Attempting to classify books by genre is an occupation best left to the mysterious powers that move publishing marketing meetings, and, I suppose, compilers of the “best of” lists. What could be literary fiction? Fiction is easy enough, but literary?

I moved through my lists – vast – and tried to divide them into categories. Anything with a murder to be solved was “mystery” or “thriller”. Anything starring a young person as the protagonist was “young adult.” Which left me with the rest of the stuff I read, mostly sad – why is lit fic never happy?

And then it was a question of whether I should list this book because even though I didn’t like it, I still think about it ten months later, and isn’t that a “best” book? Or this book, which was pleasant and kept me up a few happy nights, but which was rather “meh”, this must be discarded because it didn’t stay with me.

Ultimately it came down to “staying with me,” a phrase I will no longer use in this article, along with the word “luminous.” You will not find those words.

Another thing, before I dive in. I read a lot. Like – a lot a lot. It’s an old-fashioned hobby made popular by the amount of #bookporn that’s going around, fetishising the act of reading, pictures of bookstores and shelves and pretty first lines, and so on and so forth.

I am – regrettably - a drone reader. I put my head down, read a book till the end and then I think about it. I don’t have words tattooed up and down my arms, my bookshelves are an ungodly mess instead of classified by colour and I have betrayed the Lover of Books everywhere by switching seamlessly to an e-reader and not looking back.

I like to read. I read everything, pretty much. I’m a Reader Of All Trades. This is a paring down everything I read into the books I enjoyed so much I believe everyone should read them.

I also did a thing where I broke my reading up further into categories, just so I could have a look at what I was dealing with. The results were rather interesting. At least, they’ll be easy enough for you, if you’re looking for recommendations.

And then, there’s the moment where you realise all the books you’ve recommended are by women.


For me, personally, it was not a great year for men in literature. The books I read, I either didn’t enjoy or weren’t published this year. So here’s my super women-centric, not Indian list, but still – terrific books.

The best book I didn’t really like but is making it to all the best book lists and is sort of surreal and I still sometimes think about it.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is Snow White, sort of, but with a twist that makes it racially relevant in this age of Ferguson and more. It’s… interesting.

I went through my immigrant literature phase and highly recommend

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  It’s about a Chinese American family in the 70s, and the oldest daughter – Lydia – has just died. Lydia represented all that her parents wanted, and this book is heartbreaking in how it slowly reveals what the family feels and does after she is gone.

The best books I read about people and animals

I have two in this category, thanks to a year in literature where people began exploring our relationship with other species. We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler technically came out in 2013, but because of the Booker hype, it seemed to only come out this year, which totally counts. Sadly, I had read some reviews and knew the plot twist before it was revealed (fairly early on), but enjoyed the story of a family torn apart by animal ethics and how another species can become a sibling too.

Then there was Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, a bestselling but underrated in lit circles author, which deals with a young girl, a psychic, a cop, a runaway mother and elephants. Loads about elephants in here, which make you consider the pachyderm in different lights, and a thrilling book which you won’t be able to put down. Five stars all round for the animals! May there be more in 2015!

The best book I read that made me simultaneously want to slow down and speed up at the same time

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is a gorgeous, sort-of-dystopian book about a world where something terrible has happened (can’t say more, because spoilers), and the people after that terrible thing and before and how they are connected. So beautiful. So simple. You’ll love it.

The best historical fiction thing I read that made me question my own sexuality

Can we call Sarah Waters the lesbian historic fiction writer? In any case, her new book Paying Guests is everything I love about Waters with deep drama built in. The sex scenes are sexy, London is post-war and gritty, and everything is perfect.

The best mystery I read that should really be in literary fiction because they also explored the human mind:

This was the year I discovered J.K. Rowling was not just Harry Potter’s mother. I always wondered while reading the Potter books whether Rowling could really write well or if she was just an insanely good plotter. Robert Galbraith revealed to me that she could and did. The Silkworm is part two of Rowling’s detective series, but it works as a standalone, and works as a gentle probing of the mystery genre as well as a mystery itself.

The best book I can’t talk about at all because if I talk about it even a little bit I’ll spoil it:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Yes, eagle-eyed reader, perhaps also a young adult crossover, but I can’t tell you anything else except don’t talk to anyone about it and read it immediately before it is ruined for you.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of three books with her fourth, Before And Then After, a collection of short stories out in April.