Best Books of 2015 (by Mike Tager)

We know you’ve been waiting for this, although it should come with a caveat: jmww fiction reviewer Michael B. Tager’s “Best of” 2015 is compiled from his own reading list and is not meant to be totally comprehensive. Instead, it’s 100% subjective and probably biased toward people he knows and his own mostly nerdy interests. It also includes books that were published before 2015. (In some cases, 48 years before.) That said, he does like books more than the average person and his taste is good. Think he missed one? Let us know in the comments so we can add it to our reading list!


get a gripGet a Grip, Kathy Flann (2015, Texas Review Press

I’m not often so inspired by a book that I am instantly possessed of a desire to emulate. That’s what happened when I read Kathy Flann’s Get A Grip. Heartfelt, powerful and relatable, it’s also smartly written, suitable for casual readers and total lit nerds. I can’t wait to read it again.


SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967, Harper)

I first tried reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1995. I was too young. In 2005, I tried again and couldn’t get out of the second chapter. The prose was too dense, the nuances too buried. But in 2015 I tried again and was rewarded with beauty and sadness. I understand why Gabriel Garcia Marquez won all of the awards for this book and why it’s still considered such an amazing novel. It’s one of those books where, now that I understand, I wish I could go back and read it again for the first time.

KooserSplitting an Order, Ted Kooser (2014, Copper Canyon)

Sometimes when least expected, art can strike the reader/viewer/watcher and hit in the heart with a fist. Former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s book of poetry and short prose Splitting an Order is a beautiful and deeply human experience. Hopefully new readers will experience it the way I did, with at least one bout of tears, but even if not, it’s worth a hard look and long read.


HorsesAll the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy (1992, Vintage)

Instead of his normal fare of cannibalism, murder and bleak nihilism, Cormac McCarthy channels lyricism and classical romance in All the Pretty Horses. The first novel in the Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses isn’t devoid of conflict or the dark side of humanity, but it also doesn’t dwell on the full pain of the world. Instead, it’s a gripping love story and coming of age tale that straddles the line with eyes open to all the shades of gray.


IfIknewthewayIwouldtakeyouHome(LARGE)If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Home, Dave Housley (2015, Dzanc)

Music is even more universal than the written word. Dave Housley knows that and wrote a book about music, about music loving and about music creating. It reminded me of the fan I once was and the pretensions to music I once had.



Land BeastLand Beast, Kate Wyer (2015, Ceros)

A poetic novella told from the perspective of a hunted rhinoceros with lovely, impressionist illustrations, Kate Wyer’s Land Beast is a haunting meditation of the endangered animal. Gentle, angry, melancholic, richly empathetic and engrossing, it’s a fantastically successful experiment in mixed media. Also of note is that 100% of profits go to charity.


AliasAlias, Volume 1, Brian Michael Bendis (2010, Marvel)

Marvel comics has become big, big business and Alias has recently become Netflix’s original series (and hit) Jessica Jones. While feeding the mouth of Marvel (and by association, Disney), isn’t really necessary, Alias, Volume 1 is an amazing introduction to the dark underbelly of the tights and spandex crowd. Originally published in Marvel’s adult Maxx line of comics, Brian Michael Bendis’s tale of a failed superhero’s experiences navigating the world of private detection is engrossing and disturbing. It also inspired me to watch the show, which isn’t nearly as good.

Our_Lady_of_the_Ruins_R2-4-330Our Lady of the Ruins, Traci Brimhall (2012, W.W. Norton & Company)

Before reading Traci Brimhall’s work, I did not think it possible that books of poetry could be thematically linked, Post Apocalyptic pseudo-narrative. Now that I DO know, I want to read more



BigfootHow to Carry Bigfoot Home, Chris Tarry
(2015, Red Hen)

I met Chris Tarry when he was featured at Senior Editor Jen Michalski’s Starts Here! Reading Series in Baltimore. So taken with his reading, I bought his book of short stories, How to Carry Bigfoot Home and am so grateful I did. The first story, the Pushcart nominated “Here Be Dragons,” about a medieval hustler attempting to go straight is worth the price of admission alone.


Let Me See ItLet Me See it, James Magruder (2014, Triquarterly)

One of the signs that I truly enjoyed a book is if I still think about it even days after I finish it. It’s now been nearly 11 months since I finished James Magruder’s Let Me See It and I still wonder about Tom and Elliott and their misadventures in growing up and growing old in the 70s and 80s. If a story stays with me, the author did something right. Magruder did several somethings right, especially with his story “You’ve Really Learned How.”



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