My favourite books of 2015

I managed to finish thirty three books before the clock struck midnight. I read more fiction that the previous year, thanks to a single book purchased on a whim. It reminded me how much I enjoy reading books that take me into a different world and are absolutely not work related.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

I admit, I bought this book because I saw the cover on Dawn H Foster’s Instagram. How could I not? I didn’t know what to expect, and, frankly, nothing could have prepared me for it anyway. I resented having to stop reading to perform any of the everyday tasks.

I Love Dick is such a whirlwind of emotions. As soon as you feel comfortable in its format, and you think you know where it’s going, everything explodes. You are constantly being taken by surprise. It’s relentless, and shocking in its shamelessness. It’s one of the best books I have ever read. It defies categorisation. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Are you ready for a rollercoaster ride? Read it.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

The book jacket quotes the review from the Independent:

If this collection can be said to have a clear unifying theme, it might be that by a certain age in life we’ve got at least one person we would really like to kill.

I honestly can’t think of a better way to put it. Atwood’s short stories are brutally honest about the characters’ failures, almost cruel about their disappointing lives, but you somehow find yourself in their shortcomings. Each one of the stories surprises you in a different way from the previous one.

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

Leanne Shapton is a visual artist, but in her youth she was a serious swimmer. So serious, that her life consisted of 4am starts and endless swimming trials, including the Olympic ones.

Swimming Studies is a collection of memories, drawn using words in a way that conjures images, smells, sounds, and overwhelms your senses. Shapton takes you with her to the swimming pool, and you feel the temperature, the wetness of the air and the resistance of water. You hear the surrounding sounds clearly, until you head dips below the water level and every sound becomes muffled. Never before has a book taken me on such an evocative journey.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant

An absolute must read. Sex workers are routinely pushed away from influencing policies that affect their work and their safety. It’s sadly common among mainstream feminists to deny sex workers their agency, claim that they need to be “rescued” and the sex industry simply abolished. In this book, Melissa Gira Grant lets sex workers speak for themselves. It’s a shocking read about how supposedly “feminist” views alongside other misogynist attitudes create conditions under which violence against sex workers becomes institutionalised.

Gender Failure by Rae Spoon & Ivan E. Coyote

Both Spoon and Coyote are somewhere on the trans spectrum, and this short book is a collection of stories about how their gender impacts every part of their lives: their music, performances, family lives, relationships, and whether they feel safe going for a pee in a public toilet. I read it in a single sitting, because I share some of those concerns and challenges, and found it reassuring to find out how other people thought these things through. While they encounter the same challenges, they think about them differently, and find different ways to live comfortably. It’s brilliant to hear about those differences, especially as the mainstream media is happy to repeat a single trans narrative, simplifying it for their audiences. There is nothing simple about the complexity of human experience.