Top Ten Significant Books of 2015

Now’s about the time you need to stock up on summer reading materials for the long January beach days and afternoons under a tree. In a year of busy literariness, with Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Tom McCarthy and Salman Rushdie all releasing new books, you’d be forgiven for not keeping on top of the truly noteworthy developments that have slid past us in the year that was. Here are ten works significant to 2015 in one way or another that are sure to entertain, or at least keep you in good stead for dinner party conversations.

 

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
Having won an impressive amount of awards, not least of all the Man Booker Prize, if you haven’t heard about this book it’s time to come out from under your rock. A fictional musing on the fallout of the 1976 Bob Marley assassination attempt, the novels spans decades and continents to form a dramatic and exuberant picture of Jamaica’s coming-of-age.

 

Garth-Risk-Hallberg-BOOKCity on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
A two-million-dollar bidding war is nothing to sneeze at, neither is a 900+ page debut novel. A multi-perspective, intricately woven story of New York City leading up to the famous 1977 summer blackout, examining the city’s richest and poorest and everything in between.

 

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Find me one person in the Western hemisphere who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented Atticus Finch as one of the all-time greatest characters in literature. For a long time this was to be the only book Harper Lee, now 89, was to ever publish. So in terms of making history the release of her second, and probably final, novel this year is kind of a big deal.

 

HawkH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
In order to make sense of the devastating grief of losing her father, Macdonald embarks on a journey to train her own goshawk, the wildest and most brutal of raptors. Part memoir, part nature manual, part literary history, this enchanting book has generated a surprising amount of popular and critical acclaim.

 

inherent viceInherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
A 60s noir escapade story from one of the most influential contemporary novelists (but if you haven’t yet read Pynchon, start with dystopian The Crying of Lot 49). Inherent Vice is several years old now but this year became the first Pynchon novel to be adapted for the screen. Don’t see the movie, but do read the book.

 

jon ronsonSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
A man who’s made a career out of researching the bizarrities of modern social cultures, Ronson is the British answer to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest release Ronson examines the strange obsession we seem to have with mass shamings, and the role social media has played in the expansion of this global pastime.

 

south-of-darknessSouth of Darkness, John Marsden
Marsden is a national treasure displaying an impressive range of narrative tone throughout his long career, from the psychological dramas of his earlier works to the addictive war action of his highly acclaimed Tomorrow series. After a writing hiatus he has returned with this colonial high-seas narrative of a young convict boy destined for Botany Bay.

 

buried giantThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so this was one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2015. In post-Arthurian England a couple set off across the misted landscape to find their son of whom they have almost no memory. A novel of slow-reveal like his other works The Buried Giant was met with the same bemused reception. Reviewers seem unsure as to whether it is exceedingly ordinary or another triumph of symbolic and revelatory genius.

 

martianThe Martian, Andy Weir
A few years old this novel makes the 2015 list because it was also adapted for the screen this year, and unlike Inherent Vice it is a movie worth seeing. Not the most literary of options, it has nevertheless been met with positive reviews all round, named a ‘Robinson Crusoe for the modern age’. Entertaining and readable, it’s a perfect summer novel.

 

waiting_for_the_past_print_0Waiting for the Past, Les Murray
Named as one of Australia’s Living Treasures Les Murray has an OA to his name and is widely considered one of the best living English-language poets worldwide. His new collection has already won a slew of awards and you’d be crazy to miss it.

 

Elise Janes

 

A List of Ones

 

There’s something bizarrely satisfying about assembling a list of titles around a suitably flimsy concept, in this case the number ‘one’ in honour of our anniversary month. Here follows a chronological tenner of novels with the word or number ‘one’ in the title. Surprisingly, the resultant assemblage features a variety of genre and style spanning half a century of literature, featuring many authors and novels frequently listed in reputable ‘best of’ collections. Who’d have thunk it? Enjoy.

 

One Lonely Night (1951)
Mickey Spillane
Genre: Noir
Distinguishing Features: Communists, misty pavements, and a trash-talking private eye.

Some place over there I had left my car and started walking, burying my head in the collar of my raincoat, with the night pulled in around me like a blanket. I walked and I smoked and I flipped the spent butts ahead of me and watched them arch to the pavement and fizzle out with one last wink. If there was life behind the windows of the buildings on either side of me, I didn’t notice it. The street was mine, all mine. They gave it to me gladly and wondered why I wanted it so nice and all alone.

 

Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Ray Bradbury
Genre: Dystopian
Distinguishing Features: Book burning, nostalgic imagery, and thought-inducing prose.

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

fahrenheit-451-large

 

The Once & Future King (1958)
T H White
Genre: Arthurian legend/fantasy
Distinguishing Features: Chivalry, swords, and the triumph of human nature over systemic power.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn.”

 

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960)
Dr Seuss
Genre: Children’s Literature
Distinguishing Features: Brilliant rhymes, delightful turns of phrase, the desire to be a kid again.

From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
Ken Kesey
Psychological drama
Distinguishing Features: Nurse Ratched, consistent banning from highschool reading lists, an Academy Award-winning movie.

If you don’t watch it people will force you one way or the other, into doing what they think you should do, or into just being mule-stubborn and doing the opposite out of spite.

 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Genre: War fiction
Distinguishing Features: Soviet brutality, prison camp oppression, and a lesson in mental survival.

When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Genre: Magic realism
Distinguishing Features: Heartbreaking beauty, a fanciful history of Colombia, a certain rebellious twisting of the laws of reality.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

one hundred years of solitude

 

The Power of One (1989)
Bryce Courtney
Genre: Bildungsroman/historical fiction
Distinguishing Features: Boarding school woes, South African racial tensions, overcoming tyranny with your mind and some hard-acquired boxing skills.

In each of us there is a flame that must never be allowed to go out. That as long as it burns within us, we cannot be destroyed.

 

Once Were Warriors (1990)
Alan Duff
Genre: Quasi-autobiography
Distinguishing Features: State housing, domestic abuse, and Maori dispossession.

Our people once were warriors. But unlike you, Jake, they were people with mana, pride; people with spirit. If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything.

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
David Sedaris
Genre: Essays/autobiography
Distinguishing Features: Ironic humour, melancholy reflection, larger than life characters.

After a few months in my parents’ basement, I took an apartment near the state university, where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art. Either one of these things are dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy entire civilizations.

 

Elise Janes