Even though I officially stopped blogging earlier this year, I cannot let the end of a year come without sharing the very best things I read. By the end of 2015, I’ll have completed 50 - 51 books, plus a handful that I started and didn’t finish. This is on par with my usual goals, rounding out to about 1 book a week, even though sometimes I go a week without reading anything at all, and sometimes I read several in just a few days. (You can check out my favorite books of all time here.)
As it has been for the last few years, I read a mix of both hardcover, paperback, and selections on my kindle paperwhite. I still love the paperwhite, and recommend it to any reader. I like it much better than reading on my phone or ipad, and I read a lot more because I can throw it in my purse at all times.
If you want more end-of-the-year book talk, check out my latest episode of the Sorta Awesome podcast. Our guest this week was Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy, and in Episode 38 we discuss our regular reading habits (she’s the most voracious reader I know) and list our favorite books of the year.
On with the superlatives!
The very best book I read this year:
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
Let’s just go ahead and start with the best. Hands down, the very best thing I read this year was Michael Paterniti’s essays in Love and Other Ways of Dying.
This is kind of an unusual pick for me, as essays don’t usually stand out as BEST EVER. But I’m telling you right now that the Paterniti’s non-fiction long-form essays - most of which have been published previously as magazine features - were stunning, heart-breaking, and bowled me over.
A lot of these stories are dark and sad, I full-on wept through the first one about an airplane crash. My real life book club didn’t love it as much as I did because there really is a lot of pain in this book. But the true stories of a giant who lives with his mom, a road-trip with Einstein’s brain in his car, and a visit to the most famous culinary restaurant in the world will all make you think differently about humanity.
I talked Jeff’s ear off about Love and Other Ways of Dying while I was reading it. The writing is of the highest quality. And because it’s essays, you can read one or two and then put it down for a few days. I highly recommend this book, and think it would make an excellent gift for the serious reader.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I had a blast this year reading through the classics and discussing them online as part of the Read Great Books literature challenge. It was so hard to pick my favorites about these classics, but the few that stand out the most are Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Frankenstein.
I landed on Frankenstein being the very best because the story was so multi-layered, so much a part of our culture’s lexicon, and the online chat about it illuminated so much of the story that I hadn’t seen while reading. (This is why talking about books right after reading them enhances the whole experience.)
Outside of the classics I read for the literature challenge, I realized that I read a LOT of non-fiction this year. I love non-fiction, but will strive for more of a balance next year.
My favorite current novel was Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Let me start off by saying that I loved this book in the first half, then got really angry at it during the second half, and ultimately decided I didn’t like it at all. Then I went to book club, and my friends convinced me that it was wonderful again.
I say that so you know I had and continue to have personal mixed feelings about this book, but there is no getting around that the writing is superb, the structure is interesting, and weeks later I’m still talking about it with people.
Like The Goldfinch (which I also had mixed feelings about, but was very, very good), Fates and Furies will be one that people continue to discuss.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’m still new to Neil Gaiman (but I especially loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane), and now I want to read everything he’s ever written. He is a fantastic story teller and there are always layers to uncover.
Neverwhere itself was a little more fantasy than I usually gravitate towards, but he keeps it interesting from the very first page.
Also worth mentioning: Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes and Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs were good, fun weekend reads.
This category is very hard for me to narrow down this year, so I’m just going to go with most useful:
Essentialism by Greg McKeown really spoke to my desire to pare down my life to Only What Matters. I’m re-reading parts of it in these last couple of weeks of the year, as a refresher before January.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg has been around for awhile now, but I was surprised by how much I took from this book about habits, and how they affect everything in your day. It seems like this would be a dry or short subject, but it’s really not. Duhigg uses examples from everything to your morning routines to running enormous companies, and this thoughts are something I reference in conversation all the time now.
The two most important things I read this year were both about injustice, though on pretty different ends of the spectrum.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson is about the many injustices - especially racial - in America’s prison system. This book was eye-opening not just on injustice but on the sheer amount of people we’re imprisoning in America and why. I definitely did not know many of these statistics - was purely ignorant to them - and the book changed my mind on some things.
I didn’t agree with every premise or conclusion in Just Mercy. But you don’t have to agree with every sentence of Stephenson to understand that there are serious problems that need to be addressed here. This is an important read for all Americans right now.
Missoula by Jon Krakauer was different from his other books. One of the reasons Krakauer’s books are so compelling (my favorite is Into Thin Air, even though I don’t give one whit about mountain climbing) is because he is so personal to the narrative. Missoula was a departure from this, and in turn the book feels more objective and then all the more shocking. Missoula is about campus acquaintance rape.
I came away from the Missoula wanting to talk to every young person I know about alcohol. Because it almost every single instance, there was a substance element to the rape, and usually on both sides. This is a sensitive topic to discuss in a casual blog post, so I’ll just leave it at this: Rape, while inherently violent, might not be what you think it is. A boogie man jumping out of the bushes is not the most prevalent type of forced sexual encounter that leaves people damaged for life.
If you have any teenagers in your life (because this is where the behavior and attitudes start to play out), please read Missoula. Talking openly about this crime is so important.
Two of the gifts I’ll be giving this holiday season:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a great book about the creative process. It’s not just for writers, although she does reference the writing life often. Gilbert’s tone is a good mix of grace and blunt talk, and it was a quick read that left me energized to MAKE something.
The Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime is her best cookbook by far, in my opinion. I own them all, and have made recipes from them all, and I think Dinners is probably the most useful. She’s great, and this is pretty and fun gift.
I hope this inspires you for your future reading or your last minute gift list! Come tell me on facebook or twitter about your favorite books this year!
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