Blog | Literature | Non-Fiction

The Best Books of 2015

. 2 min read

Best Fiction

Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire
Ali Smith: How To Be Both
Jenny Erpenbeck: Aller Tage Abend
Mathias Énard: Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants
Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête

I greatly enjoyed How To Be Both. I didn't want it to stop and when I finished it I wanted to re-read it, to discover what I missed on first reading and what only becomes apparent once you've read both. Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants is an imaginative tale in the tradition of Borges, Calvino and Nabokov. I read L'étranger at the beginning of the year and Meursault contre-enquête towards the end. I didn't read L'étranger in high school, like most people. My French teacher chose some different books. I actually liked Meursault, contre-enquête better, but that's primarily because I found it highly inventive and because it made me realize that I hadn't read L'étranger as well as I thought.

Best Book I Wish I Had Read Years Ago

Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Terre des Hommes

I loved The Little Prince so why didn't I read Terre des Hommes? Good question. I had put off reading Pale Fire for years, expecting it to be a daunting read, but it is a sheer delight. In the age of reality novels this type of fiction, multi-layered and rich in symbolism, is becoming exceedingly rare.

Best Book About Life, Death, Hawks and Coping

Helen MacDonald: H Is For Hawk

Best Big History

Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind

Of course, millions of people can be wrong, but in this case they aren't: Sapiens is indeed an excellent read. For a different take on Big History I recommend The Human Web by J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill and Maps of Time by David Christian.

Best Physics

Sean Carroll: The Particle at the End of the Universe

Best Book By a French Academic

Pierre Rosanvallon: La société des égaux
Alain Ehrenberg: La fatigue d'être soi

Both of these books deserve to be widely read. La société des égaux by Pierre Rosanvallon is the book that most readers of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century are looking to read. I, for one, found it a lot more interesting. Rosanvallon discusses the concept of equality and the different interpretations it has been given over time. Here's a good review by Paul Starr for the New York Review of Books. La fatigue d'être soi by Alain Ehrenberg is a history of depression and its treatment. As Ehrenberg shows, the distinction between being depressed or having a depression has far-reaching effects on how one thinks about subjectivity. If it's the person who IS depressed, does treating the depression change the person? If the person HAS a depression, does the person remain the same if we take away the depression?

Best Economics

John McMillian: Reinventing the Bazaar. A Natural History of Markets

Reinventing the Bazaar is one of the best popular books about economics.

Best Book About Russia

Svetlana Alexievich: Second-Hand Time
Svetlana Alexievich: Voices From Chernobyl

Most Disappointing

Patrick Mondiano: Rue des Boutiques Obscures
Peter Buwalda: Bonita Avenue
Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend

I'd never read a novel by Patrick Mondiano before, although I had read various positive reviews. When I learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize I thought I'd read one of his most lauded books. But I just don't get it. Elena Ferrante may well be one of the most hyped authors of the moment. I understand why it touches a chord with many readers, but I can't help thinking that this is because the author has successfully created the illusion of authenticity. Pas pleurer by Lydie Salvayre is far more inventive and moving.