In March 2015, I delightfully ditched my commute. I regained my sanity, but at the same time, I lost a few designated hours of reading time each day. That said, I've done my best to keep up on my reading list, and I uncovered quite a few gems this year. I can't say for certain these are the best books of the year, but they're my favourites, and each was a joy to read.
Surprisingly, there's no fiction on this list of favourites. That's not to say I didn't read amazing fiction this year. The first book I read in 2015 was Us, Conductors, and I was crushed when it ended. (With quotes like "There is cruelty to the way a person, a place, can sometimes feel so close, and then the next day far away" and "I had known many silhouettes," Us, Conductors quickly became one of my all-time favourite reads). I also wept my way through Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, a gorgeous and heartbreaking novel. These were just two of the stunning works of fiction I read in 2015; however, both were 2014 releases.
The following books are the books that kept me up at night in 2015. They're the books I want to tell everyone to read. They're books I can't recommend enough.
This is Happy by Camilla Gibb (Doubleday Canada); Released August 18, 2015
Each year, there's a book that I recommend to everyone I know. It's usually a memoir. It's been Just Kids, The Boy in the Moon, and The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Last year, it was Plum Johnson's They Left Us Everything. This year, it was This is Happy, a memoir that I boasted about on the blog and in person to everyone who asked for a recommendation. If you're going to read one book on this list, read This is Happy. (But don't stop there. Read them all.)
Mountain City Girls: The McGarrigle Family Album by Anna and Jane McGarrigle (Random House of Canada); Released November 10, 2015
Because of my dad's influence, I grew up on American folk music, but Canadian folk music is something I've mostly discovered on my own, and the McGarrigles are no exception. Mountain City Girls is unique in the way it's told, as both surviving McGarrigle sisters, Anna and Jane, each take turns sharing their memories. I'm currently working on a review of this one for rabble.ca, so stay tuned for my complete thoughts on it.
M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf Canada); Released October 6, 2015
It surprises people that I have a favourite book, but I do. It's Just Kids by Patti Smith, and it's magical (as evidenced here). So, of course, when Patti Smith's follow-up was released this fall, I snuck out of work to get a copy on release day, and I devoured it in one or two nights. I'm going to be honest and say that M Train didn't hit me in the gut as Just Kids did, but that isn't because it's not a brilliant book. It is a brilliant book, but it's lonelier and laced with solitude. It's a tougher read, but Smith's stunning prose makes it worth the challenge.
A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail by Jenna Butler (Wolsak and Wynn); Released October 6, 2015
Full disclosure: I read this book yesterday. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. In 2006, Butler and her partner, Thomas, purchased 160 acres of land in northern Canadian bush. "They knew they weren't purchasing anything more than hard work and hope but still they headed up every weekend to clear a spot in those woods where they could plant their first crops." A Profession of Hope is a short book, but it brims with hope and possibility.
I'm obsessed with the four books in my "Beautiful Books" category. Each is the type of book that shouldn't be destined to collect dust on a bookshelf. Each begs to be displayed and shared with as many people as possible. I'm aware that I'm overusing the word "stunning" in this post, but these are stunning books!
The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration by Moorea Seal (Sasquatch Books); Released September 8, 2015
This one is part book and part New Year's resolution. "This beautiful undated journal of weekly lists will help nurture self-expression and self-development. Each seasonal section includes list prompts, with plenty of space to write your own lists, and challenges to help you take action and make your dreams a reality." I can't wait to begin journalling in 2016. (Look how beautiful it is inside.)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll's Novel with It's Many Hidden Meanings by David Day (Doubleday Canada); Released September 29, 2015
I can't do this book justice. It's huge and colourful, and it's full of endless insight about Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's my perfect book, combining children's literature with history, from the Liddell siblings who inspired the book to the historical context in which the book was published. "Day's commentary, woven around the complete text of the novel for ease of cross-reference on every page, uncovers the many layers of teaching, concealed by manipulation of language, that are carried so lightly in the form of a fairy tale." This isn't only one of the impressive books I read this year, but one of the most impressive books I've ever read.
This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad (Tundra Books); Released May 12, 2015I can't describe This is Sadie any better than the description Tundra Books offers: "Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination. She has been a girl who lived under the sea and a boy raised by wolves. She has had adventures in wonderland and visited the world of fairytales. She whispers to the dresses in her closet and talks to birds in the treetops. She has wings that take her anywhere she wants to go, but that always bring her home again. She likes to make things — boats out of boxes and castles out of cushions. But more than anything Sadie likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all." Sometimes I wish I had kids only for the picture books.
Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon (Zest Books); Released October 20, 2015
The joy of reading is creating a world inside your head that nobody else can see. "This incredibly wide-ranging collection of maps — all inspired by literary classics — offers readers a new way of looking at their favorite fictional worlds. Andrew DeGraff’s stunningly detailed artwork takes readers deep into the landscapes from The Odyssey, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Invisible Man, A Wrinkle in Time, Watership Down, A Christmas Carol, and more." Plotted brings fictional worlds to life through imaginative illustrations that are frame-worthy. It goes without saying, but I loved this book completely.
There are two books of poetry and no fiction books on this list. What can I say? 2015 was a weird year.
We Can't Ever Do This Again by Amber McMillan (Wolsak and Wynn); Published April 15, 2015
I read this one on a patio on one of those rare days when you've got nothing better to do than to drink a cold beer on a hot day with a good book as your only companion. We're lucky to have a local publisher here in #HamOnt that excels in poetry, and this one by Amber McMillan is among my favourites Wolsak and Wynn has published. I tend to judge books by their covers, and the cover of We Can't Ever Do This Again drew me in, but McMillan's tender and detailed poetry kept me hooked.
rue: poems by Melissa Bull (Anvil Press); Published April 15, 2015
Oddly enough, rue by Melissa Bull was published on the same day as We Can't Ever Do This Again, proving April 15 is a good day for poetry! Here's just a snippet of my review of rue, which appeared in the Humber Literary Review: "In rue, Bull writes of experiences that mimic our own — friends gathering on balconies, strangers exchanging grins, and ambiguous conversations — but, of course, most of us lack her finely tuned precision of language. Bull’s ability to capture the most ordinary things and experiences make it no surprise that rue was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award. Bull is a welcomed addition to Canada’s poetry landscape." There's a line that killed me in rue, but it's not a line I'll reveal. As in the case of good poetry, it's a line that hit a little too close to home for comfort.
I've already mentioned Us, Conductors and Medicine Walk, but there are a few other books I read in 2015 that were released in previous years. Leak by Kate Hargreaves (Book Thug) and One Hour In Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery by Karyn Freedman (Freehand Books) are both equally deserving of a mention.