December is always a big reading month for me. Each year I read Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, which only takes a couple hours. I generally squeeze in at least one other quick Christmas read. And then the holiday break at the end of the month allows me to really finish the year strong.
2015 was no exception. I knocked out eight books this December! I think that’s even more impressive given the final book was a nearly 800-page beast that took over a week to get through the first quarter or so. But it was worth the effort.
For the year I ended up with 54 books read.
Rather than full accountings of each December book, I’ll offer just a few words about most of them.
Between the World And Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates.
One of the most discussed books of the year, I found Coates’ memoir, written as a letter to his son, both interesting and disturbing. He makes some important points about race relations in this, allegedly, post-racial age.
A Christmas Story: Behind The Scenes of a Holiday Classic – Caseen Gaines
Full of wonderful trivia about the movie, but too much focus on the modern part of the movie’s legacy like the museum in Cleveland and the Broadway play.
A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
Required reading before I watch the movie each year.
Finale – Thomas Mallon
Mallon’s fictionalized take on the most trying time of the Reagan presidency: the fall of 1986 when Republicans failed to win several key Senate seats, the Iran-Contra scandal was breaking, and Reagan’s first effort to reach agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce nuclear weapons failed. I found it far too gossipy. The early glimmers of Reagan’s Alzheimer’s are both frightening – he was president after all! – and incredibly sad.
Music Lust – Nic Harcourt
Music suggestions from all genres by the KCRW DJ, who’s show Morning Becomes Eclectic was a must-listen show in the early days of streaming audio.
The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge – Charlie Lovett
The Tooth Fairy – Clifford Chase
Another personal memoir, this time told in brief fragments that seemed pulled from Chase’s journals. They tell the story both of his sexual awakening – he had a long-term relationship with a woman even as he knew he was gay – and retrace the final years of the life of his older brother, who was also gay and died of AIDS in the late 1980s.
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
Wow, what a book. It is mostly set in Jamaica, and its jumping off point is the assassination attempt on Bob Marley just before the 1976 elections. Each chapter is told in first person by a revolving cast of characters, primarily a series of crime bosses and their underlings, but also through CIA officials, and everyday Jamaicans who get sucked into the plot.
James is Jamaican by birth, and writes as the narrator of each chapter would speak. Especially early in the book, some of the passages are nearly incomprehensible to my Middle America ear. But eventually, with some help from a few online Jamaican slang guides, I was able to understand what the hell some of these characters were saying. And once I settled in, the last 500+ pages raced by.
This book is absolutely brilliant. It ticks every box you need to call it epic. It covers a nearly 30-year time range. It travels between Jamaica to New York. It hits Jamaican domestic politics, US foreign policy, the rise of crack in the 1980s, and the move from a country dominated by crime syndicates to one where violence is much more widespread and random. It hits sexual politics and the meaning of personal identity. It’s deeply funny. Its representation of violence and sexuality is difficult to read at times.
James is beyond ambitious in Seven Killings. But he pulls it off wonderfully. It’s one of those huge books that doesn’t necessarily tie up every loose end as it closes. But I did love who James chose to have the final word, and how that character’s story wrapped up.
Along with Fourth Of July Creek, this was my favorite read of 2015.