2015: A Year in Reading
I have been quite lazy lately in writing for this blog. I have neglected reviews, turned in posts later than usual, and just let the blog gather dust. Still, the New Year is supposedly a time for renewal which begs the assumption that I, along with the year, will change. Only problem is that I don’t believe in the New Year being a point of renewal so don’t expect any radical change from your favorite procrastinating book blogger.
Ah, I ramble. Anyway, I’ve read 63 books for the year 2015 which is a good number if I say so myself. 23 of those books were absolutely great and not a single one would be what I would deem as terrible. Although, I have yet to rate Gilbert Adair’s Death of the Author although, let’s be honest, if a book have remained in my head for the better part of the year and is yet to leave, surely it would qualify as one of the best things I’ve read this year. Once again, I digress. Anyway I will trim my list of favorite books to 10 (listed here in the order that I read them):
- Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
There is ingenuity contained within the pages of the book and a narrative structure that requires the utmost attention to detail from the writer. A writer of lesser skill would’ve been satisfied just by merely bringing this novel about a Nazi doctor to a mediocre conclusion but no, Amis is no writer of lesser skill and therefore wouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity. In Time’s Arrow, Amis writes with precision needed for a narrative that moves backwards in time from the point of the protagonists death until his birth
- Speedboat by Renata Adler
Another book that combines emotional narratives with inventive storytelling, Speedboat is a portrait of woman navigating the intricacies of 1970s New York while grappling with her own emotional upheaval. If you asked me what this novel is precisely about, I would just give you a muddled answer yet it would be an answer filled with passion as I convince you that this book is worth the read and rightfully deserves its status as a rediscovered classic.
- Dear Life by Alice Munro
Munro is the master of minutiae as she demonstrates in her latest and perhaps final short story collection, Dear Life. Within the pages of this short story collection, Munro has never been more personal as she writes with autobiographical intent by including copious details of her own life in the last four stories in the collection. A fitting end to the career of one of the masters of short fiction.
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
Most spy thrillers out there, whether they be in film or in literature, rely on delivering thrills and intricate plotting. However, John le Carré is not your typical spy thriller writer and The Spy Who Came in from The Cold, arguably his best work, is not your typical spy thriller. Most of the book’s action are conversations between two people arguing about different political ideologies and the novel is mostly an exploration of the Cold War’s moral ambiguities and its emotional toll on the ones who are at the front lines.
- Here by Richard McGuire
Perhaps the best and most innovative graphic novel that I’ve read in the entirety of my life, Here takes place in one corner of a living room from the same point of view but across different points of time. It gives us a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, dinosaurs, suburban families, and futuristic beings all in one tiny space but spread across millenia. It is a poignant work of art, beautifully drawn and exquisitely colored with minimal dialogue.
- Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
I am a person who have always been grappling with my faith and I would never count myself as someone who is religious which is why I always found solace in works of literature that tends to highlight the uncertainties and darkness of religion. Wise Blood may be among the best that I’ve read that explores such themes.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Of the 63 books that I’ve read this year, Giovanni’s Room broke my heart the most. And why wouldn’t it? It is a story about the love between two men: David, an African-American expatriate living in post-war Paris, and Giovanni, an Italian man who is a bartender at a bar owned by Giovanni’s friend. It is a novel where physical spaces attain metaphorical dimensions and where identity, the desire to conform, supersedes passion. It is a novel that is beautifully written with emotion, desire, and alienation.
- Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I have first encountered Coates when I read his seminal essay for The Atlantic titled “The Case for Reparations” which is now considered to be an essential essay on the subject of race relations. His book, Between The World and Me, cements Coates’ reputation as to be the most important writer on American race relations since James Baldwin and it gives readers, such as myself, a primer and an eye-opening look into the world of African-Americans and the racism that they experience every day.
- Death of the Author by Gilbert Adair
Bar none, Gilbert Adair’s Death of the Author is the book that has most dominated my mind for the past year. To discuss it further would risk the enjoyment of those who have not read it yet but let me just say this: the central conceit of this novel and then the end will leave readers either angry, satisfied or, just like my case, both.
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
I have met Lauren Groff at a book event hosted by Busboys & Poets and the event bears the distinction as the only one that compelled me to read the featured work immediately after. I read Fates & Furies on the train ride back from the event and, from then on, it has captured my attention with its writing and emotion. As an exploration of a marriage, it is not a stretch to say that it has a unique place in the literary canon.
That’s about it for my top 10 books from 2015. I have read other shorter forms of literature like short stories and longform essays across different platforms but that’s something for a different post that may come in the coming weeks. Anyway, because I am a lazy git, I will be including my Essential Reading post for January here. But before anything else, here are the books I’ve read for the last month of 2015:
- The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (5/5)
- Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortazar (4/5)
- The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (5/5)
For the last month of 2015, I’ve only finished reading three books as I was busy doing other things (mostly finishing video games) but it was still a strong trifecta with The Invention of Morel being one of the most inventive novellas from Latin America that I’ve read in recent memory. Cortazar’s Cronopios and Famas was an excellent introduction to the oeuvre of one of Latin America’s literary masters even if it was uneven at some points. To cap it all off, Patricia Highsmith’s novel about the relationship between two women was the perfect end to a year of reading. I look forward to the same degree of exploration and joy in 2016 and I start it off with my January reads:
- The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Georges Perec – An esteemed member of the literary group Oulipo, I have been meaning to read his works for a long time now particularly lipogrammatic novel, A Void. This novel written in an algorithmic fashion seems to be an acceptable starting point or prelude to reading Perec’s most known work.
- The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders – Anyone who knows me personally is aware of my deep fondness for the short stories of George Saunders. He is one of my favorite writers ever and I have read all of his short story collections, all of which I love with a passion. Only two books from his current oeuvre are left for me to read: One is a book for children, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and the other is this novella that came about after Saunders was challenged to write a book in which all characters were abstract shapes. (Update: Finished Reading)
- The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes – My first NYRB for the year is a mid-century noir novel that is being compared to the best works of Patricia Highsmith and Raymond Chandler. That’s all the information that I need.
- The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Our book club’s first book for the month, The Book of Strange New Things tells the story of a missionary sent to an alien planet in order to preach the Gospel. I have read a few hundred pages by now and I must say that I am terribly engrossed in my reading. It is certainly a good book to start the year with. (Update: Finished Reading)
- Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli – I have to make a dent with the signed books that I’ve been getting since the past year. Starting with this book of essays from a “5 Under 35” awardee seems like a good choice.