The Top 3 Books of 2015 by Texans

The year’s best in fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books from Kirkus Reviews.

By Emily Donahue & Leah ScarpelliDecember 21, 2015 10:18 am

Without one bit of shame, the Standard indulges in a list of the best books in 2015, hand-picked by Clay Smith, editor of Austin-based Kirkus Reviews.

The ground rules: Smith highlights Texas authors, with one book each from the fiction, non-fiction, and children’s categories.

“It was a good year for Texas writers,” he says.


“The most notable Texas book is actually by a woman who is deceased – Lucia Berlin – and she died in 2004,” he says. “It’s a collection of her stories, which is called ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women,’ and as that title might suggest, it really is about hard-luck women who did not have easy lives.”

Smith describes Berlin’s prose as “electric,” and although some stories are set in familiar backdrops like El Paso, he says the stories “don’t go places that you think they’re gonna go.”

“This is one the great publishing stories of 2015,” he says about The New York Times Best Seller and finalist for the Kirkus Prize in Fiction. “Our reviewers said that it’s a testament to a writer whose explorations of society’s rougher corners deserve wider attention.”


Smith picks “Days of Rage” by Vanity Fair special correspondent and native Texan Brian Burrough.

“It’s a hard-to-put-down book about The Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army… the Black Liberation Army, and he had to do a lot of boots-on-the-ground reporting,” he says. “In some cases, it took him five meetings before they would start to trust him and that was after months of negotiating and interview in the first place.”

Smith says that the book shares important implications of how domestic terrorism is viewed today.


Smith notes the rise of the We Need Diverse Books campaign movement in children’s publishing.

“From readers, writers asking that there be more books published by mainstream, huge, conglomerate publishers in America that speak to minority readers, because they need to see themselves represented in the books that they read,” he says.

One person “raising a ruckus,” Smith says, is Austinite Don Tate and his book ‘The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet,” about the first African-American man to publish his own words as a slave in the South.

Smith says the book is an illustration of how to write about slavery in “an approachable, but fair way.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Kirkus on the Standard logo