The Best Books of 2015--A Very Biased List from the Staff at Common Good Books

Yes, we love all the books equally. But there are a few books we love just a little bit more. Here then, is Common Good Books' very subjective, very idiosyncratic list of our favorite books of 2015.

Staff Pick Logo
The Wake: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977177
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - September 1st, 2015

The narrator of Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake loses everything in the days following the Norman conquest of England. His home is burned, his farm his destroyed, and his family is killed. Retreating to the green woods, he quickly descends into a fever dream of revenge.

It takes a few moments to learn to parse the language of The Wake; it is written in a simplified version of Old English, after all. The effort is richly repaid, however, by an engrossing and immersive reading experience unlike any other historical novel. Kingsnorth's vividly imagined medieval tale is an ancient story that throbs with life. 


Staff Pick Logo
A God in Ruins: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316176538
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown and Company - May 5th, 2015

"Nothing short of brilliant describes this companion to Life After Life. It is Atkinson at her very best. It's not a sequel, so go ahead--read and enjoy. Loved it!"


Staff Pick Logo
Thrown Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936747924
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Sarabande Books - October 14th, 2014

A young lady philosophy scholar literally wanders into the world of mixed martial arts fighting. This book kept leaving me dumbstruck. It's like an ice cube down the back. 

Staff Pick Logo
A Reunion of Ghosts: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062355881
Availability: Special Order Only - Please Contact Us
Published: Harper - March 24th, 2015

"The story tugged me along relentlessly--complicated, life and death stuff, myriad varieties of women, those mistakes in remembering that are so dangerous, effects of the past on the present, wide range and serious depth of loving and being loved. It's a great read and it all stays with you."


Staff Pick Logo
News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness Cover Image
ISBN: 9781619025929
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Counterpoint LLC - September 15th, 2015

"One of Minnesota's finest poets, and certainly its finest poetry translator, herein whittles a world's worth of poetry into one beautiful, fine point. The overarching theme of twofold consciousness is perfectly suited to Bly's voice, thought, and career. I recommend this to anyone who's ever liked anything."


Staff Pick Logo
Between the World and Me Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812993547
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau - July 14th, 2015

"To crib Toni Morrison's blurb, Between the World and Me ought to be required reading. Ta-Nehisi Coates says he doesn't 'want to be anyone's expert,' but that isn't to say there aren't some crucial truths inside this book. Poetic and tragic and timely."

Staff Pick Logo
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465062881
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Basic Books - April 28th, 2015

"Still the best account of Shackleton's famous adventure, complete with Frank Hurley's stunning photographs. My favorite book of all time."


Staff Pick Logo
M Train Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101875100
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Knopf - October 6th, 2015

"Patti Smith continues her successful sucession of books that includes the National Book award winning memoir Just Kids, as well as many earlier books, poetry publications and exhibition catalogs. I settled into M-train and felt like she had opened a door to her world, not the music world, but her everyday life--Patti's apartment, Patti in the cafe, Patti hanging on the stoop. On the cover image, she sits, and looks out the window watching the world go by. I imagine she is fabulously famous, and yet, can go quietly unrecognized in New York City and this gives her space in her cafe to muse, capture the muse and filter it back to the reader with all the ephemeral sweetness of the best truffle you have ever eaten. Forget the hard facade, this is pure butter, chocolate and bliss.Take it slowly and love every bite."


Staff Pick Logo
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399167256
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Blue Rider Press - October 13th, 2015

My favorite book of the year.


Staff Pick Logo
The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250074706
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Picador - September 1st, 2015

"Each story follows a stressed-out, often over-medicated adult as he or she fails, hilariously, to carry out an everyday plan: buy flowers for a spouse, go for a pleasant walk, relax at a party of peers. A great pick for fans of George Saunders, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Lorrie Moore. All nine stories appeared first in The New Yorker."


All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476746586
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Scribner - May 6th, 2014

"Beautiful in every moment! This is the kind of book that reminds you why people and things are so enchanting. Easily the best book I have read this year."


Staff Pick Logo
Alec Soth: Songbook (First edition. Second printing) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781910164020
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mack Books - March 1st, 2015

An amazing new photobook from Soth. Wonderful pictures that capture the strange beauty of America. Beautifully designed. Destined to be a classic. Highly recommended! For fans of Frank, Evans, Adams, etc. . . . Published by the great MACK Books!


Staff Pick Logo
But Enough about Me: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399173547
Availability: Special Order Only - Please Contact Us
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - November 17th, 2015

"Learning about the storied life of this nigh-mythic sex symbol of mustachioed manhood was possibly the most satisfying reading I've ever done,--let alone done this year. It was invigorating to track his movements through friends and colleagues, through cinema and television, like one would track a bounding stag through a forest primeval. If I had a billion thumbs, I would upturn them all. Burt, after all, remains king."


Head West This Summer


If you, like me, are daydreaming about a summer vacation, you want to miss The Oregon Trail, which goes on sale June 30. 

Rinker Buck, a self-described “boozehound with a bad driving record,” had a scheme. He wanted to pilot a covered wagon down the length of the Oregon Trail--from Kansas to the Pacific coast. Enlisting his brother, a dog named Olive Oyl, and three stalwart mules, Buck sets out to “see America slowly.” Along the way he find quicksand and kindness, frustration and hospitality in equal measure.

Part travelogue, part family history, part national history, The Oregon Trail is a heartfelt ode to Middle America. Whether he’s writing about the joys of smalltown campgrounds or the agony of chasing runaway mules while wearing slippers, Buck is a clear-eyed and gregarious storyteller. The Oregon Trail is a journey into the beauty of the American heartland, past and present. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Reserve your copy now. 


Staff Pick Logo
The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451659160
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Simon & Schuster - June 30th, 2015

A sneak preview of Michael Perry's hilarious new novel, "The Jesus Cow"

Michael Perry is a fantastic Wisconsin writer whose past work has included memoirs, essays, and a novel for young adults. His next book, The Jesus Cow (available May 19), is a scorchingly funny send up of a Midwestern small town. Here's a peek, in the author's inimitable voice.

The Jesus Cow: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062289919
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Harper - May 19th, 2015

Thanks to Cathy Wurzer and Wilder Caregiver Services

Thank you again to Cathy Wurzer and Wilder Caregiver Services for a wonderful discussion of the life of Bruce Kramer and the challenges and joys of being a caregiver.

Keep the conversation going by visiting Wilder's Caregiver's Resource Center for support and information.

We Know How This Ends: Living while Dying Cover Image
ISBN: 9780816697335
Availability: Not in Our Store - Available to Order
Published: Univ Of Minnesota Press - April 1st, 2015

The envelope, please...

Almost one thousand entries have been narrowed down to seven prize-winning poems.

Close to 1,000 poets submitted their work to Common Good Books, in St Paul, MN. Entries came from across the United States, with Minnesota making up the single largest bloc of poems. After reading them all, store owner Garrison Keillor, has chosen seven poems of particular merit. Congratulations to this year’s winners, and thank you to all who entered.


$1000 Winners:

  • Lisa Kundrat of Minneapolis, MN, for "Dear You"

  • Ethna McKiernan of Minneapolis, MN for "Leaving"

  • Kari Castor of Arlington Heights, IL, for "Dear Roger”


$500 Winners:

  • Heidi Annexstad of Golden Valley, MN, for "Regarding Your Dishes"

  • Elizabeth Twiddy of Syracuse, NY, for "Dear Neighbor"

  • Cynthia Orange of St. Paul, MN, for "Red, Cabbage, Oldsmobile"

  • Sharon Dardis of St. Paul, MN, for "Dear Stan: You Know Horses"


Lisa Kundrat

Dear You


Dear you

If we had met ten years earlier, would we have had ten more years?
Or, meeting too soon, would we have rejected the alien and had no
time at all? You the responsible, hard-working corporate guy, me a
hippie vagabond, living in a trailer adjacent a rooster coop. For me to
wander into the corporation took a while. How lucky to find you in
that tiny window of time, grinding out PowerPoints and yearning
toward bumdom. Once I wandered in, we left together. Driving our
rented Camry through the West, driving that straight-line highway
toward Albuquerque, the land scrabbled with petrified trees and
ringed with a 360-degree rainbow. We stopped at a cave-like
restaurant in Taos for Thanksgiving fajitas, chili-pepper lights
dangling like calcite.  Driving north through the pitch black, we knew
we were surrounded by beauty. Opening the window to breathe the
cold pine air of the forest we knew was there, but couldn’t see.
Gripping the dash, saying, “stop stop stop,” as a bull elk stepped into
the headlights. You slowed, we watched him saunter across. You
wanted a photo, but could only stare, heart pounding. Why do we
always have to know what we’re traveling through or toward and
when we’ll find it? What matters is we’re wandering together. As our
hearts slow enough to take a picture, he disappears into the black on
the other side.



Ethna McKiernan


         For Conor


                    I turned around tonight to say—

And then I missed you so hard

at that instant, the wry smile of you
absent, every atom of you flown,
not a particle hovering in the house.

I left too, young as you
craving wind-shifts of change,
hitching through Europe in the 70’s,
camping rough, picking grapes in France,
bleaching the stain off down in Spain,
five months of glory on the road.

Now the same winds have pushed you
to Mexico, a silver jet seam visible as stars
in the sky last night, that long curl
dissipating into cloud.

Remember how I knew you at five
in that Ninja costume?
I knew you skate-boarding
with an attitude at Brackett Park,
and sensed for certain when
you first fell in love. I knew you
as a heartbeat beneath my ribs
at nine months, almost born.

And know you now,




Kari Castor

Dear Roger


Dear Roger,

I think sometimes about
that night in college when I
sat on your lap in your room

and the way we tried to devour
each other when we
realized we were alone for a moment--

         Aaron graduated and in
         Chicago waiting
         for me to join him,
         our friends returned
         to the living room--

the way your thick stubble
burned my cheek

the way I was terrified
to make this mistake
and also terrified
to not make it

the way I made you drive me
home and leant my
still-burning cheek
against the cool car window
and fantasized
the whole way about asking
you into my empty apartment

the way we carefully
avoided touching each other
for fear of striking a spark that might
set the whole fragile veneer ablaze

and I wonder sometimes if you
all these years later
ever think about that night
the way I do



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