It's no secret I am a voracious reader. I read all the time. I read everything. I read all genres. Also no secret is how much I love suggesting good reads to people. Yes, I'm THAT person. For the last couple of years I've been posting my Top 10 Favourite Reads of the past year (you can find lists for 2014 here). Usually I agonize over which books to cut out of the list. This year, I am seriously struggling to even find 10 worth including. 2015 was NOT my year of the great amazing reading journey. Every new book I picked up I would hope and pray would be THE ONE (like my "Arcadia" in 2013 or my "Life After Life" of 2014) and it never, ever was. Not to say that I didn't find a few gems cuz I totally did. I just didn't find that book to treasure which is difficult for someone like me to accept.
So all that said, here's a list of 10 books I read in 2015 that I did like and I've also included some books I hoped to love and just didn't (cuz it's also fun to talk about why you DIDN'T love something too right?)
When forced to pick the book of the year this book is the clear and obvious winner. The title is unfortunate and yet completely fitting and this book is hugely quotable and poetic from start to finish. The plot is difficult to condense down but it centres around a character named Leo Gursky who quickly becomes one of those literary characters that you don't soon dismiss -- like an Owen Meany or T.S Garp (Yes, Irving has that gift it seems). He is old and grouchy and once upon a time had a love for the ages and wrote a book about it. The book takes on a life and path of its own, affecting generations that come after. My daughter chose this book for me as a Christmas gift because she liked the way the words looked on the cover and I loved it because the way Krauss seemed to make every word matter and makes you wish Gursky was writing about you.
I know, I know -- Amy was the "It" girl of 2015 (and arguable a couple years before that) with this book and it was everywhere and everyone said she was following up on Tina Fey's success with her "Bossypants" book but hey, you know what? Amy did it better. Way better. And there's a reason this book was everywhere -- because it was fantastic. This was the kind of book you would read on the bus to work and make a spectacle of yourself cuz you'd be laughing so hard. "Yes Please" is really SO funny, SO charming, SO intelligent. There are chapters that are also heartbreaking and sad and serious. As a reader, I identified with this bio in a huge way. It seemed every feeling she had, I shared. Pretty much every woman I know read this book last year and despite my attempts, I couldn't get a man to read it and that's a real shame. There is something in this book for everyone and her take on the world is something worth immersing yourself in. I want to be Amy Poehler when I grow up.
Probably safe to assume there will just BE a Neil Gaiman book on this list every year. (Remember this little bit of perfection from last year's list?). Dating way back to 2010, the only flaw in this book is that I didn't read it sooner. It's a collection of short stories (and you know I love those), each one more fantastic and dreamy than the one before. They're dark, they're scary, and they leave you with the weirdest dreams as a result. The best part is the accompanying texts from Gaiman himself about the origin of each story -- gives a very cool glimpse into what must be a strange mind to live with on a daily basis. The fact that he can write for both adults and children with such skill and ease, with both products being so excellently well-crafted leaves me in awe. I just think everything he writes is magic.
Another bio I piled on my nightstand (but a book I actually gifted to my husband for Christmas) that turned out to be not only a really excellent story about a super interesting person BUT also a really delicious book in general. Mainly it's the story of acclaimed chef Gabrielle Hamilton but turns out to be a really engaging story about marrying into a family with a different ethnicity than your own and what really goes on in kitchens everywhere -- restaurant kitchens, farm kitchens, family kitchens. And it also makes you hungry while you read it. If you're not nuts about reading biographies don't worry, this one kinda feels like reading fiction.
This book was a really fun treat to stumble across. I didn't see it on a list or read a review, it's from back in 2013 and it just kind of fell outta the realm of my Goodreads app newsfeed and into my lap. It's SO fun! The Goodreads review I wrote said it's like The DaVinci Code for bibliophiles except well-written and worth reading. Pick this up if you love dusty old bookstores, secret societies and a bit of the fantastical thrown in for good measure. Weird stuff happens in this place.
A novel inspired by the life of Russian scientist and inventor of the theremin Lev Termin? I know, I'm asleep already right? But you guys -- this guy was wicked cool. He not only invented the weirdest instrument we have but was also a spy for the KGB who invented listening devices used during the War and went on to be a Professor of Acoustics at the Moscow Conservatory. For reals, this guy would've been the coolest guy you knew by a longshot. It bounces between the Soviet Union and New York City and doesn't lose you for a second of the journey. For a first novel, this one will be hard to top.
Another collection of stories that, admittedly, won't be for everyone. Gartner writes no-holds barred satire to the point of border line ridiculousness. It's funny -- really, really funny. And also wicked smart and pretty shameless. This is a great book to pick up if you find yourself in a moment of all-consuming society shaming misanthropic glory. Grab this and go down the rabbit hole.
Now this is a bit of a cheat because I have read this before but not since I was a kid so much of its great qualities were lost on me as a young reader. I picked this up in the middle of a string of disappointing reads and decided (mostly out of necessity) to step away from the snooty book reviews, the book club picks and the latest depressing coming of age tale of the moment. I needed a "palate cleanser" of sorts and this did just that. It was incredibly satisfying to step back into this world of adventures and immerse myself into that whirlwind of childhood emotions. I should try to do this more often.
This one is also a bit of a cheat because it's really not that good of a book. It's very simply written, it jumps around a lot and not in a way that always makes sense and, as a memoir, you don't really learn much about the subject that you don't already know. Confession: I have a bit of a weakness for high fashion couture and all the drama and art that goes along with it. And a guilty pleasure like that doesn't come without a healthy obsession with Grace Coddington, the woman behind the woman at Vogue. She looks like a crazy gypsy and is the only person who can tell Anna Wintour where to stuff it. If you've seen the documentary "The September Issue" (and you should cuz it's great) it's hard not to be taken with her. I devoured this book despite it being a beast and way longer than it needed to be.
One last biography to round out the list this year. I think I read more bios this year than I've read in my whole life. I thought this book was great, despite what everyone said. Was it AS good as I hoped it would be? Probably not. But considering I think Kim Gordon is probably the coolest woman on the planet, it's hard to say if any bio would've made her seem as cool as she already is in my head. It's chock full of music nerd fodder and equally full of petty gossip about her fellow music industry friends as well as FULL of gossip about her marriage to Thurston Moore (who famously cheated on her for years with his book editor). But gossip aside, it's also a killer story about New York City and the music scene that they came up in and then ultimately ruled.
I try to read at least a couple Young Adult fiction books in a year because I have a pile of young nieces and nephews who read and I love gifting them with books that I think are actually good (like the Wildwood books -- sigh) so I like to cover my bases. This book is part of a series that tackles the Land of Oz but under the premise that Dorothy took a bit of a nasty turn and turned Oz into a place of bloodshed and fear. Very fun stuff. I only read the first book but I would for sure follow this series. It's a good bit of escapist fun to be sure.
Books I Wanted to Love But Didn't
I was SO excited to read this and wanted to read it for about a year before I finally got my hands on it. It was such a disappointment for a lot of reasons but mostly because for some reason I though this book was about something COMPLETELY different and for that reason I spent most of the book trying to shake that disappointment. And the book just wasn't compelling enough to help shake that off. *shakes fist at Heather from Chapters*
The first half of this book had me. 100%. I could not put it down. Then........it all just stopped and languished for a couple of hundred pages. What a letdown.
Considering that "Life After Life" is one of the best books I've ever read, I had VERY high hopes for this companion book. Granted, this book had huge shoes to fill and loving it as much as LAL was unlikely, I still thought I would love it more than I did. To be fair, the last few chapters of this book are really, really lovely but they just didn't make up for the rest of the book just being lacklustre. Also I read so much WWII fiction this past year that it was an uphill battle for this book already.
EVERYONE loved this book. I really wanted to love it too. I liked it a lot, to be fair. This book has some really magical moments and the parts with Marie-Laure hiding in her attic are pure genius. But again, it was yet another WWII book at the end of what felt like 15 WWII books and I just couldn't do it. In hindsight, I should've left this until next year maybe.
So that about sums it up for 2015. I have high hopes that 2016 will bring me THE ONE that it didn't last year. Maybe it's the one I'm reading right now??