The Books I Knocked Off In 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.00.37 AMMade a pledge this time last year to read more, which was a pretty stupid pledge to make because at the time I was writing a book of my own. But still: in our tweet/Facebook status/#content – obsessed world, you now have to really force yourself to settle in and read (or, in some cases, listen to) an entire book. Do it. There is so, so much good stuff out there (this would be where I humblebrag-link to my own work, but you already know about that), and I was thrilled to find several new authors this year who immediately went onto the “I Will Buy Everything You Write From Here On Out” list.

Here’s what I read in 2015, in chronological order:

Perfidia, James Ellroy: Murder, sex, intrigue, and celebrity in Los Angeles in the days surrounding Pearl Harbor. Ellroy’s writing remains like jazz, lulling you before jabbing you in the gut.

The Noble Hustle, Colson Whitehead: “Writer enters World Series of Poker, experiences life lessons, writes about it” is a fairly well-worn trope — I’ve pitched it myself — but in this book spawned from a Grantland (RIP) assignment, Whitehead finds truth amid the cliche and casino drinks.

God’ll Cut You Down, John Safran: Australian documentarian travels to Mississippi to investigate the mysterious murder of a notable white supremacist. Interesting international perspective on our most peculiar state.

Tiger Shrimp Tango, Tim Dorsey: More Florida insanity from a guy who’s made a career of spinning Florida Man into a series of crime novels.

Cop Town, Karin Slaughter: Who’s killing cops in 1970s Atlanta? Tense and fascinating evocation of a very specific time and place, and knowing what Atlanta’s become in the decades since makes it all the more compelling.

The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt: One of my favorites. Two bounty-hunter brothers, one bloodthirsty, one contemplative, travel the Gold Rush-era West to hunt down their quarry. Lyrical and violent, two words that make for a damn fine novel when employed well together.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline: Finally got around to reading this fine piece of nerd/geek lit, and as a child of the ’80s, I enjoyed it immensely. Character development was, shall we say, secondary to the pop culture references, but those references — to movies, to video games, to fashion and music and language — were more than enough for me.

You Can’t Make This Up, Al Michaels: What a life. Al Michaels has been everywhere and done everything in sports, and while this wasn’t quite the story I wanted — the off-the-record stories in the bar after the story’s been filed are always the best ones — it was a fine recounting of the last 40 years or so of sports history that Michaels witnessed.

Horns, Joe Hill: Absolutely burned through this one, a story of a guy who grows devilish horns on his head that induce everyone to tell him their darkest secrets. Everyone.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.02.46 AMSilver Screen Fiend, Patton Oswalt: As if I didn’t already have enough to do in my life, Patton feeds me a must-watch list of movies in this, his latest memoir-slash-film critique. The dude does everything well.

Wayfaring Stranger, James Lee Burke: Burke’s one of the “will read anything he does” cats for me, and even though his protagonists are all remarkably similar — lawmen, classically educated and philosophical but prone to fits of righteous violence — the landscapes in which he places them are uniformly beautiful. This time around, we’re in Texas post-World War II.

Not A Game, Kent Babb: A thoroughly researched, unsparing yet still sympathetic portrayal of Allen Iverson, one of my favorite basketball players and a dude who, as it turns out, often hangs at a P.F. Chang’s not far from my house. One of many books by friends and colleagues I read this year that I very much enjoyed.

Slaying the Tiger, Shane Ryan: Another pal, Shane and I spent one night in a Scotland bar solving the world’s problems not long after this exceptional book came out. It’s a clear-eyed look at the PGA Tour in the wake of Tiger Woods, and it’s rife with humor and edge.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman: Gaiman’s one of those guys who, every time I read him, I wonder why I don’t read him more. This one didn’t have the heft or reach of American Gods, but it was still a powerful meditation on dreams, childhood’s end, and the family we carry with us.

Shark Skin Suite, Tim Dorsey: Dorsey’s Florida loons delve into John Grisham legal-thriller territory here with predictably ludicrous results.

The President’s Shadow, Brad Meltzer: My man Brad returns with another political thriller about the secrets our presidents keep from us. Total fiction, of course.

Dead Wake, Erik Larson: Must-read history of the days leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania in the early 1900s. Tense, claustrophobic, terrifying.

My Conference Can Beat Your Conference, Paul Finebaum: A quick look at the superiority of the SEC during the 2013 season from the conference’s most notorious rabble-rouser.

Bull Mountain, Brian Panowich: Generations of a backwoods Georgia crime family. This is Justified with an extra ladling of mean and without the smooth charm of Raylan Givens, and it was one of my favorites of the year. The audiobook performance was masterful.

Season of Saturdays, Michael Weinreb: Considering the entirety of college football through the prism of a dozen games, from the very first right on through the 2013 Iron Bowl. This was memoir, history, and philosophical tract all in one, a fine work.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee: Went back and re-read the old classic. Its racial and class themes may be rendered in primary colors, but they’re still worth reading, remembering and living.

Saban, Monte Burke: A deep, thorough biography of Nick Saban, tracing his earliest days right through his Alabama championships.

South Toward Home, Margaret Eby: A short but detailed travelogue of many of my favorite Southern writers, from Faulkner to O’Connor to Harry freakin’ Crews. I can see coming back to this one an awful lot.

Men In Green, Michael Bamberger: An elegy for golf’s bygone days, touching on the writer’s connections with famous folk like Palmer and Nicklaus and not-so-famous associates.

Where All Light Tends To Go, David Joy: Another writer I just discovered, and am glad I did; this story of family and betrayal and Southern-noir violence is a keeper. (Again: the audiobook helps the experience immensely.)

Take Your Eye Off The Puck, Greg Wyshynski: My Yahoo colleague helps hockey-deficient fools such as myself understand the beauty and complexity of the game. Highly recommended.

Synopsis: 26 books. Lots of Southernism, lots of sports, lots of white-dude authors. I think I spot a trend. Anyway, if you have a book/author you love, drop a note in the comments below. Always looking to broaden the reach.

Books queued up to start 2016: Don Winslow’s The Cartel, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire; books that I can’t wait to arrive: Jeff Passan’s The Arm, J. Todd Scott’s The Far Empty. Going to be another fine year.


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