substance that clarifies, as opposed to clouds, your perception. So they are especially useful to have when life turns upside down.
2015 was a shakeup. I started my year a complacent Virginia homeowner and ended it in a rental house half a country away. I began with three solid careers and ended with three rocky ones. It's been a year of uprooting and unsettling- all the better to do it with books!
According to Goodreads, I read 36 books I will admit to. Some were good. Some were OK. Two were dreadful. But you probably don't want to read those. So here are five that were stellar!
1. So You've Been Publicly Shamed (Jon Ronson). PR professional Justine Sacco boarded a plane after tweeting a bad joke and woke up an international pariah. Ronson's book, in which he interviews Sacco and other shamers and shamees, is an uncomfortably funny, can't-look-away catalog of humiliations past and present. And although it pains me to write this without irony, his message is capital-I Important. Additional kudos to Ronson for annihilating the best-of-2015 list I'd dared to construct before picking up his book (sorry, Gail Godwin).
2. My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante). Two Neapolitan girls endure the travails of poverty, institutional violence and impending womanhood as they journey to....snore. I mean, God, there's no way to juice the plot summary on this one. But the book is wildly better than its blurb.
3. Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel). Plague! Shakespeare! Empty airports! This book has every ingredient you could ever want. And yet, unlike if, say, you took all of your favorite culinary ingredients, mixed them together and then baked them, which my little brother did, once, and we tasted it, and the results ended up on the lawn where they were summarily ignored by all wildlife while undergoing a bizarre combination of putrefaction and petrification- unlike that, it's awesome.
4. Fun Home (Alison Bechdel). Just pretty much the best graphic novel I've ever read. Never mind that it's the only graphic novel I've ever read. It's still fantastic.
5. The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown). So this is the kind of book I hate. It's non-fiction, written by a man, about sports, with a World War II theme. And yet, I cried more reading Brown's book than I've cried since Old Yeller bit the dust. Read this.
Honorable Mentions: Flora, Gail Godwin; A Long Way Gone, Lou Berney; Lila, Marilynne Robinson