Brian Doyle's Christmas picks

November 22, 2015

Novels that rattled and moved me in the last year or so include Anthony Doerr’s terrific World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner). It’s the best novel I’ve read since Gilead. Like Marilynne Robinson, Doerr achieves a shimmering consistency of tone; it’s one of those books that you finish and then shake your head in quiet awe.

The best nonfiction books I read were Astoria (HarperCollins), by Peter Stark, and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Seattle writer Tim Egan. Both are great examples of how to handle an enormous amount of fact and history by shaping it all as a riveting story. Stark writes about John Jacob Astor’s attempt to corner the world fur market by founding what was to be the New York City of the West; Egan writes about the remarkable life and work of Edward Curtis, the great photographer of the tribal peoples of America.

I was impressed by Douglas Emlen’s Animal Weapons (Henry Holt) and Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds (Basic Books), both beautifully written, lively, lucid science books; and by William Finnegan’s magisterial Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Penguin), the greatest surfing book I’ve ever read, largely because it’s about joy and pain and love and yearning, with some surfing details here and there.

The best movie I’ve seen recently is Interstellar. My wife and children and I still talk about its implications and intimations about the nature of time and space and memory. How rare and lovely is a film that you still talk about at dinner? Musically—and here I speak with the passion of a maniacal music lover who adores all music except Wagner’s—the best new work I’ve heard is Irish songwriter Bap Kennedy’s record Let’s Start Again, but pick up any of his six solo records—three of them done with Steve Earle, Van Morrison, and Mark Knopfler, respectively. This is lovely soulful country-tinged bluesy rock. And speaking of Mark Knopfler—he has a fine new record called Tracker.