Today is my monthly “day off”: a day when I leave the house early, come home late, and fill the hours in between with whatever I feel like doing. And today, I wanted to spend some of that time here.

In trying to decide what to write about, I landed on a book list. I know it’s  not a typical post for me, and it’s something that’s a bit overdone at this time of year, but I liked the idea of a retrospect – something to encourage me to think back over what I’ve read (and, by extension, learned) over the past year. (Plus, I quickly realized it would give me some essay ideas that I can file away for future posts.)

So without further ado, here are my five favorite reads from 2015, in no particular order.

Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

Bryson has long been one of my favorite writers, despite his uneven performance (I really don’t understand how the same man wrote both At Home and Notes From a Small Island). Thankfully, his travelogue of Australia was on the high end of his scale of execution. Don’t read this book in public if you have hangups about laughing hysterically in front of complete strangers.

Brian Selznick, The Marvels

After Wonderstruck, I was a bit worried. Selznick’s second hybrid novel, though amazing in its own right, fell short of the mark he set with The Invention of Hugo Cabret. But my anxiety was misplaced. The Marvels – which centers around London’s theatrical community – is Hugo‘s equal in every respect. The art is breathtaking, the story is heart-achingly poignant, and once again I’m in awe of this man’s talent.

Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson’s memoir-in-poems tells the story of her childhood move from Illinois to South Carolina to New York and of her discovery of the magic and potency of words. I’ve never read such a spot-on conceptualization of race in the South. And Woodson’s description of the power of story literally brought me to tears – in the middle of the office lunchroom, no less.

Rebecca Stead, Liar and Spy

I reviewed Stead’s When You Reach Me back in 2012. Liar and Spy, the story of two friends who get caught up in a possibly not-so-innocent game of spying on the neighbors, is similarly stunning in its execution. As before, Stead does a banner job of gently but honestly confronting some of the hard truths of life. It’s the perfect blend of funny, dark, heart-tugging, and beautifully exasperating.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

I caught the Ishiguro bug in college, when I studied under the world’s leading Ishiguro scholar. This mesmerizing retelling of the Arthurian legend is the author’s first novel in 10 years, and it was worth the wait. Every page is soaked in Ishiguro’s guiding theme – the vagaries of memory – but the story is freshly inventive and heartbreaking. Another one that made me cry in public.

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