In 2015, I read (as well as put down) more books than in previous years. As a result, I plan on simply posting a non-descriptive list of the fiction and non-fiction I’ve consumed in the past year. However, the wonderfully witty and erudite John Wiswell posed the questions:
What are your favorite books that you read this year? Not what was written or published in 2015, but that you personally read and loved for the first time. Fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry and sequential art are all welcome. You can handle the number and format as you like.
The answers, via twitter, will be posted under #BestReads2015. And since I’m waiting to post my list until later to include as many books as possible, I’m looking forward to this as a supplemental description of my favorite reads of the year.*
As far as I’m concerned, format does not matter. Ebooks, paperbacks, graphic novels, and audiobooks all count as books. Saying a paperback is the only “real” book makes as much sense as saying only scrolls count as real texts, because bound manuscripts are for wusses. I am not including books I have read previously and chose to read again. Oh, and I’m including books series as if they were single books, because–well, let’s face it, many times they read as one extended story. I may have already read one book of a series, but I’ll count the whole series if I continued reading it in 2015.
The Walking Dead graphic novels:
I read the entire series, volumes one through twenty-four, in a two month period. I had already read the first five books, but since I had forgotten them I had to reread them before moving on. I couldn’t put the series down. For those of you who have been living under a rock, The Walking Dead is not about zombies. It’s about people surviving in the zombie apocalypse and how this adversity changes them. Specifically, it follows a good man, Rick Grimes, as he’s forced to rethink his approach to life in a uncivilized world where he must fight to survive and protect those he loves. The questions the series asks are deep, the characters layered, and anyone who says graphic novels don’t count as actual books needs to actually pick one up and read it.
The Dorothy Must Die (novel series) by Danielle Paige:
Since I’ve always had a penchant for reimaginings of classic stories, this continuation of the Oz stories struck a special chord with me. I’ve read Dorothy Must Die and The Wicked Will Rise and am anxiously waiting for my library to make the next few books available to me.*** While not particularly deep, a quality I do not think all fiction needs to have, they are pure fun.
The Giver Quartet (novel series) by Lois Lowry:
The series begins with The Giver, a young adult classic, which I had already read several times. However, I only discovered this year that Lowry had continued the story of Jonas and the world in which he lived. While the second book, Gathering Blue, was about a completely different character, the third book Messenger ties the first two books together. Son, the final installment, is an epic and wonderful morality tale.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott:
I listened to this audiobook in order to participate in a historical fiction book club at one of my local libraries. One of my resolutions for 2015 was to read more nonfiction, and I’ve never been drawn to bibliographies nor histories. However, this one was an exception. The book, while fiction, focused on the lives of four real female spies: two for the Union, two for the Confederacy. Belle Boyd and Rose O’Neal Greenhow conducted, rather flamboyantly, espionage for the South, while Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew fought in their own ways for the North. I thought some of the focus was a bit skewed, with the author picking unlikable Southern characters and more admirable Northern ones, but it was still fascinating. When I finished the book, I conducted some of my own research and determined to read more historical accounts of these (and other) fascinating women.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen:
I searched out material on Mary Bowser because I felt her story hadn’t been addressed as well as I would have liked in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. Born a slave, she was freed by her owner and recruited to spy in the Confederate White House as a maid. Filled with danger, intrigue, and compelling personal history, this fictionalized account of her life is another book that I simply couldn’t put down.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
Another book outside my comfort zone, I downloaded this through manybooks.net. Earlier in the year, I had read Hemingway and how much he admired Dostoyevsky’s writing. I was admittedly a bit intimidated from previous exposure to Russian literature, but after hearing Crime and Punishment described during an episode of Freaks and Geeks, I decided to give it a try. Who says you can’t get good book recommendations from television?
Anyway, the novel follows the thoughts and actions of Raskolnikov, a student who reasons to himself that he would be doing the world a favor by killing an immoral pawnbroker and using her money to perform good deeds. With the exception of the actual crime, which is incredibly brutal, not a lot happens at first. There’s a lot of introspection, he walks around depressed and gets sick, and his family and friends worry about him even though he’s incredibly rude and cruel to them. I have to admit, it took me awhile to get into the characters and see what drew people to this classic of Russian literature. But I did see it.
I began by only reading 2.5% each day (Thor bless ebook software), because it seemed slow to get into but perhaps worth the effort. However, halfway through the book, I began to read faster and become attached to the characters. By the end, nothing was as simple or as black and white as it first appeared. Everything was nuanced and layered, and I still think about this book frequently. It’s one of the most thoughtful books I’ve ever read.
Old School by Tobias Wolff:
I read this book as part of The Big Read, an annual event sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts. Every year, the Massillon library, Massillon Art Museum, and several other local places take part and promote whatever book has been chosen for the year. 2015’s selection, Old School, was given away for free in various places around Massillon, Ohio; book discussions and promotions were done throughout the month; and the program culminated with a public talk and book signing by Tobias Wolff. My son and I attended the talk and are both proud owners of autographed copies. It was incredibly inspiring and instructional.
The actual book itself was something that–had I not heard so much about it–I would never have picked up on my own. Old School is a semi-fictionalized autobiographical tale of a young boy attending an all boys school. The school held a writing contest for its students each year, and the winner would get a private audience with a famous author. Over the course of the novel, the scheduled authors are Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway; literary legends that the teenage students idolized and competed heavily to win an audience with. However, for the main character, events unfold in a way he never anticipated. This book is proof positive that great literature must be unreservedly honest, and it both breaks your heart and makes it soar. I know how corny that sounds, but just trust me and read the book. It’s incredible.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day:
I read this autobiography because 1. I adore pretty much everything Felicia Day does, 2. its release this year lined up with my resolution to read more nonfiction, and 3. the title caught my attention (yeah, I admit it). While Felicia Day may be known to you as the creator and star of The Guild, she also began the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel, starred in Doctor Horrible, and earned a double major degree in math and music when she graduated college at the age of nineteen. This biography felt very honest and personal, and I truly felt I learned some life lessons within its pages.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline:
This book came with a LOOTCRATE delivery, and I had saved it for my son since he’s obsessed with videogames. However, I got tired of waiting for him to read it, snagged the book for myself, and loved it. It’s a nostalgic and fun trip for anyone who was a teenager in the eighties, and I was surprised to discover it even had a moral and at times made me cry (in a good way).
Shada (Doctor Who) by Gareth Roberts, based on material from the Douglas Adams screenplay:
If you are familiar with my online presence at all, you probably are aware of my obsession with the work of the late, great Douglas Adams. If not, I’m obsessed with the work of the late, great Douglas Adams. In addition to writing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the Dirk Gently books, and Last Chance to See, he also wrote for the television series Doctor Who. I was surprised and delighted to find that he drew on his Doctor Who experience when creating the Hitchhiker and Dirk Gently series, and Shada contained many things I recognized from his other books. This was an informative look into the workings of my favorite author as well as an incredibly fun read.
Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick:
This book is weird. I mean, really, really Weird–with a capital W. That’s the main reason it stayed with me. And although there is a plot with a love triangle and racial tensions, the main thing about this book that is so weird is that people live backwards. They think forwards in time, as we do, but for some reason they live physically backwards. They aren’t born, but they rise from their graves; then people go to cemeteries listening to hear people calling to be let out, and they dig them up. People age backwards. They don’t really eat, instead they…well, you don’t want to know. Like I said, weird. Memorable, but weird, but so completely out of the box that I had to include it in the list.
So, what books have you really enjoyed in 2015? What books do you plan to read in the coming year? I look forward to your reading recommendations!
*I know that favorites and best are not necessarily synonymous. Rather, I chose to highlight the books I either couldn’t put down or that stuck with me long after I set them down.
**I prefer ebooks, but I am currently boycotting Barnes & Noble Nook books because they removed the ability to download the books without having to go through the Nook app. It’s the format I have always preferred, so now I either check out my ebooks through the library, buy or download them through another party. I also dislike Kindle format. As a result, I haven’t been able to get the next books as quickly as I would have liked, even though I would happily pay for them. Library digital checkouts were completed largely through the Overdrive app, as well as Hoopla.