Happy New Year!
A little over a year ago, I wrote a post listing all of the books I read in 2014 and highlighting a few of my favorites. It was fun, so I thought I’d do it again. Once again the rules are: re-reads and graphic novels count (though I didn’t do many of those this year), unfinished books don’t, and for the purposes of a top 10 (marked in bold), an entire series counts as one book if I want it to.
Since I wrote the last post in mid-December, there were quite a few books read between then and the start of 2015 that didn’t make the last list. They are:
- The Tipping Point (Gladwell)
- Fortune Like the Moon (Clare)
- The Human Division (Scalzi)
- The Martian (Weir)
The Martian would totally be on my top 10 for this year, except for the fact that I read it last year (and wrote about it here). Looking back: is it the deepest and most meaningful book I’ve ever read? No. Are all of the characters as fully fleshed-out as they could be? No. But it doesn’t matter because it’s awesome, and also SCIENCE. I’m sure the movie is good (haven’t seen it yet), but I highly recommend the book. Now for the official 2015 list:
- First Test (Pierce)
- Page (Pierce)
- Squire (Pierce)
- Old Man’s War (Scalzi)
- Lady Knight (Pierce)
- Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Vaughn)
- Ashes of the Elements (Clare)
- The Tavern in the Morning (Clare)
- Storm Front (Butcher)
- Freakonomics (Dubner & Leavitt)
- With Child (King)
- Tiny Beautiful Things (Strayed)
- Night Work (King)
- A Slip of the Keyboard (Pratchett)
- Shakespeare Saved My Life (Bates)
- Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson)
- All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr):
- Looking for Alaska (Green)
- The End of Your Life Book Club (Schwalbe)
- Sandman: Endless Nights (Gaiman)
- Brokenomics (Gachman)
- Life Without Ed (Schaefer)
- Neuromancer (Gibson)
- Saga, vol 1 (Vaugh, Staples)
- Let Them Eat Steak (Zettel)
- A Taste of the Nightlife (Zettel)
- This Is Where I Leave You (Tropper)
- The Devil in the White City (Larson)
- The Raven Boys (Steifvater)
- Dear Daughter (Little)
- We Were Liars (Lockhart)
- The Door in the Hedge (McKinley)
- Throne of Glass (Maas)
- In the Shadow of Blackbirds (Winters)
- The Cuckoo’s Calling (Galbraith)
- Pirate King (King)
- Beekeeping for Beginners (King)
- Cold Burn of Magic (Estep)
- Clariel (Nix)
- Ready Player One (Cline)
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Kondo)
- Between the World and Me (Coates)
- Sorcerer to the Crown (Cho)
- Rosemary and Rue (McGuire)
- Let It Snow (Johnson, Green, Myracle)
- A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Martin)
- Station Eleven (Mandel)
A quick word on each of my top picks:
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi: I may have left out The Martian, but that doesn’t mean I’ve neglected sci-fi! Apart from belonging roughly to the same genre, these two books also share a respect for science and a sense of humor that had me cackling to myself as I read. The similarities pretty much end there, since Old Man’s War can be as deeply pessimistic about human nature as The Martian is optimistic. Oh, and it’s about humans fighting aliens in space, with way, way more advanced tech on display than old Mars rovers. Suck on that, Watney!
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson: You want literary merit? How about a National Book Award winner? Yes, it’s designated as a “children’s book” both by marketing and by the fact that it also won the Newbury Honor, but this mixed prose and verse memoir tells a riveting tale of growing up in-between: between South Carolina and New York, between Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, between questioning religion and her fervent Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. Good stuff in a unique format.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr: Wow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on a best-of list? What a shocker. Seriously, though, this book is amazing. If I had to draw any parallels, it would be with the also-excellent young-people-in-WWII novel The Book Thief. Fascinatingly interwoven stories of a blind French girl and a Nazi radio operator. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.
Neuromancer, by William Gibson: This was a re-read for me on the way to Boston, and I’d forgotten just how awesome this classic sci-fi talewas. Epic hackers? Check. Convoluted schemes? Check. Ninjas? Check. And it’s all wrapped up in a noir-ish, dystopian package that cyberpunk writers have been trying to copy ever since.
Saga (volume 1), by Brian K. Vaughn (writer) and Fiona Staples (illustrator): Now I’m realizing that this list is nearly half sci-fi of one kind or another. Like Neuromancer, Saga has grit to it, but this fantasy space opera comic book series is much more hopeful than dystopian. The romance between the main characters is simultaneously hilarious and sincere, the other characters are fascinating, the overarching plot is exciting and believably high-stakes, and it’s all gorgeously illustrated.
This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper: And now for something completely different. I wasn’t expecting to like this novel, about a dysfunctional family brought together for the main character’s father’s funeral, as much as I did, and I wouldn’t call it a classic or predict that I’ll go back and read it over and over again. But the characters are all flawed enough to be fascinating, and liberal doses of humor prevent it from becoming too dark. I heard the movie version was pretty “meh,” but I thought the book was a fun read.
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart: Yeah, it’s another YA book, and I did find it a wee bit too angsty at times. But the central mystery of this tale of a picture-perfect but shattered family kept me reading, and once it became clear that a major twist was in the works, I was hooked until the end. (The twist is a real doozy.) It’s a pretty quick read, but not one to start if you’re looking for something light and happy. For that, I’d suggest…
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: This sci-fi novel takes place in a very definitely dystopian future, so you might expect it to be pretty dark. However, I found Ready Player One to be as ultimately optimistic as the 80’s media with which its characters (and probably the author) are so in love. “A group of rivals working to defeat an evil corporation by completing the most epic videogame Easter egg hunt with their skills at old arcade and computer games, obsession with pop culture classics, and knowledge about the eccentric genius who created it” sounds pretty 80’s to me. (I almost called the main characters “unlikely heroes,” but given that they’re videogamers…they turn out to mostly be exactly who you’d expect.) It’s great fun, even if you don’t get all the references, and a must-read for geeks, nerds, etc. around my age or older.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George R. R. Martin: This is a collection of three short stories/novellas, set about a hundred years before A Song of Ice and Fire and following the early adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall (“Dunk”) and his squire, Egg. (MINOR SPOILER: Those familiar with the later books in the main series will know that Egg grows up to be Aegon V and Ser Duncan commands his Kingsguard, but this is before all that, when Dunk is just a poor hedge knight and Egg is strong-willed and clever boy.) I haven’t really liked Martin’s non-ASoIaF stuff, but he’s really on his game for these stories. They’re ever so slightly less grim than most of the main series, which is another bonus. Very fun reads for any fan of the series.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel: I decided to pick this up after hearing an NPR interview with the author, in which she mentioned the influence of both Shakespeare and Star Trek (sold!). Flitting between the modern day and twenty years after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the Earth’s population and destroys civilization as we know it, this novel follows the interconnected lives of Shakespearean actors, a shipping executive/graphic novel artist, a doomsday prophet, and an old man collecting artifacts of the past world (among others). It’s hopeful in a way that most post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction generally isn’t, and an interesting read.
Well, those are the top ten books that stuck out when I looked back at the year. Here’s to many more excellent reads in 2016!