Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Trying to Decide What to Read in 2016?

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The “Best Books of 2015” lists are a great resource, of course!  There are just so many, lists upon lists.  Here are the top five that I’ve enjoyed and found useful:

#1:  The New York Times Top 10 Books of 2015

This is the list you can’t ignore, and I won’t be so bold as to put it anywhere but the number one spot.  It’s a serious list; don’t expect any laughs here.  Of course that’s not what this self-serious list is about, nor should it be!  Not judging.  Just saying.

The book I’m reading is A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin:  “Berlin’s stories are the kind a woman in a Tom Waits song might tell a man she’s just met during a long humid night spent drinking in a parking lot.”

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#2:  Vogue Ten Best Books of 2015

This list blew me away!  The books are smart, current, and ambitious.  Who exactly is compiling this list?!  I need to figure that out, and then I’ve got to subscribe to Vogue.  For the book reviews.  A book club could do worse than use this list as its roadmap.

My top choice is Hold Still, by Sally Mann:  “The female gaze remains as provocative as it was in 1992, when a firestorm erupted over Sally Mann’s photographic series Immediate Family.  Her memoir, Hold Still (Little, Brown), opens dusty boxes in the attic to evoke ‘a payload of Southern gothic,’ but it’s when Mann turns to the subjects of her own work – the human body, the landscapes of her Shenandoah Valley childhood and its legacy of racism – that this memoir achieves a rare, hard-won honesty.  Mann is not only one of our greatest art photographers, she’s also, it turns out, a hell of a writer.”

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#3:  The Washington Post Top Ten Books of 2015

My husband and I lived in the hot mess of Washington D.C. for three years, living and breathing politics like everyone else.  Well, my husband lived and breathed it.  It was more like secondhand smoke for me.  I got hooked on the Washington Post, though.  I don’t pay quite as much attention to it as I used to, but I still count on it for book reviews and always enjoy the year-end list.

I’ll be reading Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham:  “Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H.W. Bush accomplishes a neat trick.  It completes the historical and popular rehabilitation of its subject, though it does by affirming, not upending, common perceptions of America’s 41st president.  In Meacham’s telling, Bush indeed lacked an ideological vision, was as overmatched in domestic policy as he was masterful on the global stage, benefited from his family’s influence, and remains overshadowed ‘by the myth of his predecessor and the drama of his sons’ political lives.’  What Meacham so skillfully adds to this understanding – through extraordinary detail, deft writing and, thanks to his access to Bush’s diaries, an inner monologue of key moments in Bush’s presidency – is the simple insight that none of these supposed flaws hindered the man from meeting the needs of the nation and that, if anything, they helped him.”

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#4:  The Wall Street Journal Top Books of 2015:

The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition is my go-to source for my next read.  I was surprised by this year’s “Best of 2015” list, perhaps because quite a few of these books weren’t on my radar as must-reads or even maybe-want-to-reads.  It’s a very internationally-oriented list.  My stack of books is growing by the second.

One of my book clubs chose The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen for February, so I’ll be starting it soon:  “This novel about a Communist spy embedded in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon has been justly lauded for giving readers a view of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a Vietnamese narrator. But this is more than a fresh perspective on a familiar subject. It is intelligent, relentlessly paced and savagely funny – never more so than in the bravura lampooning of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ at its center.”

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#5:  Buzzfeed:  Nonfiction and Buzzfeed:  Fiction

These lists are a little longer than the others, with 18 nonfiction and 24 fiction titles.  They feature excellent books that are shaping the current conversation, not just among literary types.

I might pick up first Janice P. Nimura’s Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back:  “In Daughters of the Samurai, Nimura describes a fascinating moment in history:  In 1871, the Japanese government sent five young girls to the United States for ten years to receive a Western education, after which they would be brought back to help modernize Japan.  What results is utterly engrossing, as we watch these girls (each a distinctive personality in her right) adjust to America… then readjust to Japan.”

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Other excellent resources:

The Wall Street Journal put together a list of the books most often cited in “Best of” Lists.  This list is worth checking out!  In effect, it reflects some kind of common current wisdom.

The Huffington Post made 18 fiction selections.  The list is much like Buzzfeed:  hot current books, high quality.

NPR’s list of 260 books (NPR) is just overwhelming unless you’re simply browsing.  Seriously, NPR?  Grow a pair.  Make some choices.  Maybe I’m being too harsh?  It’s a lovely list if you’re in the mood to browse.

Library Journal’s Top Ten.  Smart, quirky, terrific.  I would happily read all 10 of these books in a row.

Brainpickings.org offers a thoughtful, readerly take on “rewarding reflections on time, love, loss, courage, creativity, and other transformations of the heart.”

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Please also check in at Styleblueprint.com for my feature on six books to curl up with right now, in the long dark days of winter that call for tales well told…

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8 Comments

  1. This is truly a stellar list, Jennifer! Thank you!

  2. Brilliant, as usual. And you are the kind of generous writer who embeds a gem near the end as reward, aren’t you? Howled with laughter at your helpful suggestion to NPR…

  3. I’m very interested to read Daughters of the Samurai! Great post!

  4. This is a nice looking list. Some new ones in there for me that I’m excited to pick up. Thank you.
    To anyone who enjoys biography/memoir and missed Tom Gallagher ‘Tara’s Halls’ last year. I highly recommend getting hold of a copy. Tara’s Halls was my favorite book last year and actually one of the best memoirs I have ever read.
    Tom Gallagher was raised on a small farm in Ireland with financial hardship but immigrated as a young man to America to study and find work. He ended up getting his degrees and working a career in international banking.
    It’s a quite amazing and fascinating life story that I think is a must-read.
    http://thegallagherplace.us

    • Hi! I am delighted to know about ‘Tara’s Halls”! Thank you so much for mentioning it. I’m always so happy to know what people are reading and enjoying, especially a “best read of the year.” All the best, Jennifer

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