2015 reading list

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my reading the last two years. In 2013, I set a goal of reading 40 books and beat it, and in 2014, I seriously surpassed my goal of reading 52 books by reading 91 (my numbers have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, in case you were wondering).

Since I’m in an English Literature graduate program, I obviously do plenty of reading, but I think I went back to my goal of 50 books in 2015. Though this number might be a bit low based on 2014’s results, I stay plenty busy with my school reading and don’t always have lots of time for recreational reading. I ended up exceeding that goal by reading 69 books in 2015, an achievement I’m pretty proud of. Here’s my full list of reading from 2015–for reference, the titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
  3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green
  5. Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  6. It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally
  7. Brother to Dragons, Robert Penn Warren
  8. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
  9. Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
  10. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, William Inge
  11. Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge
  12. Bus Stop, William Inge
  13. The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler
  14. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  15. My Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount and Thessaly la Force
  16. Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
  17. Wait for You, J. Lynn
  18. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris
  20. In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  21. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
  22. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  23. Love, Rosie, Cecelia Ahern
  24. Airships, Barry Hannah
  25. Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley
  26. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  28. Joe, Larry Brown
  29. Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan
  30. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  31. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  32. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
  33. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
  34. Angels in America Part One: Millennium ApproachesTony Kushner
  35. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
  36. The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  37. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling
  38. Quidditch Through the Ages, J.K. Rowling
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  40. Paper Towns, John Green
  41. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  42. Shame, Salman Rushdie
  43. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  44. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  45. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  46. Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri
  47. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  48. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  49. Dragonfly in AmberDiana Gabaldon
  50. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  51. Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  52. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire
  53. Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  54. After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  55. Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie
  56. Divine Comedy Vol. II: Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri
  57. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner
  58. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
  59. Divine Comedy Vol. III: Paradiso, Dante Alighieri
  60. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  61. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  62. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  63. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  64. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  65. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
  66. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  67. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh
The Cripple of Inishmaan

Book #68: The Cripple of Inishmaan, by Martin McDonagh

My first encounter with The Cripple of Inishmaan was in 2014, when I saw the play on Broadway starring Daniel Radcliffe. It doesn’t take much more than his name for me to become interested in something, so when my mom and I saw the production in May, we didn’t know much about what we were getting into.

Turns out, the play was more than a pleasant surprise–it was a delight, or at least a delight of the truly dark comedic kind.

The Cripple of Inishmaan takes place in 1934 on the Irish isle of Inishmaan and stars a quirky ensemble of characters in this small town. The lead character, Cripple Billy, is a seventeen-year-old orphan (aka the type of character Daniel Radcliffe knows well) being raised by two pseudo-aunts. Billy is the butt of most jokes on the island, especially from Helen, the girl he naturally has a crush on.

The biggest plot element in the play is that the characters have heard a Hollywood film is being made in neighboring Inishmore about a crippled boy, so Billy and a few others go to audition. We also learn early in the play that Billy has apparently been given a terminal diagnosis from his doctor, so to keep from upsetting his aunts, he hopes to travel to America to die.

The play is hilarious and terribly sad at the same time. If the British are famous for black comedy, this is a perfect example of what that means–snarky, rude, sweet, and depressing all at once. The Cripple of Inishmaan was the first of the books I received for Christmas that I’ve delved into, and it was a perfect (if not bleak) way to end 2015.

This Side of Paradise

Book #67: This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’d long been looking forward to reading This Side of Paradise, but the experience didn’t live up to my expectations.

For the first 20 pages or so, I was totally into it–I thought the characters were funny and strange and perfectly 1920s. I was reminded of Fitzgerald’s short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” that I read earlier this year and adored. Unfortunately, the book lost my interest pretty quickly.

This Side of Paradise is quite autobiographical for Fitzgerald and it was his first major novel, but it in no way can live up to the glory of The Great Gatsby. Sure, Gatsby is a pretty perfect novel, so it’s hard to measure up, but the story in This Side of Paradise just drags so much it’s hard to stay focused.

One thought I had while reading: based on the other Fitzgerald I’ve read (which isn’t a lot), I think his strength is really in writing compelling female characters. In both Gatsby and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” the women are the most interesting characters, and the same is true for This Side of Paradise. Unfortunately, the women in this novel flit in and out of the action so quickly that you can’t latch on to them and are forced into listening to the grumblings of a privileged young man. Sigh.

Now I’m starting to read one of my Christmas gifts, Martin McDonagh’s play The Cripple of Inishmaan, which Daniel Radcliffe did on Broadway in 2014. I loved the play when I saw it, so I’m sure to end 2015 on a high note.

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Favorite Books of 2015

2015 has been an especially successful reading year for me. I didn’t really read anything I didn’t like, and, as I’m always on the quest to read more, I’m happy with the fact that I finished 66 books this year (though I may have one or two more done before the year ends).

To commemorate this year of reading, here are my favorite reading endeavors of 2015, arranged in alphabetical order by title. I’ve also listed a few Honorable Mentions at the bottom because I just like books a lot.

What were your favorite books you read this year?

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'ConnorI first encountered Flannery O’Connor in high school and fell in love with her stories “A Good Man in Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” both of which I’ve revisited again and again. So when I had to read seven of O’Connor’s stories for a Southern Literature class last spring, I decided, having bought her entire collection of short stories, to continue working through the book throughout the year. O’Connor is famous for her grotesque and darkly comic stories, a theme that is seen again and again in her works. For more on my favorite stories from the collection, check out my review of the book I wrote upon finishing it in June.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner

IMG_1804My interest in The Diary of a Teenage Girl was sparked by the rave reviews for the film adaptation that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, largely because it fits well with the research I’m doing for my master’s thesis project. After seeing the film in August and loving its sincere and honest tone, I bought myself the semi-autobiographical, semi-graphic novel that inspired the movie. Phoebe Gloeckner does a wonderful job of capturing the voice of Minnie in her work (a voice that she took from her own teenage diary entries). I found the book charming, troubling, and fascinating–a work that clearly aligns with Judy Blume’s famously honest portrayals of young women. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a true treat (you can read my full review here).

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

IMG_1836I really didn’t expect to enjoy Doctor Sleep as much as I did, but boy did it surprise me. It can be expected that reading a Stephen King novel will be an entertaining experience, but I didn’t expect to become so invested in these characters. Though Doctor Sleep is the follow up to The Shining, this is a very different story: adult Dan Torrance becomes involved with protecting a young girl who shares his “shining” capabilities. I love when “pop fiction” is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time, and Doctor Sleep certainly delivers in this fun, creepy, and entertaining book (full review here).

Dracula, Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula was one of my longest-lasting reading projects of 2015 because my roommate and I decided to take on the task of reading the book together, an experience we both enjoyed thoroughly. I’d been plenty familiar with the story before (because who isn’t?), but it was a much more rewarding experience to read the source material, especially when it’s made all-the-more enjoyable by reading with your best friend. As it turns out, a shared reading experience full of laughs is the perfect antidote to a stressful semester of grad school, and one we’ll certainly be repeating (full review here).

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

IMG_1505The Grapes of Wrath has long-been on my reading list, but I finally took the journey this summer, a choice that only made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. The best part of reading John Steinbeck’s classic was that I got to read my grandfather’s 1950s copy of the book full of his annotations–The Grapes of Wrath was the subject of his thesis while in seminary (note the feature picture). Though my grandfather died when I was three-years-old, reading his words alongside Steinbeck’s gave me the bittersweet experience of feeling just a bit closer to him (full review here).

The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

Grownup

Gillian Flynn doesn’t disappoint. The Grownup is a very quick read–it is a short story, after all–but it rings true to Flynn’s other disturbingly entertaining works. If you loved Gone Girl as much as the rest of the world, set  aside an hour to give this a read. Only down side: you’ll finish reading it and feel slightly disappointed that it hasn’t turned into a full length novel.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles was a particularly fun read because it kept me entertained during my cozy snow week last spring (oh, the joy of having an entire week just to stay inside and read). I fell in love with BBC’s Sherlock during my 2013-2014 winter break but hadn’t ever read any of Doyle’s stories, so I was very happy to see that his writing is just as fun as the show (full review here).

In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume

In the Unlikely EventAs you might have guessed from what I wrote about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, I’m a Judy Blume fan, so her release of a new novel this year was a special treat for me. In the Unlikely Event is technically an adult novel, but the majority of the story is about a fifteen-year-old girl, so it often feels like Blume’s classic young adult novels. Set in the 1950s, the book has the same mid-century feel that makes Mad Men so fun to watch, and the characters and so endearing that you’re immediately drawn into the story. If you’re looking for an easy read with a lot of heart, In the Unlikely Event is a great way to spend your time (full review here).

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You was a perfect (if not emotionally draining) way to spend my Thanksgiving break. With the knowledge that a film adaptation of this book arrives in theaters next spring starring the adorable likes of Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Lewis, I had a feeling this would be the kind of sweet book I’d enjoy. This is definitely true, but don’t expect a very happy ending–but I don’t want to say any more about it. Me Before You is the perfect kind of bittersweet romantic book, and great for a quiet weekend at home where you can ugly-cry when things get sad (full review here).

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

On Chesil BeachAnd speaking of bittersweet romance… Ian McEwan is the indisputable king of the genre (if you’re familiar with Atonement, you’ll know what I’m talking about). On Chesil Beach tells the story of an awkward and shy couple on their wedding night. It’s a short novel that, apart from flashbacks, stays entirely in the moment of one evening. It’s the kind of book that will make you want to yell at the characters, but you can’t stop yourself from reading on. This book can be read in an afternoon, but it’s the type of story that will stick with you long after (full review here).

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

outlanderI first met Outlander through the TV adaptation of the book series, but after deciding I could no longer wait for the show to keep me up-to-date, I embarked on the journey of reading the series. Gabaldon writes hefty books (in the realm of 800+ pages), but the story is fun and thankfully has kept my interest in these characters satisfied. I’ve also read Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the series, and if I don’t get the third for Christmas, I’ll be buying it for myself soon. While Outlander is a romantic story at heart, history and science are also hugely essential. So thanks, Diana–I feel like your books are slowly making me a bit smarter (full review here).

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

white-teethI just might have saved the best for last. White Teeth was conveniently both on my personal reading list and required reading for a class this fall, so I was happy to read it this summer. I really had no idea how much I’d enjoy it. Zadie Smith is a fabulous Dickensian writer; she writes developed characters that make up an incredibly diverse and vast ensemble, but manages to make you feel as if you know them each individually. Her prose is beautiful slow-building, and I don’t know whether to bow to her or hate her for having written White Teeth at the age of 24 (which just so happens to be my current age). White Teeth is a truly rewarding experience (full review here).

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And, as promised, here are some Honorable Mentions for my other favorites this year (listed alphabetically by title):

  • Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  • Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  • The Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  • Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

You can find my full list of the books I read in 2015 here and explore the rest of the blog for longer reviews of these works.

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Book #66: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

I first encountered The Boy in the Striped Pajamas via the book’s film adaptation, though I’d known of the book’s existence for some time. Since I knew the story already, I guess I only have myself to blame for the emotional turmoil I’ve inflicted upon myself.

As the back cover of my copy of the book says, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about a nine-year-old boy named Bruno, but this is not a book for nine-year-olds.

Bruno is a young boy living in Berlin in the early 1940s, a clear indicator of what larger conflict will put the book’s action into motion. Through Bruno’s naive sensibilities, we learn that he’s the son of an important Nazi soldier sent to command Auschwitz (which Bruno mistakenly calls “Out-With”).

Bruno, a lover of adventure and stories from the Middle Ages, is an explorer at heart, and after feeling lonely in his new home, is delighted to meet a boy his age who lived on the other side of a fence.

The fact that the story is so innocently told from Bruno’s perspective adds something fresh to a familiarly desolate Holocaust narrative. Bruno doesn’t understand what happens at Auschwitz or what it means to be Jewish, and this ignorance is what makes the story ultimately all the more tragic.

And because I’m apparently in a particularly cruel mood today, I also spent the better part of this afternoon watching Schindler’s List for the first time (not exactly a holiday favorite, but a great movie none-the-less). It was interesting to note the parallels between the two narratives, especially because of the starkly different perspectives. Both a tragedies worth experiencing if for no other reason than to see a horror that we can only hope will never be repeated.

So now that I’ve finished my unofficial Holocaust entertainment unit, I’m moving on to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first nobel, This Side of Paradise, which could be my last read of 2015.

Look for my post on my favorite reading projects of the year in the coming days!

Doctor Sleep

Book #65: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

I’m very happy to say that my first reading project of winter break was a successful one! At the beginning of 2015, I set a tentative goal of pulling most of my recreational reading from one sole bookshelf in my room that I cultivated last January. I’ve done okay with that goal, but it’s hard to risk the temptation to read new things as I buy them, but upon returning home last weekend, I decided to start back at this goal with Stephen King’s 2013 follow up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.

Though I’ve long been a fan of the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of The Shining (despite Stephen King’s hatred of it), I didn’t read the novel until early in 2013. That same year, my roommate gave me Doctor Sleep as a Christmas gift, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t crack it open until now.

Thankfully, Doctor Sleep was exactly what I’d been hoping for during my few weeks of freedom from school–something entertaining, exciting, and not overly academic (sometimes your brain just needs a rest, okay?).

Doctor Sleep begins just three years after the events of The Shining, but the vast majority of the novel follows the life of adult Dan Torrance, a recovering alcoholic who works in a hospice in New Hampshire, using his “shining” abilities to help patients through death. Dan is a man still haunted by his childhood and tries to avoid using his powers as much as possible, but when he’s telepathically contacted by a young girl with similar talents, he becomes involved in a complicated plot to keep the girl safe.

Though Stephen King includes an author’s note about how he was hesitant to revisit a story that’s been popular with his readers for so long, I found that the connections between the two books was fairly minimal–in a good way. Sure, you need to know a bit of Dan’s personal history to understand the story, and the Overlook of the original book is certainly important here, but overall, this is a very different story, and one I quite enjoyed reading.

This marks my fourth Stephen King novel, which isn’t much considering the depth of his cadre, but it invigorated me to delve further into his works. Doctor Sleep isn’t a super quick read at 528 pages, but it’s a journey I’m happy to have been on.

 

And suddenly it’s December

Well, world, I have a strange announcement–I have finished my last semester of coursework for my master’s degree (and managed to pull off an unexpected feat of earning all As!). Since it’s been such a marathon, I think I’d forgotten how nice it might feel to reach this point, and now that I’ve come to it, I’m not really sure what to do with my freedom.

Sadly, the fact that I’ve been less-than-free this semester means I haven’t maintained my blog like I usually do. Now that I have the time, though, I can finally share some of the highlights of my semester.

I’ve made significant progress on my master’s thesis this semester thanks to a fantastic advisor who keeps me on track. I’m loving writing it, which means it’s only a little upsetting to know how far I still have to go before finishing it. As a reminder, I’m writing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in indie films. If you’re wondering what those words might mean, I did a post about it this summer that you should mostly certainly check out.

I’ve also had the strangely adult experience of prepping for my very first courses as a college instructor. Next spring, I’ll have 44 students in my very own classroom in the basement of Cherry Hall, and I can’t wait for it. I loved my time shadowing a wonderful instructor this semester who helped me figure myself out along the way. It’s so strange that it’s nearly my time to stand front of a group I get to call my own.

And somehow, in the midst of the chaos, we wrangled up enough students to head back the the Sundance Film Festival next month. I’ll be going along as a TA in pursuit of hands-on research for my thesis project and hope to see some great films along the way. Sundance was the most magical experience of my life thus far, so the chance to head back and do it all again is exceptionally exciting.

Now, for those of you who know me, it comes as no surprise that I simply cannot try to explain what my life has been like lately without also telling you the things I’ve been reading and watching. Here’s a crash course in my latest pop culture feelings.

Books — This semester wasn’t exactly the best for leisurely reading, but I did manage to squeeze in a few fun projects on the way. Just last night my roommate and I finished reading Dracula together, which was a long-term, laugh-filled, wonderful experience. I also recently reread Harriet the Spy, which I hadn’t read in at least 15 years (and I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that). For those of you who haven’t read it, Harriet the Spy is pure joy, so go get your hands on a copy!

Over Thanksgiving break, I rewarded myself by reading Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, a sweet and sad romantic story that’s perfect for some hours spent in a world that isn’t your own. And as of last night, I started Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, though since it’s a long book, I may end up doubling it with something else. We’ll see.

TV — This fall, I decided to be bold and write off several of the shows I’d previously watched, but mostly out of obligation. Turns out my viewing schedule is now much freer, which can be quite the blessing. Without a doubt, the show I’ve most looked forward to from week to week is FX’s Fargo. If you haven’t been watching, you’re crazy and need to change that habit immediately. I’m also loving Sunday nights on FOX with Bob’s Burgers and Last Man on Earth, and I’ve stuck with Empire, though the second season hasn’t nearly lived up to the first. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is another little gem of a TV show that I hope you’re all watching, and the fact that it’s paired with Jane the Virgin on Mondays on the CW makes the viewing experience all the sweeter.

As for side projects, I’ve continued to make my way through as much bingeing as I could hope for. My roommate and I watched the first season of Outlander together on DVD (which I also watched as it aired) and then, just yesterday, finished My So-Called Life together. Both of these shows are now invited to provide me with more episodes ASAP because I miss them dearly.

I also quickly worked through Jessica Jones last week and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Krysten Ritter is a gem and David Tennant is a perfect villain. What more could you want?

My longer viewing project these days is The O.C., which I’ve long been interested in but didn’t have access to until it recently became available on the CW Seed for FREE! It’s a fun, silly teen show, which is totally a guilty pleasure of mine, so I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

Now that my time is freer, I’m hoping to spend some time catching up on shows I’ve missed out on, like USA’s Mr. Robot, especially after today’s Golden Globe nominations. I also imagine my mom and I will marathon through a few things, so stay tuned for updates on that.

Movies — Sadly, I’ve been lacking in the movie-watching department lately. I hit my goal of watching 100 new (to me) movies a few months ago, but I haven’t made tons of progress past that goal. However, I’m hoping to see a few of the Oscar-bait movies before year’s end and catch up on some things I missed earlier in the year. Some recent highlights in my movie-viewing experience have been We Need to Talk About Kevinwhich is disturbing in the best kind of way, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2which was a fitting end to the saga.

So now that this life of mine is freer for leisurely reading and watching, I plan to take full advantage of it (though I’ll also be doing my fair share of academic work during these weeks off). Happy Holidays, everyone! May you enjoy your time to relax as much as I intend to enjoy mine.