witchsong top fives of 2015, reads edition

Five Books of 2015 That Have Not Yet Relaxed Their Grip on Aly’s Heart, in no particular order:

1. The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell. I am perhaps too much of a sucker for books about faith, the study of faith as an exercise in scholarship, investigating faith and people struggling with their faith, but even taking that into consideration this is in my top 5 books not only of the year but probably of ever.
A priest can forgive a stranger so quickly that a boy can’t imagine how hard he will find it, someday, to forgive his own enemies. Or his own loved ones. He has no inkling that good men can sometimes find it impossible to forgive themselves. The darkest mistakes can be forgiven, but they can never be undone. I hope my son will always remain a stranger to those sins.

2. The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins. I am not sure what to say about this book except that I almost didn’t read it because it is described as “Joe Hill meets Neil Gaiman”, which was enough to put me off it forever, but instead – for some reason – I read it. It is beautiful and weird and crushing in a strange breathless way. It is very dark and very, very bright.
The only real escape from hell is to conquer it.
3. All the Rage, Courtney Summers. I would follow Courtney Summers into the longest darkest night. This book came out on my twenty-fourth birthday and I didn’t read it then but when I did, months later, it was still almost too much to bear. How long does it take before you stop relating? Trick question.
You know all the ways you can kill a girl?
God, there are so many.

4. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. If you haven’t listened to the podcast you should, despite the… rabidness of some of its fanbase. Night Vale is a comfort to me, something soothing beyond words, something that feels like a gentle personal gift to me in the darkest parts of my life. Listen to “A Story About You”, listen to “Through the Narrow Place”. Read this book, which takes place in Night Vale but which does not require prior knowledge of its strangeness.
Josie produced a glass of water, through practiced manipulation of cupboards and valves and municipal plumbing. Neither she nor Jackie was impressed with the human miracle represented by how easily the glass of water was produced.
5. Vivian Apple at the End of the World, Katie Coyle. I named the horoscopes after it. It remains painfully, beautifully important, and the sequel is just as good.
The way we live our lives is not sustainable. I don’t just mean recycling and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. I mean the way we treat each other. The way we pick and choose whose lives are important—who we actually treat as human. There is nobody on this earth whose life is not of value.

Honorable mentions:
The gender-swapped retelling of Twilight, Life and Death (Stephenie Meyer), which would have made the list if it had been gay but is still pretty easy to make gay when you read it.
I thought about falling to my knees on purpose. This was the kind of beauty you worshiped. The kind you built temples for and offered sacrifices to. I wished I had something in my empty hands to give her, but what would a goddess want from a mere mortal like me?

George, Alex Gino, a middle-reader book about a young trans girl that made me cry buckets of tears and then smile through them.
She looked in the mirror and gasped. Melissa gasped back at her. For a long time, she stood there, just blinking. George smiled, and Melissa smiled too.

Tess‘s Top Five Reading Experiences of 2015

  1. Women in Clothes, in the bathtub for periods of fifteen minutes to an hour over and over for so many nights and mornings all year long. With red wine in a coffee mug, or canned beer, or Diet Coke from a fountain, in a plastic bucket, pulled to my mouth by a long striped straw. With pruned toes and pink cheeks. Making notes in extra fine Sharpie pen, usually blue. I have never minded how the ink bleeds through.
  2. Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman. I peeled off layers on an orange couch in an overheated library basement and did not move once to stand. I have not recovered.
  3. Inferno : A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles on a Peter Pan bus to New York to visit with adorable friends and a number of rats.
  4. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, tear-soaked and chainsmoking on benches and ledges across the Mount Holyoke campus.
  5. Dryland by Sara Jaffe on a week day in late September while sitting on a swing my mother bought for herself when she realized nobody was going to buy it for her, moving my body back and forth slowly with the flex of a toe, in time with the book’s gentle, tangy pulses of adolescent lust.

Top Five Books Kenzie Spent Her Own Actual Money On in 2015

  1. Courtney Summers’ All the Rage is stunning and important and so painfully resonant you could just cry. I read it three times, and I have plans to read it again. For all the girls that know the ways the world tries to kill you, for all the girls the world won’t listen to. I was on the holds list for this at the library before it was released, and I bought my own copy before I was finished with it.

  2. Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ would have changed my life if I’d read it in high school; reading it now, it’s still one of the best books I read this year. The way Willowdean and her body are spoken about on the page, the relationship she has with her own body, simply the acknowledgement that fat, happy girls exist in the world. It took me more years than it should have to see that reflected in the things I read or watched. But I’m glad I have this book to recommend to people now, at the very least.

  3. Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic is such a beautiful book that it probably would have made this list even if it wasn’t a wonderful read. Wisp-thin pages and gold-gilded edges, a soft-touch cover and well-chosen typeface. It really is stunning. But more than that, it was the only book that actually inspired me to break out post-it notes and a pencil and underline passages, make notes in the margins, flag pages for future reference. Hopper is an important force in music writing, and her Twitter conversations on women in the music industry are both depressing and enlightening; she’s also just a damn good writer. A good book to own.

  4. eBook copies of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, for reasons obvious and self-explanatory, despite (clearly) not having been published in 2015.

  5. Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad is not her best work, and not published this year either, but even the things she writes that run middle of the pack for her are leagues better than a great deal of the things people tell me to read. I love Margaret Atwood. She has a whole shelf on my bookshelf. This book, purchased while walking solo around Powell’s in Portland on my first-ever trip across the country, is slim and precise in so many ways I am not, but it is angry in ways I understand. I didn’t read it until the day I arrived home again, but I sat on the couch and read it in one sitting and instagrammed the best pages.

Ashley‘s Top 5 Non-witchsong Articles About One Direction in 2015

1) Racked’s “The Absolute Necessity of One Direction”

“Me loving like One Direction is as much about embracing their positivity and romantic sincerity as it is about mourning the failure of the wider world to even faintly reflect either. One Direction created one of the most compelling fantasy worlds for girls in music history, they fortified it by being gentle and gave it life by surrendering so much of their own lives to the group.”

2) Rolling Stone’s 16 Reasons One Direction Are on Top of the Stadium Rock Game”

“Harry and Louis are the Stevie and Lindsey of the mermaid-tattoo-era stadium-rock eye-contact game. Louis’ eyes are dark, intense, controlling, with a surly ‘damn your love, damn your life’ edge. Harry’s eyes say ‘I hear the darkness you’re expressing and it’s important to me but my heart tells me to twirl right now,’ so he twirls and touches his hair. The brooding look vs. the beatific twirl. When one of them gets happy, the other gets wistful. When one of them gets bitchy, the other gets sugary. I could watch them sing together for hours.”

3) Matter’s “Soft Power: How popstar Zayn Malik is rebuilding the modern Muslim man in an age of Islamophobia”

4) Complex’s “Catching Feelings: on Zayn Malik, One Direction, and the Value of Fandom”

“The true, enduring value of One Direction dawned on me once I realized the emotional refuge and antidote to toxic masculinity they provide for the young girls (and guys) that populate their fanbase. In a music industry that simultaneously treats teen girls as the most lucrative consumers but the least respected audience, One Direction speaks directly to them and says something that their demographic doesn’t get to hear as much as it should: You are important.”

5) The Muses’ (Jezebel) “Behind the BoyBand: Q&A with Caroline Watson, One Direction’s Stylist”

Bonus (6!) because I don’t play by the rules: Buzzfeed’s “How One Direction Helped Me Find My Girls”

“These girls are creating a world for themselves where they feel safe and supported and encouraged to express themselves, and it’s incredible. Why are so many people so eager to mock women for “acting like girls” by expressing passion in fandom, when we as a society allow men to fanboy over sports and superheroes well into adulthood?”

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