Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.
Please give it up for Elana, everybody!
2015 was a tough year for me. My father died just at the end of 2014—on Thanksgiving night (thanks, Dad)—so I started off 2015 really sad, and have had a rough time pulling out of that sadness.
My personal sadness became a fertile ground for nurturing other sadnesses—watching police brutality cases unfold by the seeming dozens, becoming more aware of acts of terror that have been taking place and continue to take place all around the world, wondering at the tiny cocoon I’ve lived in, and wondering if I have the courage to leave it.
So I read a lot of sad stuff this year, and angry-making stuff, and I returned to brutal things I had read before that somehow gave me comfort, like picking at a scab.
Here’s a list of some of it.
Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphoses Trilogy
The last book in this trilogy, About a Girl, came out in 2015, but I discovered the whole thing this year. There’s a lot of death in these books, with the death of an almost-magic father at the deep heart of them. My dad seemed magic, sometimes, too—he spoke with such confidence, even though I learned as an adult that he was often faking it; he was handsome and sharp in a way that made other people listen; he could always, always make me feel special, even in parts of my life where I was truly sub-average, like cooking and keeping a house.
There’s a lot of life in Sarah’s trilogy, too, and so much brilliance.
Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death
Well, there you go. It’s right there in the title. You can’t really expect it to end well, can you? Except the genius of Martha Brockenbrough means that even the inevitability of the expiration of everything one loves can feel bittersweet instead of just bitter.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me
Winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction, Coates’ book is a father’s letter to his son about blackness—and his fears for his son’s safety in the world, his inability to promise safety to his son, among other things. This book made me angry, and very sad, both for Coates and his son and also, selfishly, for myself, as my father, though well spoken and a good writer, died without leaving me a letter, or even a note. His death, though forewarned by doctors and inevitable (as all deaths are), still took him by surprise, I think, with unfinished business. I like to think that if he’d really known his death was there for him, he would have given me something, some written proof that I could return to. I would have returned to it, I am sure, dozens of times this year. As it is, I have his saved voicemails, which I stockpiled over the last year of his life as I became increasingly aware of his impending death. But I have only listened to one of them, and I don’t know when I will be able to listen to more. Part of me wants to listen to each of them, and then erase them, one at a time, as a way of letting go. My family is Jewish (heavy on the “ish”), and the mourning period is twelve months. Listening to and letting go of these recordings could feel like a way of moving past death and stepping back to the wonderful people in my life who are still alive, still here to talk and listen.
Carrie Mesrobian’s Cut Both Ways
Yes, this is a book about a boy who is sexually involved with both his best friend and his girlfriend. But to me this was a book about a boy who had to say goodbye to the father he wished he had. I’m sure this is because of the scrim through which I was reading it, but isn’t that the mark of a good book—that there is something in it for every reader, that the book meets the reader where she is, right then?
This is a pretty depressing post. But sometimes life is depressing, and rotten, and not a celebration but rather a period of mourning. These books, and others, helped me wade through months and months of sadness. At times, they validated my feelings and gave me space to cry. At times, they took me away from my dark moments and gave me something to laugh about, another space to invest myself away from my own concerns. This year, books were especially important to me, and I am grateful to them and their creators.