This year I read 52 books, which was 12 more than the previous year. Considering the demands emotionally, mentally, professionally, domestically, and even physically that 2015 put on me, I'm pretty proud of of myself! Before I get to my top ten favorites, and a few that disappointed, here are a few stats:
17 were nonfiction
28 were written by women
6 were short stories, essays, or collections
16 primarily took place in a country other than the US
0 were graphic novels
5 were about chefs or the restaurant industry
11 books were read in July; the most of any month
6 were books I taught at work, or ones related to the profession
44 were written since 2000
270 my very rough estimate of how many hours I was able to read this year
When determining my favorites I don't strictly base my decision on the quality of writing; of course this important, but the impact the books has on me emotionally does as well. Am I still thinking about it today, months later? Would I recommend it to others? Did I grow from the reading experience or did it make me see things in a new perspective? Did I want to keep reading, or was I relieved when it was over?
And, in no particular order, here are my ten favorite books from 2015 (rereads for the books I taught were not considered):
1. Sous Chef by Michael Gibney- I'm a sucker for chef memoirs and I thought what he did syntactically with the day-in-a-life approach was unique. I've worked in a few restaurants and I think that the back-of-the-house culture is fascinating.
2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt- I was a big fan of The Goldfinch and thought this was was also extremely well-written and smart. I also appreciated the academic, collegiate angle.
3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng- This beautiful book broke my heart into a million pieces; the relationships between parents and their children are so very complex. And experiencing the death of your child? I pray to God I'll never experience that. It was heavy, but fantastic.
4. Still Alice by Lisa Genova- This books was important to me on the perspective front, as my grandmother has dementia/Alzheimer's. While it is important to remember that this is fiction, it did provide me with better insight into what the patient and their caregiver must feel.
5. The Martian by Andy Weir- This is not necessarily a well-written book in terms of style and prose. But the story? The main character? I was in love. I rooted for Mark from page one and was hooked. Was it realistic? Nope. A bit predictable? Yup. But something about it felt good- I was on Mark's team and felt what he did during his battle.
6. The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson- I think one of the most compelling aspects of this book, besides the dynamic, magnetic prose, was the setting, in Africa. It was very reminiscent to Heart of Darkness, but not too much so. The ending got a little strange, but as a whole I knew after reading it that it would end up on this list.
7. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers- While it turns out the man this is based off of, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, has gotten himself into some trouble with the law and his ex-wife, after the writing of this book, I still really loved it. Hurricane Katrina's aftermath is such a stain on our country's history and I think Egger's description of the city and the treatment of Zeitoun demonstrate this. It also reads like a novel, which is typically the type of non-fiction I most enjoy.
8. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay- While there are of course flaws and issues to raise, this book exemplified so many of the arguments I have made about feminism over the years. Like Gay, I too am a "bad feminist." She points out that we can want equality but still shave our legs and wear lipstick. Gay also brings up some interesting points about race and class in America, but not in such a way that I, as an upperish-middle class white woman felt attacked. She's incredibly smart, witty, and refuses to take shit from anyone (just check out her twitter account).
9. Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill- We read this recently for our department book club at work and I really enjoyed the narrative style and her commentary on the challenges ambitious, creative women face as moms and wives. I've had my own struggles in this area and much of what she said was very timely. Her treatment of anxiety and depression are also important.
10. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout- I am such a sucker for short story collections that tie together, like this one did. The beauty of these stories is that while the writing is anything but ordinary the people and their stories are. Because that's real life.
And a few that either disappointed me, based on the hype, or I just didn't like:
1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris- This was my first Ferris book, and, frankly, I loathed it. It started off funny and quirky (how could it not be when an atheist dentist's website is hacked by someone religious?), but it just jumped ship and ended up boring me.
2. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd- We read this for book club and I simply did not connect. I thought it was a pretty typical, average period piece that had some undertones of white-guilt.
3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo- Ha! Oh, Marie, this book made me laugh, which apparently it was not supposed to do. It did make me more motivated to get a little more organized, but how it supposedly has sparked some sort of revolution is beyond me.
4. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee- I knew this was going disappoint, but man, was it bad. It was sloppily written, lacked any sort of character depth, handled the flashback scenes poorly and was downright boring at times. I will say that it was more realistic, but the bottom line is that it was unnecessary to publish it.
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr- This is not a bad book, so calm down. But did I think it lived up to the hype? Not really. I am admittedly not necessarily the reader Doerr was chasing though, since I generally stay away from books set during wartime. I was very ready to be done when I reached the end.
What did you read and love? Read and hate?