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Monday, December 21, 2015

RIP Great Authors

Besides the obligatory “Best of” lists, there are also the “Famous People Who Died” end of year lists. These lists are always awkward because whose deaths do you highlight and whose do you ignore? The awkwardness is especially apparent during award season when higher profile celebs who have died get a thunder of applause, while lesser known people in the industry, usually someone like a “gaffer” or “best boy,” get only a polite smattering of claps.

This year, the world lost many amazing authors. Some, like historical fiction genius E.L. Doctorow and Nobel Prize winners Guenter Grass and Doris Lessing, were technical masters. Others, like “The Thorn Birds” author Colleen McCullough and everyone’s 1980s dirty secret Jackie Collins, were just hugely popular.

All authors leave a lasting impression on the world, because they leave their thoughts behind as books. But several authors who passed in 2015, forever changed how we read. Here are some of them:

·        True crime is one of the very most popular genres checked out at the library. People love to read the gruesome details of real crimes, and one of the very most talented authors was Ann Rule, who died in July at 83 years old. Rule shot to fame in the true crime world with her 1980 autobiographical crime story, “The Stranger Beside Me,” which detailed her friendship with and the murders by Ted Bundy. For the next 25 years, Rule ruled the NYT bestseller list with her more than 30 books.

·        Ruth Rendell, best known for her 24 book Inspector Wexford series, is credited with the changing the face of modern mysteries from gentle cozy reads to psychological thrillers. Rendell, who died in May at 85 years old, has inspired many mystery and horror writers, including Stephen King. Rendell published over 60 books, including those under her pen name, Barbara Vine.

·        Swedish author Henning Mankell died in October at 67 years old. He was writer of the dozen fabulous Inspector Kurt Wallander mystery series books. His series, and its popular translation onto TV, was a major influence in making Swedish mysteries so popular in the U.S.

·        Before readers lost themselves in the sprawling worlds of Hogwarts and Westeros, there was Discworld. Terry Pratchett’s comedy series transported readers into another world over the course of 41 books. Pratchett was the master of serialized fantasy and his success is likely one of the reasons we always get at least three and four books for every story, rather than just one. Pratchett dies in March at the age of 66.

RIP to all of those brave enough to put themselves on paper.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Best List

It is the time of the year that the “Best of” lists come out. I like these lists because it helps me find good books that I might have otherwise missed. Some of them, though, sort of miss the mark on what will interest the general reader. Luckily, there are plenty of lists from which to choose.

Many times we look to the New York Times to tell us which books were the best, but I find many of the items on its list to be somewhat inaccessible and a tad, or a lot, too literary. So, what were probably the very best “written” books this year? The fiction titles include “The Door” by Magda Szabo;A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories” by Lucia Berlin; Outline by Rachel Cusk; The Sellout” by Paul Beatty; and “The Story of the Lost Child (Book four of The Neapolitan series) by Elena Ferrante.

The NYT’s 100 notable books of 2015 is also out. I find that list to be more appealing to my tastes, while still being sufficiently literary to make what I read meaningful.

A list I really do like is Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2015. PW names a top 10 list which is fine, but I like its ancillary list that includes the top books in an array of fiction genres and non-fiction topics. Readers get a chance to see titles in topics they enjoy and to be exposed to great books that would never get top 10 attention. Incidentally, Ferrante’s novel is the only fiction title repeated on both the NYT and PW very top lists.

The list at the top of MY list is LibraryReads’ Favorite of Favorites 2015. This list is compiled by librarians and the title of the list really says it all. These are librarians’ “favorite” books, not necessarily the “best,” which is a huge distinction. Just because something is technically excellent does not mean that it has “soul.”

However, it is nice to read something that really is the “best” sometimes, so why not mix it up and try a bit from all of the lists. For more “Best of 2015,” see our webpage compiling different lists at Then, hop onto our Facebook page and tell us which book you thought was the best of the year.