Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My favorite books I read this year

When 2015 started, I had grand aspirations of reading 50 books. I thought the kids would allow me more time than they did, and I didn't anticipate starting a job. Even so, I read 34, and this year I even upped my game a bit by writing book reviews on each one in a little booklet. So yeah, I would say that's as good as reading 50 books.
 
(Clearly not all the books I read are pictured. Many were library books or not worth looking for in this mess of books I have here).

These books were my favorite from the past year:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns 
by Khaled Hosseini
Novel 
Khaled also wrote, "The Kite Runner" and so I expected the sophomore slump with this book. But it wasn't a slump at all. It was also fantastic. This book is the intersecting stories of two Afghan women that spans the course of 30 years or so. It shows female inequality, war, and injustice. And in the end, it details endless sacrifices people make for others despite all of that. 

2. The Poisonwood Bible 
by Barbara Kingsolver
Novel
Ironically, I read this after "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and this book also spans 3 decades and is set in a foreign country. In this book, a white family from Bethlehem, Georgia enters Africa as missionaries for a one-year term. But this one year changes all of their lives forever. "Splendid Suns" champions love and family, while in this book independence is a theme as each family member finds their way through life independent of one another. This book is a part of Oprah's book club, for those of you who care about that kind of thing.

3. One More Thing 
by B.J. Novak
Short stories
I'm in love with B.J. Novak. I mean, how can you not be? And then he goes and writes this fantastic book and makes me fall even harder. I'm used to celebrities writing sub-par books that get published because they are celebrities. But B.J. Novak is a writer first, celebrity second. Short stories aren't that popular, perhaps because it is no small feat to engage a reader and get them feeling something in just a few pages, but B.J. does it marvelously (call me).

4. A Village Life 
by Louise Gluck
Poetry  
My book review booklet has ratings for each book, but it is so hard to rate poetry alongside fiction and memoirs. But if any poet deserves all five stars, it's Louise. The way she crafts poems is a true art form. I am transported to where she is, I identify with her feeling. I understand the character all in a short page or two. I appreciate not only what she wrote, but also, especially, what she didn't but what I took from what she wrote.

5. Wild 
by Cheryl Strayed 
Memoir
You are probably familiar this book since there is now a movie about it. I started the movie, but couldn't get into it. Luckily, I still gave the book a shot. Cheryl hikes 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and along the way decides to become a better person. She is the heroine of her own story and exactly the type of heroine I prefer - not perfect or one-dimensional or made to be likable, but rather human - authentic and flawed. And perhaps this explains my penchant for memoirs. 

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
by Maya Angelou
Memoir 
If you haven't read Maya yet, you should. It is not the story itself that makes this book so great, but rather the writing (ie: "I went up the stairs, one at a, one at a, one at a time."). This book describes Maya's early life during the depression in Stamps, Arkansas where she is raised by her grandmother. Then as a teenager, Maya drives her drunk father fifty miles out of Mexico and lives in a car in a scrap yard after her dad's girlfriend attacks her. OK, maybe you don't just read this for the writing. You also read it for the story. 

7. An American Childhood
by Annie Dillard
Memoir
Annie is eloquent, brilliant, and a nearly flawless writer. She remembers her childhood in amazing detail with great clarity. Annie is a writer, but I bet she could have been anything: a brain surgeon, a scientist, an astronaut. She has an amazing mind and a ceaseless curiosity.

8. A Drinking Life 
by Pete Hamill
Memoir
Pete was born into a poor family and grew up in Brooklyn during World War II. He was a part of history and vividly remembers the affects of the war, drinking and drugs, segregation/civil rights, JFK's Assassination, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, etc, etc. And he writes about the way those events shaped the people living through them by writing about how they affected him. He is relatable and honest and, although an asshole at times, I can't help but admire his passion to create for beautiful art and words for others to enjoy.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
by Stephen Chbosky
Novel
I regret seeing the movie before reading this book because I would have loved to visualize those characters myself. This book is so much like the book I want to write - it is insightful, funny, deep, and honest. It is a coming-of-age tale wherein Charlie finds himself through his relationships with other people. There are some weird parts, but it works here. Everything works - this book is unapologetically its own.


10. A Separate Peace 
by John Knowles
Novel
This is not my first time reading this book, but it is the first time I have read it and understood the affect WWII had on these boys seemingly removed from it. Phineas is a great character sketch - charismatic, fun, impulsive and decisive. The title is interwoven as a theme in the story brilliantly and there are multiple "aha moments." Although the World War ends, the battle between what Gene (the narrator) knows to be right and his actions (no spoilers here) which were clearly wrong rages on.

And that, everyone, concludes my books for 2015. On to 2016. I better get started, because my "Next to read" shelf is now stacked to the top and two stacks deep.

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