Every Book I Read in 2015

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one of the many times this year i attempted to match my manicure to the book i was reading

The year is almost over and I’m probably not going to finish another book, so I figured I might as well write up my annual year in reading post. According to my Goodreads account, I read 37 books in 2015. My goal was to read 24 books and I love exceeding goals, so I feel very good and happy about reading 13 more books than I thought I could.

Throughout 2015, I wrote tiny little reviews of many of the books I read. Here are reviews from January – March, April – June, and July – September. And below is my full roundup from this year, without any commentary because I’m lazy as hell today and I didn’t write any last year either.

Top Five (Non-Ferrante) Novels
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Group by Mary McCarthy
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Ferrante Novels
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Graphic Novels/Memoirs I’m Embarrassed to Say I Hadn’t Read Sooner
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Novels I Love That I Reread
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Very Good Essay Collections
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Unputdownable True Crime Book
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

Putdownable True Crime Book
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Other Non-Fiction and Memoir I Was Into
So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Two Engrossing But Ultimately Disappointing Thrillers
The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Secret Place by Tana French

Three Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope

Sci Fi or Fantasy Books (Some For My Sci Fi-Fantasy Book Club and Some For “Fun”)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Things I Read For My Non-Genre Book Club That I Find Difficult to Classify
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Books I Started and Didn’t Finish
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Stoner by John Williams
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young
The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy [Note: I have already read this book and got distracted from my intended reread.]

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Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2015 Edition), Part One

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

I read The Empathy Exams during my time off from work in late December and early January. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Leslie Jamison’s essays on how we experience the pain of others, not to mention our own pain. Whether writing about the personal – falling in love, drinking too much, getting an abortion – or subjects a bit further flung – Morgellons disease, an extreme endurance race – Jamison’s observations struck me over and over again as honest, intelligent, and enlightening.

***

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Tampa is a book about a female middle school teacher who uses her position to have sexual relationships with pubescent boys. I know that sounds fucked up but, guys, listen to me. It’s really good! I mean, it’s also fucked up. But it’s funny, suspenseful, and very well-written, and those things made for a very enjoyable reading experience.

***

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

This was the third time I’d read this book in the last three years, so it’s really hard for me to even try to talk about it objectively. (Not to suggest that this is a space where I would ever talk about anything objectively; it’s not.) I think I’ve written about this book on Emphatic Hands at least two times already, so I’m sorry, I guess, if you’re sick of hearing about it, but you’ll just have to bear with me. I reread How Should A Person Be? both knowing that I was going to see Sheila Heti’s play, All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, which is a not insignificant part of this autobiographical novel, and feeling that I needed its guidance. I was at the end of a short-lived but significant (to me) relationship, struggling with how to process a lot of things happening in my life, trying once again to figure out what kind of person I should be. Heti’s exploration of female friendship, relationships with men, art, and identity struck a chord with me once again. There is nothing better than revisiting a beloved book and finding that it still resonates.

***

Three Tall Women by Edward Albee

Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women was an unusual pick for our book club in January. We had never before read a play. I don’t read plays often, but when I do, I usually wish I did so more. Three Tall Women examines the life of one woman at three different stages of her life. It was, at times, painful, and I almost certainly would have rathered see it performed on stage, but the subject matter was relevant to my interests as a reader and a writer, so I would say that I’m not worse off for having read it.

***

The Story Of A New Name by Elena Ferrante

Oh, boy. I loved this book so, so much. The Story Of A New Name is the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and I think it was my favorite of the three books that have been published. (I wrote about My Brilliant Friend here.) In this novel, the narrator, also named Elena, continues the story of her friendship with the ferocious Lila, whose wedding ended the previous installment. While Lila becomes a glamorous young wife in their Naples neighborhood, Elena forges ahead with her studies, eventually leaving the neighborhood and the city altogether. The urgency and beauty of this book stirred something up inside me. It made me want to experience more of life, to write more (and improve my writing), to be honest with myself and others. I suspect my strong reaction had a lot to do with the highly emotional state I was in for basically all of this winter, but I have yet to meet anyone who’s read these novels who hasn’t been affected by them.

***

Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Actually, that’s not true. My therapist told me that she read Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay and thought it was fine, but felt it was unfinished. I contend that she may have liked it more if she had read the first two books before reading this third one, the penultimate novel in the series. Elena and Lila are adults in this novel, living completely separate lives. Everything I said about The Story Of A New Name could apply to this novel. I read it even more quickly, but was slightly disappointed by some of the characters’ actions and found myself having to try hard to pay attention to passages about political philosophy.

***

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I have recommended Station Eleven to almost everyone I know since I finished it. I firmly believe that anyone can find something to like in this book. (I think its overwhelming win in The Morning News Tournament of Books is proof of that, though I’m not sure I would have voted for it over All The Light We Cannot See.) Mandel brilliantly bridges the world as we know it today with that of a postapocalyptic future with that of a graphic novel written by one of the main characters. There are maybe a few things I could complain about, but I was in awe of the novel’s construction and it was just a really fun book to read.

***

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

I felt The Flamethrowers was a book that I had to read, but didn’t want to read. Naturally, I ended up really liking it. It’s narrated by Reno, a young artist who moves to New York City in the 1970s. She becomes an observer of the art world, a motorcycle racer, a lover of men. I related to her struggles to adjust to a world that is harsher than she had imagined, to figure out who she is as an artist, and define herself as an individual. I was saddened and disappointed by the men with whom she has relationships. By the end, I wanted more.

***

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

It turns out my first three months of reading this year were bookended by spectacular books of essays. The Unspeakable includes ten original personal essays in which Daum explores her mother’s death, her decision not to have children, embarrassing encounters with celebrities in Los Angeles, and other topics that she deems “unspeakable.” Some essays were more powerful than others and there was at least one (“Honorary Dyke”) that perplexed me, but I devoured this book over the course of two busy days. I admire Daum’s candor and humor and I aspire to one day write so well about my own life.

Every Book I Read in 2014

Before we get too far into 2015, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of everything I read in 2014. It was a slow reading year for me; there were months in which I failed to finish a single book. But I did read a lot of things that I liked. (And one or two things that I really hated!)

I wrote about many of these books during the past year on this blog. (Here are reviews from January-March, April-June, and July-September.) If you’ve also read any of the below, hit me up. I’m far too lazy (i.e. nervous to share my honest opinions) to actually review all of the books I read, but I will always make time to talk about them.

Top Five Novels
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Hild by Nicola Griffith
A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Speedboat by Renata Adler
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Faithful Place by Tana French
Friendship by Emily Gould
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Novels I Love That I Reread
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Novels That I Didn’t Like As Much As I Hoped I Would
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Novels I Awarded Fewer Than Three Stars On Goodreads
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson
Chronicle of A Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Memoirs I Loved (Only One of Which Is Not A Graphic Memoir)
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Actual Graphic Novels
Black Hole by Charles Burns
Berlin, Vol. 2: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

Three Non-Fiction Books (One I Loved, One I Really Liked, One I Liked)
Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema by Anne Helen Petersen
Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild Obsessive Hunt For the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich 
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

 

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (And Whether Or Not You Should Read Them, Too)

Finally! The first quarter of the year has passed and I can share the first of my reading roundups. I did not, as I had anticipated, start this year in reading off with a bang. It’s been hard for me to keep my usual pace, but I was able to get through a bunch of books, some of which I’ll recommend that you read!

JANUARY

hild

Hild by Nicola Griffith

What’s it about?

Hild is a historical novel, the imagined story of St. Hilda of Whitby, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who became instrumental in converting England to Christianity during the 7th century.

Did I like this book?

Yes. It wasn’t a page-turner, but it’s one of the best examples of historical fiction I’ve encountered in a while. I was really impressed with the period details and the amount of research that undoubtedly went into this book.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I’ve encountered few characters as complex and fascinating as Hild. She’s obviously the main event, but I think it’s worth noting that Griffith does an incredible job developing Hild. Also, the world of the Anglo-Saxons was not something I was intimately familiar with and I really enjoyed getting lost in Griffith’s imagining of it.

I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction or, even, fantasy, since the setting has a lot in common with something like The Mists of Avalon. 

***

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

What’s it about?

This is about the life of Gary Shteyngart, author of novels such as The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan, as told by Gary Shteyngart himself.

Did I like this book?

I did. I liked it more than his novels. I thought it was funny and touching and I wrote a little something about all that here.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read his other work and liked it, definitely! If you’re not a Shteyngart fan, I’d probably skip it. But if you’re neutral and also happen to be a writer looking for inspiration or just like funny memoirs, you should check it out.

***

FEBRUARY

Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

What’s it about?

This is the second volume in a planned trilogy of graphic novels about Berlin during the Weimar Era. This chapter takes place after the 1929 May Day demonstration, picking up with main characters, art student Marthe Muller and journalist Karl Severing, in addition to several other Berliners. The focus here is not only on the tense political climate, but also on Berlin’s nightlife and party scene.

Did I like this book?

I didn’t like it as much as I liked the first volume, Berlin: City of Stone. (You should start with that one anyway.)

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read the first volume, well, you’re probably going to read this eventually. I highly recommend reading the first volume to anyone who is interested in German culture, the Weimar period, or World War II, as I think Lutes does a really fantastic job of portraying what it was like to live in Berlin – across class, religion, gender, and race – in the decade before the war.

***

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

What’s it about?

Bechdel explores her relationship with her mother and her understanding of herself through psychotherapy in this graphic memoir.

Did I like this book?

I loved this. Many of you may have read Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I liked very much when I read it. However, there were things about Are You My Mother? that I related to on a much deeper level, specifically the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and the focus on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. Especially if you’ve ever been in therapy for a significant period of time. Also if you’ve ever had a mother.

 

***

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

What’s it about?

This book, based on the blog of the same name, is a collection of graphic essays about cartoonist and writer Allie Brosh’s life.

Did I like this book?

As I had expected, this book made me laugh. It also made me feel a lot of other things, which I wrote about here. And Brosh’s ability to tell a story in her own unique way makes me feel not-a-little-bit jealous.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yeah! I mean, if you hate reading about someone struggling in the funniest way possible, don’t. But otherwise, yes.

***

MARCH

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What’s it about?

This novella is the story of how a man was murdered in a Caribbean backwater.

Did I like this book?

I did not. I felt it was heavy-handed and surprisingly boring for a short book about murder. I wanted to think it was good, probably because of who wrote it, but…it was frankly a chore to get through and I’m pretty sure I only finished it because we read it for book club.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. For the reasons I stated above.

***

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

What’s it about?

Frank, a middle-aged London man, attempts to connect with his lover Johnny, a married, working class man who has been jailed for theft, by caring for his beloved dog Evie. In the process, he must navigate relationships with Johnny’s wife and mother and sort out his growing attachment to Evie.

Did I like this book?

Yes? I think. I read this while I was at jury duty on-and-off over three weeks because I was reading a non-fiction book at home, so I had kind of a slow and weird experience with this one.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. I thought it was a bit difficult to get through and, at times, made me uneasy. But I think if the premise sounds interesting to you, you should give it a try.

***

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

What’s it about?

Oh, God. Okay. It’s about an elderly Chicago man, a Holocaust survivor named Ben Solomon, who decides that another elderly Chicago man, another Holocaust survivor who is a wealthy philanthropist named Elliot Rosenzweig, is actually a man he grew up with named Otto Piatek, a Nazi known as “the butcher of Zamosc.” From there, the reader experiences both a modern-day legal drama as Ben sues “Otto” over stolen property and the story of Ben’s experience during the Holocaust.

Did I like this book?

To be honest, this was one of the worst books I’ve read in a very long time, if not ever. It’s not all bad, but…much of it is. The way the story is told is ridiculous, as most of the stuff that takes place in the past is told in dialogue. Pages and pages of dialogue. Also, the history is super basic. (Like a character who is supposed to be smart asks what a ghetto is because she doesn’t know. And that’s just one offensive detail.) And I could have done without the legal drama, which seems jammed in here merely because the author was looking for a way to make this about the law, as he himself is a lawyer.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Nope. Don’t do it. If you find yourself wanting to pick it up, just call me and I’ll recommend another book. (Even another book in the same genre, if you want!)