2015: A Bookish Year in Review

Yes, ideally a reflection on the year’s reading gone by is done before the year is over, but better late than never, right?

In 2015, I read 86 books in total, which is an all-time record for me, and blew past my annual goal of 65 books! I’m not really sure what to credit for this huge leap in numbers, other than 1) I received a Kindle, which makes it easier for me to immediately begin a new book after finishing an old one, 2) I have a long subway commute to work, and 3) a loss in my family resulted in me reading near-constantly for a week or so in order to cope with some of the stuff I was thinking and feeling. Reasons both good and bad, then.

The average length of the books I read in 2015 was 341 pages, with the shortest read being Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant, and the longest being The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. My average star rating was a 3.3, or pretty average. (Still wishing there were half-star options on Goodreads, argh!)

There are a ton more interesting stats on my Goodreads Year in Review page. I encourage you to check it out!

What I think is a bit more telling of me and my reading style, though, are the 2015 books that I gave 5 stars to, 6 out of 7 of which were written by women. Mini-reviews of each can be found after the jump!

The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin’s novels are rightfully understood as critical to the legacy of science fiction, as well as important in enfolding diversity into narrative; what’s often left unsaid is that they’re just good storytelling. World is an imperialist/colonialist narrative set on a distant planet, where the gentle Athshean inhabitants share their knowledge through dreams and singing. Humans enslave the Athsheans, using them to clear-cut the forests that play a huge part in the natives’ culture and history. After endless abuses, one Athshean dreams of war, of which their culture previously had no concept. Things fall apart. Accused of being a didactic morality tale, though I found LeGuin deftly created a truly alien, yet sympathetic, culture, while also showing the more insidious and long-term impacts of colonialism on the colonized.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
This series is SO GOOD. (I went on to speed through the rest of the trilogy soon after finishing Justice, and both were excellent.) In an unnamed future, Breq,a human body that hosts the AI of a destroyed spaceship, comes across one of her former lieutenants on a desolate tundra world. She makes the choice to save him, a decision which spirals into Breq eventually coming face-to-face with the leader of her civilization, Anaander Mianaai–who is herself a consciousness split into hundreds of bodies, and a murderer of millions. As Breq begins to live again, and make more and more choices, she positions herself as dangerously opposed to Anaander. I promise, Justice is not as confusing as it sounds. Once you get it, your brains snaps to, and you get an amazing, character-driven space opera that also has tons of intrigue and emotion. And tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
I’m totally into Beukes’ brand of surreal, literary horror. Some of the images were really burned into my brain afterward (a boy’s body sewn onto the torso of a deer; a house where each room is a different nightmarish art installation). Parts of it harken to a police thriller and supernatural horror, but the heart of the novel is a mediation on media, and the impact that the media we consume has on us. Though I did also love the idea of an otherworldly nightmare that finds our world indefinable and our methods of communication…inadequate.

Going Clear Scientology Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
In a year where I read 13 nonfiction books, Going Clear was the clear (har har) standout. Not only is it an in-depth look at Scientology, but it also describes the allure of cults through a sociological lens. While Wright displays sympathy for some of the people sucked into Scientology (especially those who attempt to leave the group and are then cut off from family and friends by being labeled “suppressive persons”), he ably skewers those in the upper levels who use intimidation, blackmail, and even physical violence to profit off of “believers” and to force the U.S. government to back down. A very scary book, all the moreso because Scientology operates under the freedoms granted to a religion, and has been very effective in winning legal battles against those it has harmed.

The Ghost Network, by Catie Disabato
A secret society, footnotes upon footnotes, two different in-novel editors, a Lady Gaga-esque popstar who disappears, the nature of fame and urban life. It was weird and academic and appealed to the same part of me that enjoyed graduate school. I can’t say that I understood all of Ghost, but it was undeniably gripping and kept me reading late into the night.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
This book lived up to its hype. Groff is a hypnotic writer, creating some beautiful prose imagery and evoking a lot of emotion with simple phrases.

What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did.

At its most basic, Fates and Furies is about a marriage, seen through the eyes of the man and the woman. In reality, it’s a book on the malleable nature of memory, on trust, on what it means to love someone, and on lies. I was captivated by both sides of the marriage, though reading wife Mathilde’s account feels like being scoured by beach sand after the enjoyable smoothness of husband Lotto’s. Both of them, I thought, balanced each other beauty. Either could have stood alone, as well.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Reading this kicked off a Jackson obsession for me. Sure, I read “The Lottery” like every other middle-schooler, but Castle opened up a whole new world for me. Our heroine, Merricat, is an immature and imaginative (to the point of delusional) young woman who lives with her ill uncle Julian and her older sister Constance in a decaying mansion outside of a small town. The rest of Merricat’s family has been poisoned. The three survivors (and one guilty party) carve out small lives for themselves, braced against suspicion and noisiness from the neighboring townspeople, until a stranger calls. Seeing the world through Merricat’s eyes is a disorienting and disquietingly-engaging experience, and her strange interactions with others make this book, honestly, very creepy. It, along with Jackson’s The House on Haunted Hill, were two of the most eerie and psychologically frightening books I read this year.

What were your favorite books of 2015? 

 

 

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