Flavorwire Staffers’ Favorite Books of 2015


We’ve already published our editors’ official best-of lists for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t personal favorites among all of us here at Flavorwire. And the selections here cover a lot of ground: there are deep dives into the film and music industry; “autotheory” memoirs; two books set in Virginia; and, of course, Ferrante.

Facing Blackness by Ashley Clark

Since I’m assuming someone (everyone?) else will go with Between the World and Me, I’ll go with another slender book that prompted much thought and reflection on race and America, but within the context of mass media: this 15th-anniversary reflection (from, full disclosure, the publisher of my most recent book) on one of Spike Lee’s most problematic and provocative films – which is saying something. Sifting through the considerable text, subtext, and history baked into Lee’s satirical story of a blackface comedy series that becomes a television sensation, writer Ashley Clark caused me to seriously reconsider what I’d always written off as one of Lee’s misfires, and to frame it not only as an important work, but a prescient one. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

I slept on it for months, but when I finally got to The Argonauts earlier this month, it floored me. Nelson calls it a work of “autotheory,” which basically amounts to using philosophy (Wittgenstein, Judith Butler, and especially the queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick) to illuminate a life so contemporary it would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago: the author gets pregnant, her spouse (the gender-nonbinary artist Harry Dodge) begins testosterone treatments, and they build a family together. The Argonauts is a dazzling love story and a potent collection of ideas about how to live a life, each all wrapped up in the other. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Set in the snowiest parts of a New England you’d never want to visit, Eileen demands patience. The first 240 pages of this short book are all character work, with the titular Eileen testing the reader’s patience with her boorish behavior. Her temperament resembles most closely that of a donkey. She farts, eats trash, and steals, and yet by the end of the book she is completely sympathetic — even when murder is involved. It’s a conundrum of a success, and it works only because of Ottessa Moshfegh’s willingness to set the long, elaborate trap that is Eileen. It throws back to Ignatius J. Reilly, but it smells nothing like him. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

For me, this is a race between the amazing nonfiction by women I read — The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick and The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson — and Elena Ferrante’s brilliant Neopolitan novels. Ultimately, Ferrante Fever felled me; my heart and brain were utterly consumed by this saga of friendship and enmity and identity evolving over decades of Italian history. To me, reading Ferrante’s rich descriptions felt like reading in 3D after having read in two dimensions all my life. My thoughts and senses were overwhelmed. Even more, I started to see all my close female friendships, my life, through a lens of Ferrante; this is a writer who changed the way I viewed the world. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

The Song Machine by John Seabrook

John Seabrook has one of those journalism jobs that seem too good to be true (and are typically held by old white men): he spends months investigating a subject he’s interested in (pop music hit-making) and is afforded the access and budget to fly around the world speaking to the most influential subjects in the field, publishing a few stories a year and then rounding them up in a book when he’s through. The Song Machine is the product of that work, Seabrook’s attempt to break down the DNA of pop songwriting and weave a narrative through the global pop music industry. He takes liberties at times, often quoting anonymous sources, but if his reporting is to be trusted, it’s journalism’s most revealing look at the economics of the post-Napster recording industry. It doesn’t predict the future, but it does prove that as much as things change, they also stay the same — so maybe the future of recorded music lies somewhere in its past. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

David Lynch: The Man from Another Place by Dennis Lim

My favorite book of the year has got to be Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place, which I discussed with the author in November: “Lim’s allusive exploration invites us to gaze upon the soot-stained cylinders of the Philadelphia skyline, wonder at the insects and disease hidden within the forests of the Northwest, and imagine dark paintings that move under a young artist’s brush. The Man from Another Place is a skeleton key to Lynch’s origins, obsessions, creative struggles, and transcendent works.” — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Kelly Link has always been fascinated by genre tropes — and equally fascinated by our fascination with them. One of Get in Trouble‘s many disturbing stories centers around a group of teenage girls in an alternate present where you can buy “Boyfriends” modeled after different genre archetypes: there’s a vampire, there’s a werewolf, there’s a ghost doll whose spirit can leave his body and “haunt” his girlfriend purchaser when she wishes. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a washed-up celebrity known for playing a vampire seeks an ex who’s now a producer on a paranormal reality show, and in “Secret Identity,” a teenage girl finds herself at a hotel where superheroes are having a convention next to a convention for dentists. At a time when so much of what we absorb pop-culturally comes from sexualized, archetypal genre characters, the book’s curiosity about these obsessions as they relate to the banal is endlessly captivating, and Link’s knack for unsettling and unpredictable storytelling has never been so apparent. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

After the Tall Timber by Renata Adler

Credit where it’s due to the publishing arm of the New York Review of Books, which has singlehandedly championed this novelist, longtime New Yorker writer, and momentary New York Times film critic for the last couple years, successfully instigating a revival of sorts in the process. First, they reissued her fiction; this year, they collected her nonfiction, from her reporting on the upheavals of the ’60s to her infamous Pauline Kael takedown to her late-career interest in legal affairs. After the Tall Timber is a case study in the virtues of reading a great, yet under-appreciated writer: Adler’s ideas are brilliant, and the fact that Kael eventually won the war in terms of both public opinion and influence only makes Adler all the more thought-provoking in comparison. I may not agree with her opinions on art, politics, or the counterculture, but the force of Adler’s prose remains undeniable a half-century into her career. — Alison Herman, TV Editor

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It seemed both entirely right and entirely wrong that Between the World and Me was released nearly a year to the day after the death of Michael Brown. As much as anything else. Coates’ book, structured as a letter to his son, addresses the deliberate nature America’s mistreatment of its black population over the centuries. As he’d go on to argue persuasively in his October cover story for The Atlantic, it’s no accident that precisely nothing has changed in the year since Brown’s death — it’s always been this way, and it’s always been this way by design. Between the World and Me is an investigation into that design and a deeply personal account of what it means to live within it, and it’s compulsory reading for everyone who lives within (and perhaps benefits) from the system it perpetuates. — Tom Hawking, Deputy Editor

Either Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country or Nell Zink’s Mislaid. Weirdly, they both take place in Virginia. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor