2015 was a great year for the literary world and I have to admit that I haven’t read some of the year’s best and most important titles. At the top of my reading list: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; The Mare by Mary Gaitskill; Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life; and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. These gems are required reading for anyone — including myself — who has yet to crack them.
Three of 2015’s best selling titles are books I can recommend as personal favorites, two of which were published posthumously. Celebrated Tennessee author William Gay’s Little Sister Death was recently discovered in his papers and published as a complete novel. While the last third of the book felt like a work in progress, I cannot say enough glowing things about the book as a whole. A sensuous re-imagining of the infamous Bell Witch Haunting of 19th century Tennessee, this novel is a paranormal – and literary – thrill. The story is signature Gay with its transcendent imagery, eerie Southern landscapes, and fine-tuned sentences. If you are a fan of Southern writers or appreciate things that go bump in the night, this one’s for you.
My other coincidentally posthumous pick is one from the late and truly great Shirley Jackson. One of the foremost American writers of the last century, we have not been blessed with new writing from her since 1962. So cheer and give thanks that Jackson’s previously uncollected short pieces have been published in a new book called Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. The stories are every bit as worthy and engrossing as those in Jackson’s classic and widely anthologized collection, The Lottery. The scenarios feel a bit like The Twilight Zone but with the self-awareness and craft of Virginia Woolf. Should you read Let Me Tell You? Yes. Should you read anything and everything Shirley Jackson wrote? Yes, absolutely.
I have claimed Bonnie Jo Campbell as a favorite writer since discovering her enchanting and deeply empathetic novel, Once Upon a River, a few years ago. Campbell is back and at her best in her new short story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. These stories are as tough and unflinching as the women they portray. Mothers, grandmothers, daughters, lovers, wanderers and blue collar workers strive to make sense of their world and the people they love. Vulnerable as it is candid, this collection is about as human as it gets.
With all the good literature coming out of 2015, and a lot more to be excited about in the coming months, there is no shortage of good new books. Best wishes for the New Year, and happy reading.