Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year in Review: 2015 Book List



What a year! For readers who don’t know, every year I keep track of what I read in a document, along with the dates I read the book, and write a review when I’m finished. I don’t publish those reviews. They’re raw and full of spoilers. But I do publish the list of books that I’ve read. (My book reviews this year totaled 22 pages and 10,738 words, so I’ve basically written a novelette you’ll never see.) I’ve divided the books I read up into fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and unfinished. (Note that just because a book is on this list does not mean I recommend it. For that, go to the top 10 list or just ask me because there were a few I enjoyed that just didn’t quite make the list.)

Fiction

Aftermath ~ Chuck Wendig
A Sudden Light ~ Garth Stein
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ~ Mark Twain
Elantris - Brandon Sanderson
The Enchantress of Florence ~ Salman Rushdie
Everything I Never Told You ~ Celeste Ng
The Giver Quartet ~ Lois Lowry
   The Giver
   Gathering Blue
   Messenger
   Son
Golden Son ~ Pierce Brown
The Goldfinch ~ Donna Tartt
The Gospel According to Pontius Pilate ~ James R. Mills
Heir to the Jedi ~ Kevin Hearne
Hyperion Cantos ~ Dan Simmons
   Hyperion
   The Fall of Hyperion
In the Shadow of the Cypress ~ Thomas Steinbeck
The Last of the Mohicans ~ James Fenimore Cooper
The Martian ~ Andy Weir
Mistborn Trilogy ~ Brandon Sanderson
   Mistborn
   The Well of Ascension
   The Hero of Ages
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 3 (I read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Valley of Fear) ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Leslie Klinger
Ocean at the End of the Lane ~ Neil Gaiman
The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ Oscar Wilde
The Red Pony ~ John Steinbeck
The Revenant ~ Michael Punke
Sabriel ~ Garth Nix
Station Eleven ~ Emily St. John Mandel
Warbreaker ~ Brandon Sanderson
Wheel of Time series ~ Robert Jordan
   The Eye of the World
   The Great Hunt
   The Dragon Reborn
The World of Ice and Fire ~ George R. R. Martin

Nonfiction

De Profundis ~ Oscar Wilde
The Disaster Artist ~ Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
The Heart of Christianity ~ Marcus Borg
On Writing ~ Stephen King
Outliers ~ Malcolm Gladwell
The Republic of Imagination ~ Azar Nafisi
The Tipping Point ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Things I’ve Been Silent About ~ Azar Nafisi
Unbroken ~ Laura Hillenbrand

Poetry

The Glance: Songs of Soul-Meeting ~ Rumi

Unfinished

This was the year I realized that if I don’t like a book, I don’t have to keep reading it. Simple yet revolutionary. So these are the three I didn’t finish and why:

The Night Circus ~ Erin Morgenstern
   Everyone raves about The Night Circus, but I just didn’t enjoy the writing style.

Steelheart ~ Brandon Sanderson
   I found I don’t really care for superhero novels.

Watchmen ~ Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
   I found I don’t really care for graphic novels.

The Top 10 List

Making a top 10 list this year was rough. There were too many good ones. So I decided to make a runner-up list, over which I sighed and moaned. There were seriously lots of awesome books this year, and some didn't even make either list! So know that the books on the runner-up list are just as good as those on the top 10 list.

Top 10 (in no particular order)

1. Elantris - Brandon Sanderson
2. Golden Son ~ Pierce Brown
3. The Heart of Christianity ~ Marcus Borg
4. Hyperion ~ Dan Simmons
5. The Martian ~ Andy Weir
6. On Writing ~ Stephen King
7. The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ Oscar Wilde
8. The Revenant ~ Michael Punke
9. Station Eleven ~ Emily St. John Mandel
10. Unbroken ~ Laura Hillenbrand

Here's Why I Recommend Them

1. I made one rule to make things slightly easier: I could only pick one Brandon Sanderson book for the top 10 list. I picked Elantris because I read it about two weeks after someone close to me had passed away, and the commentary on death and separation from people you love in Elantris really struck me. It’s amazing how sometimes you read a book at exactly the right time in your life; almost as if you were meant to read that book then. Elantris was that book for me. Thinking about it now, eight months later, still dredges up all the feelings I felt at that time: loss and yet a sense of peace. Elantris helped me grieve and say goodbye.

2. Enthusiasm doesn’t even come close to how I feel about Golden Son (and Red Rising). Obsessed is a better word that still falls short. If you haven’t read those books, seriously stop reading this and go read them immediately.

3. I’m aware that many of you reading this list won’t identify as Christians, and this book on my list is not a covert attempt to convert you. Rather, it’s a book that made a huge impact on my spiritual life this past year, and changed the way I view Christianity. I think anyone remotely interested in God should read it. And I think it should be assigned reading for anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

4. Hyperion was another one of those books that captured my imagination. It’s written in the style of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and somehow each tale is better than the last. The first tale was my favorite. Then the second one was. And on and on! I loved it mainly because when I was first introduced to the characters, I made judgments about them that were kind of right, but also kind of wrong. Each person ended up being so complex and nuanced – kind of like a real person is. It reminded me you should look deeper than a first impression; there’s always something more to a person that will probably surprise you.

5. I've been shoving The Martian into friends’ faces for months now. I can’t remember the last time I laughed aloud at a book so many times, yet also cried and then stopped to think. Read it.

6. My dad has been recommending On Writing to me for several years, but I’ve never read anything else by Stephen King, so I never picked it up. I finally asked for it for Christmas last year as a good excuse to read it, and absolutely loved it how King told his story and worked in insights about writing. It would be interesting for anyone but was particularly useful to me as a writer. When I sat down to compose this blog post, I started thinking about how his suggestions have seeped into the ways I think about writing and changed them for the better.

7. Oscar Wilde is a literary genius, and I’m only sad this was the only novel he wrote. It was brilliant and elegantly written. I soaked it up and used it as an excuse to think about life.

8. Intending to see the movie, I read The Revenant this month. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the novel. I expected it would be good, but didn’t expect it to be top-10-list-good, yet here it is! It was well-written and fast-paced in the best way, and the ending surprised me. I think I’ll have to pretend the movie isn’t based on the book because even though I like the director and cast, I don't know how any movie could do this book justice.

9. Station Eleven was another book I expected to like, but didn’t necessarily expect to love until I'd read it and realized it was another one of those that was going to stay in my heart. Some of the sentences made me stop because I just had to revel in how beautiful and thought-provoking they were. The book was scary, poignant, exciting, and everything in between.

10. Unbroken made me cry and cry and cry. I’m five years late, so I hope you’ve read this book, but if you haven’t, go now to the library. The story told was an incredible exploration of the human heart and forgiveness, and it will stay with me for a long time.

Runners-Up (Because You Can't Have 15 On A Top 10 List)

1. Everything I Never Told You ~ Celeste Ng
2. Mistborn Trilogy ~ Brandon Sanderson
3. Ocean at the End of the Lane ~ Neil Gaiman
4. The Republic of Imagination ~ Azar Nafisi
5. Warbreaker ~ Brandon Sanderson 

Why I Love These Books Too 

1. I read this book in one afternoon. It was that good. It’s Ng’s debut, and I loved her writing style and how she weaved this story together. It was an insightful look at family, race, and the stories we tell ourselves. It was a privilege to be able to interview Ng this year as well.

2. The Mistborn trilogy is a must-read for any fantasy fan. I fell in love with the characters and how they grew and changed over the course of three books.

3. Gaiman addressed adulthood in this book, and it really made me think. It was thoughtful, dark, and hopeful all at the same time. You can read it in an afternoon. Go do it.

4. Nafisi’s first book made my top list in 2013, and I loved this one for the same reason: for its exploration of difficult topics through literature. Nafisi always reminds me why fiction is so important, and why it means so much to me personally. I also had the privilege to interview her this year.

5. It’s another Brandon Sanderson! Sanderson has an ability to write characters and worlds that I connect to, intensely. I’m excited to read more of his work in 2016.

In Conclusion (A Request)

The first part of 2016 will be taken up with the Wheel of Time series (I’m midway into Book 4 as I write this) but as always I’d love your recommendations of the books you loved this year! You can also check out my lists from prior years: 2012, 2013, and 2014

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