Monday, December 28, 2015

Favorite books of 2015

I've always been a big reader.  There are pictures of me from middle school in which I'd climbed a tree to sit there by myself, enjoying a good book.  I was the kid who would stay up until the wee hours of the morning because I just couldn't put my book down.  One more chapter!  Wait, did I say one more?  I can't put it down yet, I have to find out what happens!  There's only 100 pages left, how long could that take?
Years ago, one of my brothers asked me how many books I read in a year, and I couldn't give him an answer beyond, "Um, lots?"  So at the suggestion of a friend, I started keeping a reading log.  I had to make rules for myself, of course.  If I get 3/4 of the way through a book, does that still count?  Nope.  I have to finish the book.  At times it has deterred me from not finishing a terrible book, but at other times it's caused me to think, "Is this worth going on my reading list?  No," and putting down a terrible book.
Initially I was making spaces for months as well as the year.  But what if I read most of an 800-page book in one month, and finished the last 50 pages in another, which month do I count that in?  I later decided that doing it by month was a silly system and stopped.
For the longest time the list was on my computer, but after a sudden reformat during which HusbandX lost several files, including my entire reading list, I now keep it as a hard copy, an old journal which I never actually used as a journal.  It's fun to be able to look back on my lists, to see what I was interested at various points.  It's not always highbrow stuff--I can go from books on environment and literary theory to a series of trashy romances faster than you'd believe.  But it's still fun.
When I was younger, it was almost absurdly easy for me to read 100+ books in a year.  I was actually disappointed the first year my list was under 100.  Pesky college, getting in the way.  Soon enough I had to make a goal for myself, so that my favorite hobby wouldn't fall to the wayside as I added the demands of my romantic partner, a full-time job, various classes, my musical pursuits, friends, a baby, and all of the other things which can overwhelm a person.  Reading is my escape, my time for myself.  Really, it's one of the few things which I do completely selfishly, and I don't feel any guilt about it.  So my goal is always at least 52 books in a year.  One book a week is, I feel, not a bad goal.  A few times I've just barely scraped out those books, but most years I scream past it.  This year I've read well over 80 books.  Unemployment, it turns out, is good for my reading list.  But there will always be books I read and love, and others which are just sort of silly escapism, or ones that are worthwhile but not ones that I love.
Here's my list of favorite books from 2015, in no particular order.  Please note that not all of them are books written or published in 2015, just what I've read this past year.*

1. "Parenting Without Borders", Christine Gross-Loh - This book was fascinating because, as you can probably tell, it talks about parenting from around the world.  I really liked it because the author talked about a lot of things which people in other countries do well but also the things which American parents do really well.  So many parenting books are basically "you're constantly failing your children, all of you terrible American parents--everyone else can do better but you will always fail!"  This one didn't place a value judgment on a lot of ideas, but did list pros and cons for various attitudes and methods.  It was truly interesting, and I think I partly liked it because of the research validating much of the stuff HusbandX and I do with the Munchkin, like not picking her up every time she falls and encouraging her to do stuff for herself.  What parent doesn't like a little validation from time to time?  It did give us some new ideas and concepts, however, and helps me to relax when I feel like I'm asking too much of her.

2. "First Frost", Sarah Addison Allen - This is the second book in a series and if you haven't read anything by her, do.  Her entire canon is just brilliant.  She writes magical realism, so it's not wizardry or fantasy, but a sort of enhanced reality.  She managed to write, in just a few paragraphs, a beautiful love story about a character whose special gift is that she gives people objects.  She doesn't know why, but she gets an itch to give people things and the person always discovers later on that the object was useful.  I won't tell the romance here, but suffice it to say that three paragraphs had me crying like I did for the first few minutes of "Up".  Because it's beautiful, and three paragraphs was a better freaking love story than "Twilight" could ever dream of being.  (I might still be a little bitter that such trash became so popular, and that that's the love story a generation of girls will grow up idolizing.)  Even better, the part that moved me so much?  That's just for a secondary character.  Just think how good the rest of the book was too.  And all of hers are like that.

3. "The Big Fat Surprise", Nina Teicholz - Basically the premise is that everything you've been told about eating fat is WRONG.  I started researching fat a bit more when I was nursing the Munchkin, because why are we always told fat is so bad if breastmilk has so much of it, and if the brain is made of fat?  Oh, it's necessary for proper brain development in infants?  OK.  Wait, then why would it suddenly become bad when you hit age two?  Oh, you mean it was mostly politics and skewed research which tells us it's so terrible?  Um....

A few of my favorite books from this year.
4. "Code Name Verity", Elizabeth Wein - My best friend gave this one to me for my birthday.  It's about two (female) best friends during WWII, one a spy and the other a pilot.  The first half is from the perspective of one and the second half from the other.  It was brilliant, but I warn you that it is NOT a happy book, so if that's what you're looking for, stay away.  However, it was worth every second I spent reading it.

5. "Shadow and Bone" series, Leigh Bardugo - The first one in this series was the other part of my birthday present, because it turns out that my best friend knows me pretty well now that we've spent well over half of our lives as friends.  Also, she's a middle school English teacher so she knows lots of fun literary people and all of the best YA books out there, so she's fantastic at picking books out.  Whenever I need something new to read, she's the one I turn to.
This one's a fun fantasy book, set in a world unlike most.  It's sort of Russian-feeling, and as L. pointed out to me, it's great because just when you think you know what's going to happen or what trope is being used, it changes on you.  I finished reading the first book and biked out the next morning to get the others, then was crushed when the third book was sold out in hardback and I had to wait one whole week for the paperback one to come out.  That was frustrating.  The author's got a new book which L. loaned to me, and it's my current read.

6. "The Birth House", Ami McKay - This is a book that ends well, but don't read it unless you want to be seriously pissed off about how women's health and knowledge has been treated over the years.  It's a novel, but it contains a lot of historical truths about women being pushed aside, particularly in matters of our own health.  It was really good, though.

7. "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks", E. Lockhart - Another YA, this book was fun from cover to cover, about a girl who's pushed aside by an all-male secret society at her private boarding school and how she ends up manipulating them all into doing pranks at her bidding as she slowly comes to realize that she's smarter and cleverer than any of the boys around her, but they don't notice because she's a girl.  I especially loved that, in the end, she doesn't end up with any boy, and realizes that it's OK until she finds a boy who's intelligent enough to match her.  I found this one in my neighborhood's "Little Free Library", and I'm amazed someone gave it away unless they're far more altruistic than I am and wanted to share it with the world.

8. "Why Not Me?", Mindy Kaling - I read both of her books recently and they were funny and witty but what I appreciated the most about them were the startling moments of insightful truths which came out, from how we treat women's bodies in the media to how to give a good compliment.  She ends this book with a chapter about self-confidence which is probably one of the best things I've read on the subject.  "...[T]he scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don't hate themselves.  ...I get worried that telling girls how difficult it is to be confident implies a tacit expectation that girls won't be able to do it."  Damn.

9. "Farm City", Novella Carpenter - This was actually a hilarious account of someone becoming an urban farmer in Oakland on an abandoned lot next to her apartment building.  Unlike most books in this category (of which I've read a lot) it's not so much a guide as it is an adventure tale.  And instead of focusing on the delicious fruits and vegetables, talking about the amazing dishes she created, she talks about many of the downsides (halitosis when she decided to eat only from her garden for a month) and focuses on the animals she raised.  She doesn't make it sound appealing, talking about all of the dumpster diving she and her SO did to feed their pigs.  It was really fun to read about and, in many ways, gives a more realistic idea of urban farming than the blogs and books which rhapsodize about how beautiful and wonderful it all is.  She concludes that all of her efforts were worthwhile, but there are some things she would do over, and many which she started with too much optimism, such as the pigs.

10. "Furiously Happy", Jenny Lawson - Confession, as of writing this, I still haven't finished reading this book.  However, that's because her books are so laugh-out-loud funny that HusbandX and I read them aloud together.  Well, really it's me reading aloud, but the point is that we do it together.  This one is less funny than her first, "Let's Pretend This Never Happened", but that's OK because it's more about her struggles with mental illness.  Still, the fact that I can say I've been laughing out loud while reading a book about mental illness is pretty telling.  I love her wit and her style, and she makes me wish I was at least half as crazy as she is, because then I'd have way more random fun in my life.  Midnight cat rodeos involving taxidermy?  I could get behind that.

I just realized that all of the books I listed were by women.  I promise, I do read books read by men, and I love many of them!  It just so happens that this year, all of my favorites were by women.
Also, I'm always up for book recommendations, so if you have lovely books which you think I should read please feel free to tell me!  I'll add them to my ever-growing list of books to read.
Happy reading!

*Please also note that I have not included any of the baby books I've read to my daughter.  I'm not going to put "Goodnight Moon" on my reading list nearly every day, even though it's a classic for a reason.  And you don't really need to hear about "Olivia and the Fairy Princesses" or "Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon", even though they're awesome.


  1. I highly recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks if you haven't read that yet. Great read, also by a woman!

    1. Already on my reading list! Along with roughly 873,461 other books. :)