Today, dear readers, is the 20th Annual World Book Day. Organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote reading and publishing, World Book Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the best books we’ve read over the past year—whether they’re brand-new novels, or a glorious Faulkner masterpiece we discovered a few decades late. After you check out EW’s staff picks, let us know what you’ve loved this past year in the comments!
Kyle Anderson, senior writer: I was a little late to the party, but the by far the best thing I’ve read so far in 2015 is Jeff Guinn’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson. It’s a fantastically in-depth look at the background of America’s signature serial killer, but it also effectively recreates the unbelievably weird energy surrounding Los Angeles in the late 1960s (a vibe that has been recently captured both by Mad Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice). It drives home the fact that it wasn’t just that Manson was insane (which he was), but his insanity was able to thrive in that specific time and place. It’s dark and brutal, but there’s a lot more there than just the story of how an unloved kid broke bad.
Melissa Maerz, TV critic: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. It’s the best book I’ve read in so long! And also The Complete Eightball by Daniel Clowes. I’ve read it before, but I’m re-reading it and loving it just as much.
Natalie Abrams, senior writer: Overwatch by Marc Guggenheim. The Arrow boss weaves a fast-paced and thrilling tale about a young CIA lawyer—Guggenheim himself was a lawyer before pursuing a job in the biz—caught up in a conspiracy so intriguing that it left me wanting more when I hit the last page.
Eric Brown, editorial assistant: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. “Challenge yourself.” That’s the philosophy I championed in my final term of college, diving into a Faulkner class that was capped with the author’s magnum opus, 1936’s Absalom, Absalom! A fractured story of the South’s fall from grace after the Civil War, Absalom demands nothing less than full immersion: meandering narratives, idiosyncratic prose and a plot stacked with true atrocity make casual reading impossible. But seek and you shall find reward. Absalom’s meditations on violence, family, race, history and literature itself may ring even truer today than they did nearly 80 years ago.
Tina Jordan, senior editor: The Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels, which I came to late and devoured in a huge, greedy gulp over a long weekend. No one else has written so well about women’s friendships.
Kevin P. Sullivan, correspondent: Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy. Considering that I read the first installment of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy nearly a decade ago, this one was way overdue. All the Pretty Horses is a real contender for my favorite book of all time, so both The Crossing (which I finally read last year) and Cities of the Plain had a lot to live up to and sat on my shelf, untouched for years because of that. What I discovered was that I missed out by not reading them sooner, as each volume makes the series better as a whole.
Kurt Christenson, photo editor: YOU by Caroline Kepnes. A perfectly creepy stalker horror story that walks the streets of a very recognizable NYC, this book grabbed me from the start and wouldn’t let go, even after I finished it. Catcher in the Rye by Stephen King.
Breia Brissey, associate editor: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. I was late to the Amelia party, but I recently picked up McCreight’s 2013 debut, and I could not put it down. It’s full of twists, turns and a crime story worthy of a Dateline episode: Amelia jumps from the roof of her high school after she’s caught plagiarizing a paper. But when Amelia’s mom, Kate, receives an anonymous text that reads, “Amelia didn’t jump,” Kate makes it her mission to find out what really happened to her daughter. It’s so good it’s no surprise that McCreight’s latest novel, Where They Found Her—which just came out this month—is at the top of my to-read list.
But as the resident YA junkie on staff, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shootout to my favorite genre: Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You is a smartly crafted (albeit a little cheesy) love story that had me laughing out loud at all the pop culture references and crying at some of the sweeter moments. It’s still spring, but it’s the perfect beach read if you’re looking for some contemporary YA fiction.
Amy Wilkinson, staff editor: Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French — I’m embarrassed to admit that Tana French’s wonderfully engrossing 2007 debut novel In the Woods sat on my nightstand for nearly six years before I finally cracked its spine. But, to my credit, I did make short order of the next four installments in the author’s loosely connected Dublin Murder Squad series—each mystery as fresh, imaginative, and unnervingly intimate as the last. You won’t be able to read them all in one day, but then again, why would you want to?
Joe McGovern, correspondent: The autobiography of German actor and crazy person Klaus Kinski (who died in 1991) should have a radiation symbol on the cover. It’s so melodramatic about his suffering (“the cockroaches were the size of baby turtles”) and so zealously graphic and offensive that Kinski’s own daughter, Nastassja, considered suing him for libel. I couldn’t put in down—the copy I got from the library, that is, since the book’s out of print. It 265 pages inside one of the world’s great lunatic minds.
Mark Snetiker, correspondent: I finally got around to reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (which is in development for TV, and I refuse to be Game of Thrones-ed and left behind once more). I don’t think I’ve been so hypnotized by a novel since my days reading Harry Potter. It felt like someone had tapped into that part of my brain that told myself I deserved an adult novel but secretly hoped for something utterly fantastical. 14 years isn’t too late to finally get into a book, right?
Isabella Biedenharn, editorial assistant: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was a dream of a commute read—I was tempted to call in sick every morning to avoid leaving that immersive, gripping, post-apocalyptic world (but don’t worry, I went to work). It’s been things that aren’t Station Eleven since I finished, which is… every other book.
Keisha Hatchett, intern: Deadpool comic books. This is going to sound strange but I got into Deadpool way before I read the comic books. I encountered costumed versions of the character at various comic book conventions and really loved the interactions. But when I finally sat down to read the actual books this year, it was like opening up my first jar of Nutella. I savored every line, every picture and every pop culture reference. It made me love the character on a completely different level and I think we should all be more like him—minus the killing and ripping off limbs.