Staff Picks: Best Books of 2015

Everyone’s a critic. Our staff cook the books, because reading is soooo last year.

inconnu

December 31, 2015 | Cult | Fall 2015

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The year is at its end, but before we can jump into 2016, we must first reflect on the past 365 days—what did we do? Where did we go? What did we learn? And, most importantly, what did we read?

The arrival of a new year brings plenty of “best-of” lists around the web, naming the most successful movies, TV shows, books, and albums of the year. Here at Inconnu, we want to share our favorite books of 2015, too. This is not a Top Ten list, or a ranking; it is not exclusive to books that were published this year. These are the books we read this year that touched our souls, opened our eyes, and maybe made us want to open the window and scream out to unsuspecting pedestrians a little bit—these are the books we want to share with the world.  

Where the Words End and My Body Begins
by Amber Dawn
Following the achingly personal How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, Amber Dawn’s debut poetry collection honours queer poets whose words she holds like life preservers. Dawn’s glosas—a poetic form that takes a quatrain from another person’s poem and builds a new poem from it—interact with a literary queer community both past and present, including Christina Rossetti and Gertrude Stein, Jillian Christmas and Rachel Rose, among other names. These poems are raw, angry, unapologetic, and comforting all in the same breath, a confident owning of identity and transformative exploration of trauma and survivorship.

What drew me to this collection of poetry more than any other this year was its self-awareness and understanding of the possibility of poetry itself to provide a space for those who feel outside of to reside in. Dawn also speaks very clearly to a younger generation of writers still figuring themselves out, introducing and carrying on a lineage of queer storytelling through a poetics of rebellion that, above being culturally relevant, is simply beautiful.
— Megan K. Low, Fiction Editor

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
by Amanda Palmer
The Art of Asking is based on the TED talk that musician Amanda Palmer gave in 2013. In the book, she discusses the difficulty in asking for help because it means being vulnerable—however, it’s in that vulnerability that you find connection. I was really moved by Palmer’s openness in the book, but also by her ability to verbalize something that I’ve always struggled with, which is asking for help.
— Ariana Burrell, Editorial Assistant

Men Explain Things to Me
by Rebecca Solnit
This series of essays is sort of the start of a feminist manifesto. There’s something about it that makes me unable to stop raving. While it’s small, and most certainly doesn’t cover all topics of the broad monster that is feminism, what it does look at is done in a poignant and thoughtful way. The essays never drag in length, and the writing is delightful. A must-read for anybody who is a fan of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.
— Jocie Mills, Editorial Assistant

A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
A classic play that I somehow managed to not read until a twelfth-grade English class, A Streetcar Named Desire is about family, feelings of inadequacy, and obviously desire. Between my theatre classes and my lit classes the last two years of high school, I fell in love with plays and analyzing them. A Streetcar Named Desire has yet to be topped. So incredibly written, you cannot help but feel the tragedy that surrounds the lives of some.
— Ellie Boroughs, Editor-In-Chief

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg
by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik
In your life, there will be a select few books that you look back on and can say with assurance are the books that changed your life. I met one of those books this year in the form of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Carmon is a national reporter for MSNBC and Knizhnik is the NYU law graduate who founded the Notorious RBG tumblr account that started this movement. The book is exactly what it advertises: a tell-all biography about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s path from a 13-year-old “camp rabbi” to Supreme Court Justice and feminist sensation. But it’s not just that. This bio also includes RBG-inspired memes, costumes, and cartoons, as well as a section on how to be like RBG. If you’ve been looking for a great feminist read, a book to change your life, or more info on the Justice we know and love, fear not, fellow readers: the Ruth will set you free.
— Sadie Hillier, Production Manager

Lives of Girls and Women
by Alice Munro
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munroe is the Nobel Prize winner’s only novel, one that focuses on Del Jordan, a girl from a small town in rural Ontario growing up in a town called Jubilee. The book chronicles Del’s growth, as she moves from the outskirts of the town to the center, and is introduced to a cast of characters all dealing with life in individual, and often eccentric, ways. It is through Del’s keen observation that we then in turn discover things about her, as she navigates abuse, sexuality, friendship, and ultimately, what it means to be a woman.  
— Emily Wood, Poetry Editor

How to Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran is a feminist icon/journalist in England who wrote a very humorous tongue-and-cheek book where each chapter addresses taboo things that women struggle with, from menstruation to sexual fantasies. At points, this was a tough read because of its brutal honesty, but it was so worth it. It was like peeking into the innermost thoughts of someone else, but they gave you permission. I found her chapter on abortion especially powerful because it didn’t follow any narrative I had ever heard surrounding the topic. Please be advised: this book can be graphic, and is not for the faint of heart.  
— Ariana Burrell, Editorial Assistant

You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery
by Mamrie Hart
In a memoir which could fall under the guise of “yet another book by a Youtuber,” Hart’s essays of her life are as ridiculous and inherently hilarious as her videos. For the uninitiated, Mamrie Hart has a webseries of the same name in which she makes cocktails inspired by whatever is happening in pop culture at the time. Each chapter is named after a related cocktail, and throughout the essays Hart’s safe word, “rutabaga,” appears to warn her parents to skip over that section. Mamrie’s memoir cemented in my mind the belief that Hart is a severely underrated comedic genius.
— Ellie Boroughs, Editor-In-Chief

John Dies at the End
by David Wong
David and John are, by their own admittance, two dead-end losers in Bumfuck, Nowhere. Several people they know, including John, ingest a drug called Soy Sauce, which causes them to gain the ability to observe the world around them, move through time, do math really quickly, analyze dreams, etc. Unfortunately it can also make you spontaneously combust and explode your guts all over the wall while your body exudes some pretty terrifying alien insects. The two friends have to essentially battle the evil that this drug brought into existence while still being twenty-something total idiots. This book is the perfect mix of hilarity, ridiculousness, and horror, and I would 100 percent recommend it for anyone looking to read a scary book with some lighter, funnier moments. Just don’t watch the movie—no film could ever do the insanity of this storyline justice. Even if you really trust Paul Giamatti’s work.
— Asia Gruber, Culture Editor

Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture
by Elissa Shevinsky
This collection of essays, edited by Elissa Shevinsky, is both depressing and incredibly motivating. It’s no secret that the tech industry isn’t exactly welcoming toward women, and this book showcases that. But it’s also full of advice and hope for the future of women in tech. It is about carving out safe spaces, raising our voices, putting ourselves first, and not asking for permission. You don’t have to be a woman in tech to get something from this book—you just have to be willing to listen.
— Jillian Meehan, Managing Editor

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4)
by Sarah J. Mass
I honestly can’t really say a lot about this book in terms of plot because it is the fourth in a series, and I don’t want to go around spoiling things for you guys. Suffice to say, the stakes have been raised, and this book was everything I wanted and more. It has been an absolute pleasure watching the main character, Celaena, grow from the teenager she was in the first book—Throne of Glass—to a young woman owning her shit and being unapologetic about it. The writing is fab, the plot is compelling, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series.
— Jocie Mills, Editorial Assistant

The Argonauts
by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts has inspired some of my favourite essays and conversations this year. Besides being a stand-alone work that incorporates aspects of poetry, memoir, and theory, it is the kind of novel that grips you instantly with its sheer intelligence and complex understanding of humanity. The story focuses on Nelson’s relationship with her queer partner, Harry, along with queer family-making and its trials and tribulations. Nelson explores sexuality, gender, love, and language through concepts of renewal and asks, if a ship has all its parts replaced on a voyage, is it still the same ship? There is no conclusion per se, only thoughts about bodies, labels, and the ways in which we construct and then rebuild our relationships and ourselves endlessly and with hope.
— Emily Wood, Poetry Editor

These are the books that helped us grow in 2015, but what are yours? Comment below, tweet us, email us, slide into our DMs, show up at our houses with champagne and cookies if you must.

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Image Credit: Gilmore Girls (2000)

This is a post by the editorial staff.

1 Comment

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