At the beginning of 2015, I set a lofty goal for myself on Goodreads: Read 30 books over the course of the year. This may not seem like a lot to some of my bookworm friends, but it was ambitious for me. I’m not a speed reader and I have a lot of distractions (namely, working full time and having two active kids), so trying to meet this goal took a fair amount of effort.
I read so many good books this year! I’m still working on Books #30, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and #31, The Walking Dead, Compendium 1, by Robert Kirkman, et.al., which I plan to finish before the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Even though I haven’t completed them, I already know which books are my favorites this year.
- Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
I read this evocative and disturbing debut novel while on a weekend getaway in the Cascade Mountains, a fitting location. A young girl moves with her father from urban England to a remote, mountainous forest on the Continent. The father believes that the world is ending and that he is rescuing his daughter from annihilation. To give away more might spoil the book. Let me just say that the story is fascinating, and Fuller’s prose truly paints a mental picture—even now, months later, I can see scenes from the book in my head.
- Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
I first became aware of Sally Mann when I lived in Lexington, Virginia, where Mann was born and raised, and where she still lives and creates art. Mann, a world-famous photographer, is also a gifted writer, and her memoir describes a life lived richly and brilliantly, surrounded by nature, love, and darkness. I was particularly touched by the passages in which Mann described her love for her corner of Virginia, as her words articulate my feelings about that area, too.
- Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
First of all, I can’t believe I have two memoirs on this list! Second, Carrie Brownstein is the KWEEEEN. Seriously. I need to admit here that I am not a fan of Sleater Kinney, Brownstein’s band. I bought one of their CDs in the late 90s and couldn’t get into it. But not only is Brownstein a talented musician and a creative humorist, she (like Sally Mann) can write. I also discovered a few parallels between her life and mine, including that we went to the started at the same college at the exact same time (and that we both left that college shortly thereafter). Also, she was a total ham growing up—she put on shows for her parents and their guests—and she and I shared similarly unflattering late 1980s hairstyles.
I don’t want to give you the impression that this book is great because I’m a narcissist and see aspects of myself in her, though. Brownstein has an interesting and unique voice and story, one that anyone would be interested to hear.
- I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
I’m in two book clubs. I think it’s safe to say that, if you polled any of the members of those book clubs, they would say that I’m kind of a book snob—meaning, I tend to like literary fiction and turn my nose up at populist, “best seller” fiction (think James Patterson and Jodi Picoult).
I came down off my lofty perch this summer when I read I Am Pilgrim. In paperback (mass market, of course), it’s over 900 pages. And I read it in two days. (Remember what I said about not being a speed reader?)
I Am Pilgrim was easily the most exciting book I read this year. It follows a retired U.S. intelligence agent who’s (naturally) pulled back into service when a diabolical terrorist (naturally) is trying to unleash a deadly bio-agent. I refused to put this book down—even on a speedboat ride! This novel was immensely fun to read, and I can’t wait to read its sequel, which releases in the spring of 2016. You must read it.
- We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
If books were rides at Disneyland, I Am Pilgrim would be the Indiana Jones Adventure ride and We Are Not Ourselves would be that part on Splash Mountain where Brer Rabbit’s family is crying and fretting over him being missing. Which is to say that Thomas’s first novel (first! Gah—these talented new novelist!)s) is not a thrill ride, and that it’s sad and a bit depressing and it focuses on a family rather than a virtual superhero. I loved it.
The story follows the life of Eileen, an Irish-American girl, then woman, from Queens. It delves into her upbringing, her parents, her husband, her son, and her friends, and thoroughly develops those relationships and her persona with an unflinching eye.
I cannot remember reading a book that better portrayed a marriage or family better than We Are Not Ourselves. This novel made me feel things, deeply, and examine my own marital and familial relationships. Good fiction should inspire that kind of introspection. And this is damn good fiction.
What was the best book you read in 2015? What was the worst? Did you participate in a reading challenge this year? Are you on Goodreads? (And if you are, please share your Goodreads handle!)