Top Ten Books I Read In 2015
These are the top books I have read since January 1, 2015. The listing includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and is actually more than ten as I have chosen to group more than one book by three of the authors. It was a very rich year for reading although the quantity of books I read declined in total from my recent experience. There is no particular order to the list and I highly recommend all of the following:
The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell.
Set in India, 1857, during the Great Mutiny, this novel by J. G. Farrell is both a mighty work of historical fiction and a humane study of man. Farrell has the ability to create a world filled with flawed but often sympathetic characters and that sets this novel apart from typical historical fare.
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes.
Described as "a relay race of scientific stories", it is that and more, combining the literary milieu of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with the increasingly wonderful scientific discoveries and enterprises from the voyages of Captain James Cook through the crossing of the English Channel by balloon through excursions into the study of gases and electricity, ending with the first voyage of Charles Darwin.
John Donne's Poetry by John Donne, Donald R. Dickson (Editor). Donne is often considered a difficult poet. Other metaphysical poets, such as Andrew Marvell, have enjoyed a steadier, if less glamorous, regard, since much of their poetry is more accessible. Donne, who almost never seems completely accessible even at his most seemingly transparent, requires great dedication on the part of the reader--and, perhaps, gives more lasting rewards.
Death in Venice and The Confessions of Felix Krull by Thomas Mann. These two novels, one from early in Mann's career and the other his final completed novel are perfect bookends to the prize-winning career of one of my favorite authors. Last year his seminal work The Magic Mountain was on my annual list.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
Using simple prose and the first person plural the author created a unique perspective on a very real historical episode in Japanese-American history.
Paradise Lost by John Milton.
In Paradise Lost, Milton produced a poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the center of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man.
Blood Meridian and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
These are two of the best novels by one of the greatest American novelists. Blood Meridian rivals the works of Melville and Faulkner in depth of meaning and style; while The Road is a searing, post apocalyptic novel.
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.
This was Wolfe's first novel, a unique cornucopia of beautiful prose about a young man's burning desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life.
The Cossacks and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy.
While Tolstoy is famous for his massive novels, these two short novels are pinnacles of the writer's art. In The Cossacks one finds a story that mirrors War and Peace in miniature. The Death of Ivan Ilych explores the life in death and the epitome of its existential meaning.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.
This riveting narrative tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
Some very good books I read this year that came close but did not make the top ten included: Sirius by Olaf Stapledon, On Heroes and Hero-worship by Thomas Carlyle, The Search Warrant by Patrick Modiano, and Hadji Murat by Tolstoy.