I realize that most "Let's Reflect on Last Year" post are supposed to come much earlier than twenty-four days into the new year, but, what can I say?
Nothing. I honestly have nothing to say. Actually, I have one thing to say: it's my blog and I can do what I want, damnit!
There, now that that is over...
In 2015, I kept a list of all of the books I read. This is, perhaps surprisingly, the first time I've ever done so, but I decided it was a worthwhile use of (very little of) my time for a few reasons: 1) I constantly forget what books I've read, including ones I've read recently, 2) I was curious about how many books I actually read in a given year. (The average American reads something like seven; I knew I read more than that. But HOW MANY MORE?) 3) My boyfriend has been keeping track of his for a while and I thought it would be fun to see which one of us was the more avid reader. (We both work in publishing, so this is our idea of heated competition).
Here's my list. In no particular order.
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
- A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Book Five of the Song of Ice and Fire series)
- Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Book One in the Neapolitan Novels series)
- The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Book Two in the Neapolitan Novels series)
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (Book Three in the Neapolitan Novels series)
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Book One of the Southern Reach trilogy)
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Book One of the His Dark Materials trilogy)
- The Rocks by Peter Nichols
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Book One of the Harry Potter series)
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
- The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
- The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
- Daredevils by Shawn Vestal
- Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Book One of the All Souls trilogy)
- Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (Book Two of the All Souls trilogy)
- The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
- Bettyville by George Hodgman
- H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
- Complications by Atul Gawande
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette
- Smashed by Koren Zalickas
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam
- Works Well with Others by Ross McCammon
- Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
- The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown
- Stir by Jessica Fechtor
- Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
- Naked by David Sedaris
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
- Originals by Adam Grant
- The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
That's forty-one books total. I'd hoped to make it to fifty, but I guess I can try again this year. I only counted books that I read for fun (meaning I didn't count manuscripts I had to read for work) and that I read all the way through (if I started but didn't finish, it didn't make the list). I also didn't count a book that I read twice within the same year (see below), though I did count books that I had read during a previous year but re-read in 2015 (e.g. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Golden Compass).
Among these, my favorite book this year was, by far, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. This is a debut novel that my boyfriend actually recommended to me. He and I don't always enjoy the same things, but I trusted him on this one--and I was right. In fact, I loved this book so much that I read it twice--once in January and once over the Summer after I recommended it to my book club and decided to refresh myself on the finer plot points. I rarely, if ever, re-read books. And I never (before now) have re-read a book within only a few months of reading it the first time. But it was that good. The novel follows the story of a young woman named Eva who, in her early 20s, becomes a world-famous chef. It's an nontraditional narrative in that only one chapter is actually told from the perspective of the main character. The rest are told from the point of view of other characters, each of whom shares some connection to Eva. I couldn't get over (especially when reading it for the second time) how well written this book is. In fact, it's so well written you don't even pay attention to how good the writing is. Highly recommended.
In 2015, I also discovered the fabulous Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. If you follow the literary scene at all, you're no doubt familiar with these books because the fourth and final book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child (which I happen to be reading at the moment), came out this year and created quite a stir. Ferrante, an Italian author who writes under a pen name and whose real identity remains a mystery, has been around for years, but, for most people, this series of four novels has been their first introduction. The series follows the lives of two women, Elena, the narrator, and Lila, her oldest and closest friend. But these ain't your typical books about female friendship. Elena and Lila's relationship is nothing if not complicated, and the book reads like a series of diary entries rather than a traditional novel with a beginning, middle, and end. If you need a lot of plot to stay engaged, this book is not for you. But if, like me, you prefer honest portrayals of rich characters whose actions reflect those of real people facing real situations, then these are a must read.
On the non-fiction side, my favorite book of the year was probably Brain on Fire, with Modern Romance being a close runner-up. I was actually a few years late to the party on Brain on Fire, which was originally published in 2012, but it lived up to the hype. The author recounts the harrowing story of the mysterious infection that caused her to become psychotic for a month. If it hadn't been for the tireless work of her doctors, she could have died. Luckily, that didn't happen, and in telling her story, she was able to raise awareness of the extremely rare condition that afflicted her so that other people, and their families, might be able to benefit.
Modern Romance is very different. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about this one. I like Aziz Ansari well enough, but did I really care about what he had to say about dating and romance in the digital age? Plus, a few years ago, I edited a book on this subject and felt he couldn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Well, he didn't really tell me anything I didn't know, but that wasn't really the point. The point was to force all of us to consider how we interact with one another, secure attachments, and achieve intimacy in a world where there's seemingly no privacy but it's somehow more difficult to get close to someone than ever before. Plus, Ansari actually references the book I edited, Love in the Time of Algorithms (retitled as A Million First Dates in paperback) by Dan Slater. Fun fact, after Slater's book came out, Ansari actually referred to it in an interview. So Slater, being a resourceful author, reached out to him. At some point, the two actually met up in New York and chatted about the dating scene. I wasn't invited, but I still think that's pretty cool.
Biggest disappointments? Honestly, I wasn't a fan of The Girl on the Train, but, then again, I'm not a big fan of thrillers in general. I always find that they end the same way, with the killer confessing in some completely unrealistic way. Spoiler alert: this happens in The Girl on the Train. Of course, I also read The Silence of the Lambs this year and LOVED IT! Though, to be fair, this isn't really a mystery since the reader knows who the guilty party is. The best thing about this book though was that the characters--all of the characters--were believable, meaning they did things that made sense given who they were and the situations in which they found themselves (i.e. they didn't just disclose all of their secrets the moment someone confronted them).
Another disappointment? I might be forced out of publishing for saying this, but I was underwhelmed by All the Light We Cannot See. I know that people love this book, and I know it won the Pulitzer, but, after reading all 544 pages, I didn't know what to make of it. I don't mean that it was confusing--it wasn't. I just mean that I couldn't understand what larger story or what universal truth the author was trying to communicate. That being said, the writing was beautiful. Totally beautiful.
Finally, I didn't add this to the list, but I know you're curious so I'll tell you: yes, I did buy an adult coloring book this year. And, no, I don't color in it nearly as much as I assumed I would when I bought it. Yes, I do think coloring is fun, but, in general, I'd rather be reading.
What was your favorite book of 2015? What do you hope to read in 2016? Any books you're anticipating? Any books you've been meaning to read for years and have resolved to finally finish (or at least start) this year?