Best of 2015: Brooke

Article by brooke

Alright, friends, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve been in a book rut of monumental proportions for months. I could tell you I’ve read every single page of every single book on this list, but that would be a lie, and the first rule of good writing is to tell the truth.

So, I’ll tell you this: A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN knocked my socks off. The first half blew me away. Lucia Berlin is the ultimate writerly crush: smart, succinct, funny—plus she had a pretty awesome hairdo. But, then I closed the book one day and wandered off. Someday I’ll get back to it. Ditto ANIMALS. Awesome book. Great descriptions, like the one of the narrator’s tidy boyfriend headed for the airport “with his Bart-Simpson-church-hair, side-parted and slick from the shower.” I was loving it. Then, same thing: one day I closed the book and never went back. Ursula Le Guin? Badass lady with a less awesome hairdo, but incredible insight. She gave me the gift of the semicolon; I just never considered using it before. (Did you see what I did there? Did I undercut the impact by pointing it out? Would it be overkill to replace all those question marks with semicolons?)

As we’ve built up what I like to think is a considerable amount of trust in the foregoing paragraph, I can tell you with complete and utter confidence that I have read the rest of the books on this list cover to cover. Some of the picture books I’ve read several times.

The Dig Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781566893930
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Coffee House Press - April 7th, 2015

When I first finished this book, I was like, thanks Coffee House Press, now I’m super depressed. However, I know much more about badger-baiting than I ever thought possible. It’s about as grisly as it sounds: a badger is trapped then hauled out to fight with dogs for sport. If that’s not enough for you, sometimes the badger’s claws will be ripped out in an effort to level the playing field. So, that’s one half of this story. Grizzled badger-baiter makes dubious living in black market. The other half of this book is about a lonely farmer whose wife was kicked in the head by a horse. Do you see why I felt depressed after I read this? But there was a moment in this book so exquisite, so moving, that it carried the book right onto my top ten list, badger-baiting and all.

The moment is this: When she was alive, the farmer’s wife had a pink piece of cloth that she always wore. During haymaking one year, it was blown off and lost in a field. And, months later, after she has died, the farmer is walking through the barn, feeding his sheep, and he finds the piece of cloth rolled into a bale of hay, “as if she had only just dropped it.” And the farmer thinks: “It was impossible that she was dead because his feelings for her had not diminished at all. It is the ability of a person to bring a reaction in us that gives us a relationship with them, and for the time they do that, they have a livingness to them.” I can’t think of a better portrayal of grief at its apex.


After Birth Cover Image
$23.00
ISBN: 9780544273733
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Houghton Mifflin - February 17th, 2015

That this novel has an epigraph from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” should give you a hint as to its tone. Remember “The Yellow Wallpaper”? I can guarantee that if you have read it, you remember that long smooch in the wallpaper that runs around the room. If you haven’t read this short story, you might give it a quick read. It turns up with astonishing regularity, most likely because those of us who have read it are still trying to exorcise the demon, and the best way to do that, of course, is to make other people read it.

AFTER BIRTH is the story of Ari, her one-year-old son, and Mina Morris, the poet who lives across the street, about whom Ari says, “I’m a little obsessed with her, by which I mean a lot, which I guess is what obsessed means.” Mina Morris is pregnant herself when she arrives in town, and the two women forge an intense friendship. I love every single thing about this book, from the jacket design and typeface, to Ari’s screedy one-liners like this one about her thoughts when she sees pregnant women out in public: “I mean are you ready!? Like, spiritually bitches. Spiritually.”


A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories Cover Image
By Lucia Berlin, Stephen Emerson (Editor), Lydia Davis (Foreword by)
$26.00
ISBN: 9780374202392
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - August 18th, 2015


I’ve written about Lucia Berlin before and I’m sure I’ll write about her again. What can I say? She’s the world’s most badass short story writer, even if I have only read the first half of the collection. Let me give you a little taste of what Lucia has in store for you. In one story (which, God willing, is autobiographical) the young narrator is coerced into pulling her grandfather’s teeth so he can give himself some new dentures. He’s a dentist, don’t worry, but a man can’t pull his own teeth. He does a pretty good job, but as you might imagine, he passes out before he can yank them all. So his granddaughter finishes the job, stuffs his mouth with Lipton tea bags to stanch the bleeding and offers this delightful description: “Without any teeth, his face was like a skull, white bones above the vivid bloody throat. Scary monster, a teapot come alive, yellow and black Lipton tags dangling like parade decorations.” Now, that’s writing.


Animals Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781609452896
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Europa Editions - October 6th, 2015

Another book, the first half of which I can handsell with complete confidence. Here is another narrator who lays it on you from page one. The first chapter is titled “White Piss Good; Amber Piss Bad,” for God’s sake. If that sounds appealing to you, please do read on. Laura offers some gems about love and marriage transitioning from theoretical to alarmingly real: “But the abstract was manifesting. It was white and huge and heavy and expensive, like a Fifties American fridge appearing at the foot of the bed, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do with it.”


Know Your Beholder Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780316368919
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little Brown and Company - March 3rd, 2015

Aw, you guys, this book is so good. Francis Falbo lives in the attic of his childhood home after converting the rest of the house into apartments. An agoraphobe who spends most of the book wandering around in his bathrobe, Francis mourns the loss of his mother, the departure of his wife and the breakup of his band. And that’s just the beginning. KNOW YOUR BEHOLDER is exactly the kind of book I’m always on the lookout for: funny and sweet and tender and weird. I was completely disarmed.


Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780544611610
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - September 1st, 2015

I’ve been meaning to read Ursula Le Guin for years now. Was it because I once read THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB (don’t bother) and one of the characters suggested Ursula Le Guin to a member of the book club? Maybe. Ursula Le Guin has written a fantastic writing guide (well, the first half is fantastic, you can let me know how the second half is). She offers advice so obvious and good I never would have thought of it myself. Things like, Hey, maybe you should learn the rudiments of grammar. If you can’t identify the parts of a sentence by their proper names, it’s kind of like trying to build a house using one of those hard-headed things you hit other things with. Ah yes, a hammer.


The Art of Memoir Cover Image
$24.99
ISBN: 9780062223067
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - September 15th, 2015

Mary Karr’s memoir THE LIARS’ CLUB was another fallen soldier on the battlefield of unread books. I started it this year, I liked it. I didn’t finish it. But, I did read THE ART OF MEMOIR. It’s punchy, fresh and super enjoyable even if you don’t plan to write a memoir. (Mine might go something like this: Quiet girl works in bookstore. Quiet girl works in another, different, bookstore.)


I Don't Like Koala Cover Image
By Sean Ferrell, Charles Santoso (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781481400688
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers - April 14th, 2015

Maybe Adam doesn’t like Koala, but I do. I like him so much. Adam spends all his time trying to get rid of Koala but he keeps bouncing back like a boomerang. Stuff him in a pot, leave him behind a tree, shove him under the couch, Koala just won’t go away. But soon Adam suspects that maybe the wall-eyed but lovable Koala is not the worst thing in the world. The pictures tell as much of the story as the text in this fantastic book about love, friendship and creepy stuffed animals. I love Koala.


My Cousin Momo Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780803740112
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Dial Books - June 2nd, 2015


MY COUSIN MOMO is everything I ever dreamed a picture book could be. Animal protagonists? Check. Charming story-book tree house dwelling? Check.  Surprisingly moving picture book tears followed by heart-warming conclusion? Checkcheckcheck. Who wouldn’t love Momo? He’s a chubby flying squirrel with a nifty camera and some sweet sweatbands.


Dory Fantasmagory: The Real True Friend Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780525428664
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Dial Books - July 7th, 2015

Dory is a rascally little girl with a pair of top-notch imaginary friends: a monster and some guy she calls Mr. Nuggy who looks like a lumberjack garden gnome. He’s her fairy godmother. Don’t ask questions. Dory’s signature outfit is a ratty plaid nightgown and she gets into all sorts of trouble with the help of her imaginary friends (and some real ones). Dory is this generation’s Ramona—a theory which is totally corroborated by the fact that Dory’s older sister is reading a Ramona book in one of the illustrations. A little shout-out to Beverly Cleary. It’s almost enough to make you want to go out and get a pixie haircut and start calling your sister Beezus. Or at the very least, squeeze an entire tube of family-sized toothpaste into the sink.


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