The Year in Review: My Top Ten Reads of 2015

Ah, 2015. I, personally, had a pretty decent 2015—my (and everybody else’s) first FlameCon, for one, and I joined Lady Business as a contributing editor—but it’s been an ungainly, awkward year on a more macro scale. So let’s get The Literary Omnivore’s last post of 2015 underway so that 2016 can begin!

As always, these are my favorite books that I read in 2015, not my favorite books that were published in 2015. Although there’s a surprisingly healthy amount of books published in 2015 (albeit with earlier actual publication dates) represented on my top ten this year. 

10. Bad Feminist
by Roxane Gay

We can all agree that reproductive rights are important, and Gay is at her fieriest pointing out how they become negotiable come election season and how women often feel they have to justify it beyond “I straight up do not want a baby right now”, but it’s the quiet question of why birth control is so often solely on the head of those who can physically bear children that has stuck with me. Through these questions, she slowly circles what is essentially the thesis of her entire life’s work—the impossible task of being a good woman (according to the kyriarchy) and the impossible task of being a good feminist (in the eyes of those who believe that feminism is a monolith).

9. Oreo
by Fran Ross

Greater awareness and sensitivity to the world around you doesn’t inhibit comedy; it expands comedy.

Case in point: Fran Ross’ Oreo, a comic novel published in 1974 that promptly (and undeservedly) fell off the radar, which gleefully seizes upon the intersecting identities of and imposed upon Christine “Oreo” Clark, a half-black, half-Jewish girl from Philadelphia, as comic grounds. How before its time is Oreo? It includes a joke about doctors providing subpar health care to queer people… made by a gay character at the doctors’ expense.

8. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 2
by Fumi Yoshinaga

She orders everyone out, but he disregards her and drapes his garment over her. Overcome by this gesture that recognizes that she’s more than a fake shogun, Iemitsu clings to Arikoto as they both break down in tears. Sycorax Pine is very right that this scene is not as transgressive as it hopes to be. It still reinforces a gender binary, even in the very positioning of our “lovers,” but it’s the first step towards the Japan we see in Volume 1. Arikoto, due to his training, is willing to be Iemitsu’s help meet, and Iemitsu finally has someone who sees her for who she is, not who she can give birth to. It’s messy, painful, complicated, and deeply unethical, but it’s all they can scrape for as their world crumbles around them.

7. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Emily Danforth

Even when Cameron makes her way to God’s Promise, Danforth refuses to denounce the therapists as monsters, although they’re clearly committed to a truly hideous view of human sexuality. There, she actually gets to spend more time with other queer kids—including the wonderful winkte Adam Red Eagle, who identifies as a third, inclusive gender but is referred to by male pronouns exclusively—and tries to utilize what she can out of the therapy she’s been given. While it’s all presented as attempting to correct her “broken” gender identity (God’s Promise is big on conflating gender and sexuality), there’s still something valuable to be found in examining the parts of her life that Cameron shies away from exploring. And that, to me, feels so true to being a young queer kid—trying to stitch coherent meaning out of the conflicting information you are given and can gather yourself.

I feel like I can’t write enough about how good and necessary this book is. That’s how much I loved it.

6. Kushiel’s Chosen
by Jacqueline Carey

 I mean—there’s court intrigue, pirates, false prophecies, prison escapes, assignations, extreme religious sects, near-drownings, balls, ornery seamstresses, language acquisitions, and caves that function as one’s dark night of the soul, just to name a fewthings. I can’t cover it all and I shouldn’t. Part of what I loved about reading Kushiel’s Chosen is watching the plot begin to develop its own momentum, which Carey then plays with. I screamed out loud when a chapter ended, almost demurely, with a major character reveal. Reading this swiftly became a game of “well, maybe just one more chapter” which swiftly became “I will not leave this couch until I am done.” It feels like sinking into a decadent fever dream, with Phèdre as a particularly nostalgic guide.

5. Reading the Romance
by Janice Radway

One of the most haunting things about Reading the Romance is the knowledge that romance as a generic community was just budding. Most of Dot’s readers don’t even know each other. (Okay, I knew the tense thing would come up at some point in this review. Hey, we almost got all the way there!) Without community, there’s no opportunity for conscious-raising and the improvement of the genre. While I don’t swim in those waters, I do know that the genre has grown over the intervening decades—Maya Rodale, author of Dangerous Books for Girls, swung by the Mary Sue on Monday to explain exactly that. But while the realities of Reading the Romance are a little less pertinent, it’s still a fascinating exercise in reader response theory and the uses readers derive from their texts.

4. Truly Wilde
by Joan Schenkar

I don’t just mean Dolly’s frankly astonishing dance card for a privileged if eternally debt-ridden lesbian in the first half of the twentieth century, from Joe Carstairs (I almost screamed on the subway when I read that passage) to Alla Nazimova to the greatest love of her life, the American ex-patriate poet Natalie Clifford Barney, a woman who could give La Maupin a run for her money. I mean, La Maupin burned down a nunnery for a girl once, but Barney invented the Say Anything move—with an actual singer instead of a boombox, obviously. (I could go on for years about Natalie Barney, but that will have to wait for the blog until I read The Amazon of Letters, which is even more obscure than Truly Wilde.) After storming into Barney’s mostly queer and mostly female Parisian salon, Dolly found the closest thing to a home she ever had. She may have strayed from it, but she always came back. After spending so much time immersed in Oscar’s life and a general feeling of how tragic it was to be someone like me at most points in history, it’s almost infuriatingly heartening to find a historical space where my sexuality would not just be tolerated, but celebrated.

3. Bastard Out of Carolina
by Dorothy Allison

We do not see enough angry girls in fiction—girls whose anger is not dismissed or ignored, but recognized and validated. Girls, even girls protected from what Bone suffers, have every right to be angry. To see an angry girl, and an angry girl who dominates the novel with her own searing voice at that, is more than a breath of fresh air. I was an angry girl myself, but I never realized it, no matter how hateful and spiteful I was, no matter how deeply I overreacted to other things, no matter how loud I raged. No one around me knew what to do with a overgrown girl’s unreasonable anger, largely because I don’t think they thought young girls could be that angry, and we all largely pretended it wasn’t happening. (It got better, eventually.) It, thank God, was not for the reasons Bone is angry; it was a different, internal anger. But it was an anger all the same. Validation comes in all forms, even if it’s the barest fingerprint of Bone’s life against mine.

 

2. Women in Clothes
edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

Taken in concert, it’s breathtaking. So often, women’s voices, if included at all, are given to us piecemeal—consider the isolation of Jane Austen in the Western literary canon when she should be rubbing shoulders with her own beloved Fanny Burney. Seeing more than one included is a delight; seeing hundreds? It feels like a magnificent roar. There can be no consensus on what clothes mean to women because women are not a monolith—and, of course, the powers and joys of style are not exclusive to one gender. The power of Women in Clothes is inherent to how heterogeneous and varied it is. As those surveyed bare their souls (consciously or not) about their self-expression, you are bound to find something that speaks to you so powerfully it hits you in the gut.

1. Only Ever Yours
by Louise O’Neill

These women, these girls, are trained to compete with each other to such a degree that they are incapable of forming meaningful bonds with each other.

This, to me, is one of the most horrifying parts of O’Neill’s dystopia, and it’s not exactly hers. O’Neill and I live in a culture where we are constantly told that our friendships with other women are inferior to any potential romantic relationship with a man. (As well as a culture where my desire to marry a woman is rarely considered.) Women have told me to my face that they don’t like other women because they’re too catty. If you boil O’Neill’s dystopia down to “a world where women are encouraged to and shamed into running themselves ragged for the approval of men and then are hated for doing so,” it doesn’t sound much different from the world I live in.

 

2 thoughts on “The Year in Review: My Top Ten Reads of 2015

  1. I really need to get around to reading Bad Feminist. It’s been calling my name for a while.

    I hadn’t ever heard of Only Ever Yours before, but I’m definitely going to have to check that out. I’ve had some women tell me that they don’t like other women because they’re catty, too. I’ve also had some tell me that they prefer to work with men because there’s less drama and backstabbing. It’s interesting how misogyny can be internalized.

    • It’s very worthwhile.

      I went to a women’s college, and I am forever astounded at how other women will often laugh nervously and tell me that they couldn’t possibly spend four years in the company of other women. Which makes me feel so, so sad, because they’ve absorbed/internalized the idea that a group of women is not a safe place to be.

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