This was truly the year of identity politics—who we are, how we’re seen, and how we define ourselves in the world. Excellent memoirs from Kate Bolick (Spinster) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) dealt directly with this theme, through race and relationships, respectively, and the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman had everyone talking about the importance of authenticity.
The popular thriller Girl on the Train proved that things—and people—are not always what they seem, and Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity dealt with the power of identity in the Internet age. Maggie Nelson’s memoir, The Argonauts, delved deeply into issues of identity, as they relate to gender, sexuality, and motherhood, and UFC fighter Ronda Rousey’s autobiography My Fight/Your Fight inspired readers to embrace their strengths. Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies, one of the most critically-acclaimed of the year, told the story of a marriage from both sides—and the success of the marriage depended on which side you were reading. Historian Timothy Synder gave a new and highly controversial look at the Holocaust in Black Earth.
And finally, in what will probably be the defining read for 2015, Elena Ferrante, an Italian novelist, who, up until this year, had remained completely anonymous, never giving interviews or appearing in public, released the fourth and final installment of her Neapolitan novels, Story of the Lost Child, and gave her first interview to The Paris Review.
Here are a look back at the 10 most talked about novels of 2015. Which ones did you read?
Kate Bolick's memoir takes a hard look at what's expected of women (hint: marriage, marriage, marriage) and what happens when matrimony may not be at the top of her list. Bolick's exploration of her own personal experience leads her to the history of the "spinster," and to the excellent women who came before, with much more on their minds than marriage.
This brilliantly written and National Book Award-winning memoir tackles Ta-Nehisi Coates experience of being a black man living in America. Coates explores the history of racial tension in the United States, and how old ghosts have come back to haunt us in the past few years, with police brutality and the racism of our criminal justice system. Toni Morrison called Coates, "the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States."
The publication of this sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird set off a media firestorm, inciting a debate that its author, Harper Lee, never wanted it published, and that her Estate published it purely for profit. In spite of the upheaval, the book went on to sell well, only to meet with more controversy when the hero of Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, in Watchman, revealed himself to be a racist.
This thriller was an overnight smash success from an English journalist who decided to try her luck with fiction (and lucky she did). The Girl on the Train tells the story of a young woman who notices something unusual on her daily commute into London that will change her life forever. But all is not quite what it seems. This compelling read was so popular it drew endless comparisons to Gone Girl and is now being adapted into a film starring Emily Blunt.
Jonathan Franzen's hotly anticipated novel finally revealed itself in the form of an excerpt in The New Yorker and finally, in finished book form in September. Purity tells the story of Pip (yes, references to Dickens' Great Expectations are to be, well, expected), a young girl who's determined to discover as much as she can about herself and her beginnings, no matter the cost. The result is an interesting epic novel that deals in the dangers of the information age.
Maggie Nelson's erudite and compelling memoir, The Argonauts, explores what it means to be in a relationship with a man (who was born a woman), and what happens (socially and personally) when she and that person decide to have a child. The Argonauts' frank discussion of sexuality, gender, motherhood and more is dense, but Nelson's enthusiasm to delve into these complicated issues makes the book well worth reading. It will stick with you and have you pondering your own constructions.
Until she lost her UFC title to Holly Holm just last month, Ronda Rousey was the ultimate champion of MMA fighting. A superb athlete with a larger than life personality, she has brought discussion of women's sports to another level. Her memoir (written with the help of her sister, a sports journalist) is deeply inspiring, whether your job involves punching people in the face, or dealing with stressful office politics.
Lauren Groff's National Book Award-nominated novel tells the story of the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde. The first part is told from Lotto's side, and the second from Mathilde's ... giving a new meaning to the word "perspective," and the intricacies of marriage.
From the author of Bloodlands, Holocaust and WWII scholar Tim Synder's new book, Black Earth, set off a firestorm with its excerpt in The New York Review of Books, where Synder (in more elegant terms) explained Hitler's motives as being related to climate change and the environment. If you're thinking, "what?" you aren't the only one. For serious history buffs, this book is pretty much required reading.
By far the most buzzed about books of the past three years, the Neapolitan Novels, from Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, came to a close in 2015, with the highly anticipated end to the story of the friendship between two girls, Elena and Lila, who come of age in 1950s Naples. With the publication of the fourth and final book, readers everywhere jumped on the Ferrante bandwagon, embarking on the journey from the beginning with volume one, and asking themselves how they would ever continue in life after completing the final novel.