On Point Staff's Favorite Books Of 2015

Another year, another book show. And we here at On Point are as eager as ever to share some of our favorite reads from the past 12 months.

When we're not preparing for a show or doing research on future topics, we've been known to cozy up with an interesting book or two. Here's our staff's favorite picks from 2015. Happy reading!
-- The On Point Staff

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Dragon Day, by Lisa Brackman
As Amazon says, "Ellie McEnroe is an Iraq War vet living in Beijing, where she represents the work of  cutting-edge Chinese political artists. She has one bum leg, a taste for dumplings and beer, and an evangelical mother and a sweet-tempered rescue mutt for roommates. She also has Chinese Domestic Security on her tail and a dwindling number of Percocets to get her through her bad days." Ok, so Lisa Brackman's "Dragon Day" is pulp fiction. But it's pulp fiction with a delightfully badass attitude that brought me up to date on an edge of China - and of America - that was rough-edged, cool and spicy. I give it five dumplings for beach reading. — Tom Ashbrook
"A God in Ruins" by Kate Atkinson
The God in "A God In Ruins" is Britain during its long decline from the War. The country knew greatness in 1940 standing alone against Hitler. The men and women who volunteered for the services rightly saw themselves as crusaders against Evil. It was an incomparably heroic generation. Nothing afterwards—not the rise in social decency represented by the National Health System, not the first Labour government, not even the Beatles—could match the People’s War, when military did not exceed civilian casualties for nearly three years. Visiting relatives in London in the 1950s, my wife remembers that one of the windows of their basement flat was still boarded up from the Blitz. Perhaps they were too poor to fix it. But one suspects they were too proud. Kate Atkinson's novel tells the story of three-plus generations of a provincial middle class  family. Young Sunny, seeing Grandpa Ted, a bomber pilot, in a wheelchair “felt tears starting.” Sunny reflects: “All those dead guys, it was so sad. They were his own age, doing something noble, something heroic. They were lucky. They’ d been given history. It wasn’t going to happen to him. He was never going to be given the chance to be noble and heroic…Perhaps Sunny could read a book about the war. Maybe then he could talk to Grandpa Ted without feeling like an idiot. His grandfather was a hero too, wasn’t he? He’d had a life. Sunny wondered how you went about getting one of those.” Sunny needed to read this book. As the perfection of tone in that last sentence testifies, it is fiction of high artistic merit and a work of history. Reading it, Sunny would  discover what all those dead guys did and suffered; and specifically what the crews of his grandpa's Bomber Command endured as one by one they obliterated Germany's cities and the people—women, children, grandpas, Nazis — beneath their bombs. — Jack Beatty
"This Is Not A Love Story" By Judy Brown
In her memoir "This is Not A Love Story," Judy Brown narrates the story of her childhood, growing up in Hassidic Brooklyn with an autistic brother. Brown writes about the deals she made with God to make her “crazy brother” normal again. None of them worked. Nothing worked. Not faith. Not special attention. Not love. The necessary resources just didn’t exist at the time in Orthodox Brooklyn. The writing is beautiful and bold. No sugar coating here. This family’s struggle is real and raw. You will fall in love with "This is Not a Love Story." — Karen Shiffman
"Hawk" By Helen Macdonald
"H is for Hawk" is Helen Macdonald’s remarkable book about a woman who decides to train a hawk after her father’s death. The book is not plot driven, but language driven. Macdonald’s words are fierce, captivating and urgent. Her life is consumed by the training of a violent predator. This is a book rocked by strong emotions. There is no contentment here. There is isolation, deep sadness, untempered joy. I highly urge readers to plunge into Macdonald’s obsessive quest. -- Julie Diop
"The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life" by Sarah L. Kaufman
When I was growing up my little brother was the one of us who could do cartwheels across the front lawn and jumps while ice skating. He had grace. I never did. Maybe it’s that shortcoming that drew me to Sarah L. Kaufman’s “The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life”.  For Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic at the Washington Post, grace is not something just found in ballet dancers on stage and in actors on the silver screen. It’s an essential part of being human that we can all aspire to. So for me it’s a source of inspiration for the New Year and beyond. — Eileen Imada
"Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the World and the Art of Fake News" by A. Brad Schwartz
Popular history is usually a fun read (for me, anyway), but it takes a book like A. Brad Schwartz's "Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the World and the Art of Fake News" to transform fun into an informative and delightful reading experience. Schwartz's exhaustive archival research into what really happened on October 30, 1938 — the night of Orson Welles' original "War of the Worlds" broadcast — lends his work a knowing, authoritative tone, and the letters and testimony he includes throughout give the story a personable and often deeply funny voice. A definite required read for any student of American cultural or media history. — Nick Andersen
"Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warning" BY Timothy Snyder
Reading Timothy Snyder’s “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” made the Faulkner quote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past,” feel more apt than ever.  Snyder tackles environmental crisis, statelessness, and Europe’s view of “the other”. Synder, a skilled researcher and lyrical writer, brings this horror uncomfortably near.  -- Katherine Brewer
"Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights" By Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is just a great storyteller. In his novel, "Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights" he creates a mystical world that has been touched by "strangeness." There is love, a colorful cast of characters, giant agonies and catastrophes, and conflict between reason and ideology. At its heart, this is a tale of good versus evil and it has Rushdie's satirical twist on it all. — Sarah Platt
"Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half The Story" By Jewel
As a proud 90s child, I don’t know how any other book could possibly beat out Jewel’s beautiful memoir Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story,” for my favorite book of the year. The very first CD I ever owned was Jewel’s “Spirit.” (You know, the one with Hands. I know you know.) She writes about the origin of Hands in the book. And about Who Will Save Your Soul, You Were Meant For Me, even Intuition. It’s every story I ever wanted to know about where these songs that have been stuck in my head of the last 15 years came from. Beyond that, it’s her story of growing up in Alaska, of her family, of living in her car and struggling to get by before finding her way in the music industry. It’s a lovely memoir and would be great material for an episode of On Point – oh wait. — Abigail Collins
"Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide To The Path and Practice of Meditation" By Susan Piver
I have always wanted to get into the habit of meditating but was always frustrated by my few experiences with trying it. "Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation" by Susan Piver book does an amazing job at giving someone with no experience a brilliant introduction and technical guide on how to get into the practice of meditating. It's an easy read and very to the point but does not pander or condescend the reader in any way. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in incorporating meditation into their every day life for the first time. — Dave Tarantino


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