My 2015 Year in Books

My reading goals for 2015 were to read more authors of color and LGBT authors, and to read 80 books total.   How did I do?

My total comes to 74 books, a little lower than the previous two years. I blame my smartphone, but all responsibility rests with me.  I’ve deleted Candy Crush saga and another time waster off of my phone now.

The breakdown by genre was 48 novels, 30 memoirs, and 6 nonfiction.  18 were young adult, and 16 I listened to as audiobooks.  12 could be considered historical fiction, and 10 could be considered science fiction/fantasy. One-third (25) were written by men and two-thirds  (48) by women.

Only 18 books qualify for my diversity project.  I’m disappointed, because that’s not many more than the 10 I read in 2014 without really trying.   I highly recommend, if you are white, and especially if you think you don’t understand the current issues surrounding race in this country, that you read as many books by people of color that you can. Read Between the World and Me, Twelve Years a Slave, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, if you do nothing else.   If you want to read science fiction, read anything by Octavia Butler.  If you want to read fiction about contemporary Africa and race relations in the US, read Americanah, and if you want to read fiction set at the time of Africa’s colonization, read Things Fall Apart.  I’m trying to get my daughter to read the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and I’d like to work my way through all of Maya Angelou’s memoirs. I still don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, but I’m learning a little bit by bit as I read.

I read several books related to art this year, and I’d like to continue that.  Vermeer’s Daughter, by Barbara Shoup, is a lovely young adult book told from the perspective of one of Vermeer’s nine children, and I thoroughly enjoyed Johanna, a epistolary novel told in imagined journal entries and letters.  Later in the year, I was thrilled to be in the presence of Van Gogh’s iconic self-portrait at the Chicago Art Institute, and so grateful for Johanna Van Gogh’s persistence in preserving and promoting her brother-in-law’s art.  The Lady in Gold was also fascinating and taught me much about Gustav Klimt and pre-war Vienna. I have it on my to-see movie list now.

Do you want to read something contemporary?  Try Dietland or The Girl on the Train.

Something almost-but-not-quite-dystopian?  Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. It’s the story of a teenager displaced by a nuclear accident that may have been caused by her father.

My favorite historical fiction books this year were: How to Build a Girl (1990’s Great Britain, although I hate to consider something set in the early 1990’s historical), The Sandcastle Girls (pre-WWI Armenia), The Book Thief (WWII Germany), The Dream Lover (imagining of the life of writer George Sand) and The Light in the Ruins (WWII and 1950s Italy).  I’ve become quite the Chris Bohjalian fan.  I have several of his earlier books in my stack that I’ll need to get through in 2016.

As I was listening to audiobooks this year, I realized that the exposure to different accents done by the actors who read the books affected my thinking.  For example, after listening to The Book Thief, I wanted to call people “saumensch” or “saukell” and after listening to The Help, I was thinking in a southern accent.  There has to be some scientific explanation for this?  Any ideas?

I only read a couple of classics this year.  I believe I’d read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a child or young teenager, but I didn’t remember much.  Re-reading it, I realized that I have adopted a lot of it into my worldview.

My favorite memoirs of the year were probably Riding the Bus with My Sister (The writer spends a couple of days each month for a year with her developmentally-disabled sister riding the buses with her.  The memoir goes back and forth from their childhood to the bus project.); High Tide in Tucson (This is more a book of essays than a true memoir, but my copy is covered with post-it flags.  I will read anything Kingsolver writes. Anything.); Between the World and Me (Coates writes this memoir/essay as a letter to his 15 year old son about how he has made sense of living in a black male body, and uses the American Dream as a powerful metaphor.)

What books surprised me this year?  The Martian–I read it early in the year–way before the movie was coming out, and was hooked from the first sentence; The Rosie Project–it’s a romance written from the perspective of a scientist with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I read it in one sitting; How to Build a Girl–you have to love a book with a fat teenager who unapologetically wanks, settles for looking smug (instead of bragging) when she loses her virginity, and doesn’t end up losing weight or in a relationship.

Which leads to my favorite book of the year, and the subject of a previous post, here.  Dietland. Subversive.  Refreshing.  Fills you with outrage.  Sarai Walker wrote the book I wish I had written.

Several books had been in my pile for years: The Help, Caged Bird, Lovely Bones, Devil in White City.   I should have moved them up in priority sooner–they were all well worth reading.

In chronological order, the 2015 list:

  1. The Pursuit of Happyness, by Chris Gardner (Div)
  2. Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup (Div, Audio, C)
  3. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer (BC)
  4. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  5. TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (BC)
  6. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Div)
  7. So B. It, by Sarah Weeks (YA)
  8. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  9. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  10. Crazy Salad: Some Thoughts About Women, by Nora Ephron
  11. What the Dog Saw & Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell (BC)
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (C)
  13. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (C)
  14. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (BC)
  15. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Div, YA)
  16. Skink: No Surrender, by Carl Hiassen (YA)
  17. Drown, by Junot Diaz (Div)
  18. Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiassen (Audio)
  19. Love Again: The Wisdom of Unexpected Romance by Eve Pell
  20. Until the Real Thing Comes Along, by Elizabeth Berg
  21. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian (BC, Audio)
  22. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu (Div)
  23. Riding the Bus with My Sister, by Rachel Simon
  24. The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg
  25. The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian (Audio)
  26. Born With Teeth: A Memoir, by Kate Mulgrew
  27. Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See (Div)
  28. First Frost, by Sarah Addison Allen
  29. Dietland, by Sarai Walker
  30. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler (Div)
  31. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler (Div)
  32. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak (YA, Audio)
  33. Twelve Views from the Distance, by Mutsuo Takahashi (Div)
  34. Vermeer’s Daughter, by Barbara Shoup
  35. Johanna: A Novel of the Van Gogh family, by Claire Cooperstein (BC)
  36. The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone (Audio, YA)
  37. Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry (Audio, YA)
  38. The Measure of a Man, by Sidney Poitier (Div)
  39. High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, by Barbara Kingsolver
  40. Divergent, by Veronica Roth (YA)
  41. Living With a Wild God, by Barbara Ehrenreich
  42. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (YA)
  43. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (YA)
  44. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Audio, BC)
  45. Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock (Div)
  46. Four, by Veronica Roth (YA)
  47. Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food and Family, by Sasha Martin
  48. CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooks, and About to Snap? Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD, by Edward Hallowell
  49. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (Audio)
  50. A Song Flung Up to Heaven, by Maya Angelou (Audio, Div)
  51. A Year of Pleasures, by Elizabeth Berg
  52. Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood
  53. Yesterday’s Kin, by Nancy Kress
  54. How To Build a Girl, by Caitlyn Moran (BC)
  55. Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell (Audio)
  56. Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, by Chrissie Hynde (Audio)
  57. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Div)
  58. Little Pretty Things, by Lori Rader-Day
  59. Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliet (Audio)
  60. The Temple of My Familiar, by Alice Walker (Div)
  61. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (Div)
  62. Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories, by Anna Badkhen
  63. The Eight, by Katherine Neville (BC, Audio)
  64. Leaving Little Havana, by Cecelia Fernandez (Div)
  65. Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (Div, Audio)
  66. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen
  67. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith
  68. Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin
  69. The Look of Love, by Sarah Jio (BC)
  70. The Light in the Ruins, by Chris Bohjalian (Audio)
  71. The Lady in Gold, by Anne Marie O’Connor
  72. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (Div)
  73. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (YA, Audio)
  74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Legend: BC=Read for the library book club; Div=Qualifies for my diversity project; YA=Young adult; C=Classic.

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