Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman is probably the most highly anticipated book of 2015. Billed as a recently-discovered companion to To Kill a Mockingbird – one of the best-loved and most respected novels in English – its mere existence seems astonishing and adds to its mystique. As more details emerge ahead of publication, controversy grows – about the quality of the writing, the surprisingly racist attitudes within, and about whether it should have been published at all. Go Set a Watchman is now considered an earlier version of To Kill a Mockingbird rather than a sequel, offering fascinating glimpses of the development process for To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as Harper Lee’s emerging talent.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Perhaps it’s the ongoing popularity of minimalist home decor; or perhaps it’s the promise of orderliness and calm in an increasingly messed-up world – whatever the reason, Marie Kondo’s guide to tidying-up and decluttering really hit a nerve with readers worldwide. What makes her philosophy so alluring is the idea that we should only keep items that “spark joy” – and that sparking joy is a criterion applicable to other aspects of our lives.
The Official A Game of Thrones Colouring Book by George R. R. Martin
Adult colouring books are arguably THE publishing phenomenon of 2015. Since Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden brought adult colouring into the mainstream, the genre has evolved and diversified. There are now, coming full-circle, mindful colouring for children, and even a colouring parody. This Game of Thrones Colouring Book exemplifies new wave colouring-in that entices customers with pop cultural themes, including Harry Potter and Star Wars.
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
2015 was a bittersweet year for Sir Terry Pratchett’s fans – he died, too soon, in March this year; but he also left one last treat – a manuscript, now published as The Shepherd’s Crown. This 41st and final book in the Discworld series follows young Tiffany Aching (first appearing in The Wee Free Men) when she has to step-up and take on the big responsibility of defending her homeland. The Shepherd’s Crown is a gentle novel, with underlying themes of kindness and tolerance, and has been highly praised as a “magnificent sign-off”.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Marlon James became the first Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker Prize, when A Brief History of Seven Killings was the unexpected but apparently unanimous choice amongst the Booker’s judges. A visceral and ambitious work, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictional history about the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976, seen through the eyes of a large cast – gangsters, journalists, politicians, the CIA. Marlon James’ win is a perfect example of the value of perseverance and self-belief, as he almost gave up writing after his first novel was rejected 78 times before eventual publication.
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Another beloved author that we lost this year was Oliver Sacks, the neurologist best known for his collections of case studies including Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Gratitude is a posthumous book that brings together four essays first published in the New York Times. In these bittersweet but ultimately uplifting essays, Oliver Sacks reflects upon old age, gratitude, his enduring sense of wonder about the natural world, and his impending death. A fitting commemoration of a life well lived.
The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott by Andrew P Street
In September, Australia gained worldwide notoriety as the “Coup capital of the democratic world”. With five prime ministers in as many years (three ousted by their own parties), it’s a case of “with colleagues like these, who needs enemies”. Andrew P Street has documented the litany of gaffes, goofs and questionable captain’s calls that characterised the leadership of Australia’s most recent ex-prime minister, Tony Abbott. It is funny, irreverent, and even a tad insightful about this turbulent time in Australian politics.
Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward
Deliciously Ella is zeitgeist-y on many fronts – it originates from a highly popular blog, it focusses on clean eating (plant-based, dairy-free, gluten-free, no refined sugars), and it has recipes featuring “superfoods” such as kale, coconut oil and quinoa. What makes Ella Woodward’s book approachable is her enthusiastic, chatty tone, the simplicity of her recipes (she could barely cook when she started her blog three years ago), and how her philosophy arises from her experience in using dietary changes to manage a rare illness. See for yourself why this book made history as the fastest-selling debut cookbook of all time in the UK.
After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross
After Tomorrow is from 2013, but I have included it to illustrate the difficulties faced by Syrian refugees. In After Tomorrow, award-winning author Gillian Cross weaves alternate history with dystopic themes into a frighteningly-real scenario. Five major banks crash on “Armageddon Monday”, destroying the British economy. Society quickly disintegrates, with food shortages and breakdown of law and order. As teenage Matt’s family falls apart, his mother smuggles him, his brother and stepfather into France, where they are interned as refugees. The fiction form of After Tomorrow encourages us to empathise with the plight of refugees by seeing their challenges through our eyes.
Trans by Juliet Jacques
Transgender awareness has been a hot topic of mainstream media this year, particularly surrounding Caitlyn Jenner’s coming-out as a trans woman. Trans is one of several recent memoirs documenting the transgender experience. It traces Juliet Jacques’ journey from her teenage and university years, to her social, medical and surgical transitions to become female in later adulthood. Trans also offers cultural critique as Juliet Jacques considers her experience within the context of how the media portrays transgender narratives. An honest, thoughtful and insightful book.