Sunday, January 10, 2016

Best of, 2015 Edition

As always, I'm going to do a top 20% because I didn't hit 50 (although this is the most books I've read since joining The Fifty Books Project). And, although I'm going to reveal my list in rank order, I'm also going to note that these books are the de facto bests in their respective genres, because I have regular, predictable categories of books.

Best Book with (Un)Necessary,;; P(un)ctuation Marks: The Familiar, Volume I: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski. I make no secret of my love for Danielewski's work. House of Leaves is, to this day, still one of my favorite novels (which is not the same as saying that I would recommend it to people). In The Familiar, Volume I, Danielewski is the opening salvo of what appears to be his most ambitious work. Indeed, this is may be the most ambitious literary project currently happening. I've already read Volume II (review pending), so I can with all honesty, that this is promising.

Best Sports Book about a Sport that I did in High School and College and Happened to have Coached a Year of: The Boys in the Boat:Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympic by Daniel James Brown. I generally am not a sports lit person (this category could also be: Only Sports Book I've Ever Read, Ever). However, I love rowing and Brown managed to capture all of it: everything I love about rowing was there, its beauty, its athleticism, its emphasis on team. And, he picked an inspiring story, where the sport was more than a sport.

Best Book about Legal  Interpretation Offered to Counterbalance Scalia's Originalism: Law's Empire by Ronald Dworkin. Since law school, legal interpretation has been a pretty significant interest. Dworkin persuasively concluded this topic for me. This is not to say solved; rather, I feel I have a handle for the difficulties in trying to solve the question of legal interpretation. And, insofar as such a question is solvable, I think Dworkin has solved the question. Insofar as it's not solvable, I think I'm interested in other legal theory questions.

Best Political History of How the Democrats Helped Screw Up the Criminal Justice System: The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America by Naomi Murakawa. An important history about political discourse. It's very easy to assume that people with conservative views about race were behind the massive incarceration problem this country faces. However, the truth is much harsher: both political parties abdicated their duty to rule responsibly. And, for me, this truth is much scarier: it is tragically easy for politicians to rally against an other for political gain, for policy makers to fall into the trap of fear-mongering.

Best Book about How Totally Screwed Up the Criminal Justice System is: The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz. The most important work I've yet read about what ails the criminal justice system. The book does a great job of explaining the problems, but also explaining the roots of those problems. For me, this inherently provides ideas for how we might improve the system.

Best Book by a Young Writer You've Probably Never Heard of (Unless You Read The Paris Review): Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh. I know my book review was...mediocre. Nonetheless, this was a really great novel. My snarky categories aside, this was the best novel I read in 2015. I am extremely excited about Moshfegh as a writer and wish I could say more about the novel without feeling like I am depriving possible readers of the pleasure of encountering every detail anew. I'll say this, her writing does it all: great style and great plot..

Best Book about the Law: Minding the Law by Anthony G. Amsterdam & Jerome Bruner. As I mentioned above, Dworkin basically has resolved my interest in legal interpretation as a separate and distinct topic. Minding the Law has given me something new to be interested in: what I will lovingly refer to, for now (and for lack of a better term) as the story-behind-the-story of legal decision making. Amsterdam and Bruner show that there are many ways to understand the basis for a decision beyond the literal arguments made within. I put this down as the best book of 2015 because I think it's going to be the book come back to in the future.

Last year in my best-of, I listed the books I was most looking forward to. Disappointingly, there was no J.D. Salinger novel. I'm furious. Shane Salerno gave us a documentary that was extremely dull but for the promise of new novels. Now that the new novels have not appeared, Salerno's empty promises render his documentary empty-feeling. Sadly, this year, there are not any upcoming novels that I know of...other than another Danielewski novel. Still, I'm thinking maybe this year, I'll dabble in narrative theory, maybe a new Arendt book (or an old one...?). Cheers to another year of reading and the Fifty Books Project.

No comments: