MWPA Executive Director Joshua Bodwell’s list of Best and Overlooked Books in 2015

Sorting through the buzz and hype: Five books to get to know this year

Fri, 12/18/2015 - 2:00pm

One day in 2009, while waiting for his partner to get ready so they could go to a holiday party, Joshua Bodwell, Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance executive director, was just idly thumbing through his bookcase, when he had the idea to come up with a “Baker’s Dozen” list of books that resonated with him in that past year.

“I read the year-end list that the major publishers put out, but I think they can be kind of anxiety-producing,” he said. “I didn’t want to put together something that parroted a New York Times Top 10 bestseller list, which can make you feel like ‘Oh My God, I haven’t read this, I haven’t read that...’ and those lists are made largely by people who read for a living. With my list, I wanted it to be more organic, a little more thoughtful looking back on what I read and why I cared about it.”

Recalling a Stephen King quote he’d read in Entertainment Weekly, Bodwell said: “He had this great line about how there’s buzz and then there’s hype. Buzz is sort of like seeing your friend in the grocery store and you have to gush about a book or a movie. Hype is who’s got the most pop-up ads and billboards promoting the book. He was making a case for buzz.”

Friends and family responded so well to Bodwell’s annual book list that he’s been doing it ever since. He just released his latest “Baker’s Dozen” recommendations and more than a few Maine writers have made the list. The interesting thing is that not every book he chooses has just been released. “For example, I just read John McPhee’s Oranges, which came out in 1967,” he said. “To me, this list is truer to what people’s reading lives are like.”

We asked him to provide five that fit the following categories. His descriptions come from his blog.


The State We’re In: Maine Stories by Ann Beattie

From the mordant humor of “The Little Hutchinsons” to the sly warmth of “Yancey” in The State We’re In: Maine Stories, Beattie remains a master storyteller I so admire as she continues to stretch out and evolve.


Most poignant

Our Souls at Night by Ken Haruf

(Knopf, 2015) I read Our Souls at Night with the sad knowledge it was the last novel Kent Haruf completed before his passing in late 2014. From the first page, Haruf’s already spare style is stripped to its very essence.


Most representative of Maine

Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols

Closer All the Time traces the lives of damaged vets, good-hearted drunks, clam poachers, broken boxers, damaged young boys, prop plane pilots, husbands and wives, single women, and others. They are all, each in their own way, people like the rest of us who struggle profoundly to understand their place in the world.


Newest voice

Love the Stranger by Jay Deshpande

Deshpande was a new discovery for me this year. The poetry in this debut collection reveals a rare combination of great intelligence and linguistic skill filtered through a big, generous heart.


Breakout shining star

After the Parade by Lori Ostlund

Ostlund is a writer of great humanity and has a gift for infusing the novel’s sometimes nearly unbearable sorrow with laugh out loud humor.

To see more of Bodwell’s book picks visit his blog Bodwell’s Baker’s Dozen or check out the winners of the 2015 Maine Literary Awards.

Kay Stephens can be reached at