F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

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.

My Ideal Bookshelf

For Christmas, my best friend bought me a lovely book entitled My Ideal Bookshelf, edited by Thessaly La Force, with art by Jane Mount, that I was feeling inspired by the other day. Essentially, this book in a collection of illustrations and notes from famous people of many disciplines (people from skater Tony Hawk to author Daniel Handler to actor/professor/student/unfortunate Oscar host extraordinaire James Franco) who describe the books that would be on their “ideal bookshelf.” The prompt for choosing these books is as follows:

Select a small shelf of books that represent you — the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites.

If you happen upon this book in a store, I suggest sitting down and perusing it, especially if you’re a fellow book lover; it’s always fun to see what other people enjoy, and the illustrations are lovely. After much thought, I’ve tried to compile my own list, based upon the book’s cover art:

My-Ideal-Bookshelf

So, here are my picks for these categories. I’ve probably spent far too long toiling over my choices, largely because there are too many books I love, and many that could fit into any and all of these categories. I’m sure they’ll change over the course of my life, but that’s just one of the many joys of reading, isn’t it? What are some of your favorites?

My Favorite Book:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I reread The Great Gatsby early in 2013, I was reminded why I’d used this novel as my go-to when asked what my favorite book was. Essentially, it’s perfect. Fitzgerald couldn’t be more eloquent in his simplistic style. I love writing in my books and underlining passages I really like, and I found that nearly every other line was marked in some way. The Great Gatsby is the quintessential American novel, and one that I suggest everyone read at least once in their lifetime.

The Book That Changed My Life:

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

My interpretation of “book that changed my life” was a bit loose here, but I can explain my choice. In the fall of 2012, I took a Hemingway and Faulkner literature course that has absolutely changed my life. For Whom the Bell Tolls was my first Hemingway read aside from a few short stories, and it was my favorite of his four novels we read. The story is beautiful and detailed, allowing readers introspective insight into events over the course of three days. My experience in reading Hemingway has made me realize that I really prefer 20th century American literature to all else (though I still read all kinds of things) and it’s helped me in realizing my aspirations of becoming an English professor. Thanks, Papa Hemingway.

The Book I Read Again and Again:

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Starsby John Green

To be fair, I’ve only read this twice, but it’s one I’m certain I’ll return to numerous times in the future. I’m a sucker for young adult literature anyway, and in an age when there are plenty of crappy teen romances on bookshelves, you really can’t do much better than John Green. The Fault in Our Stars was the first book of his I read, and I immediately became a dedicated fan. Green writes with such a real voice in his novels that you kind of can’t help by identify with his characters. The Fault in Our Stars is funny and heartbreaking, and one that I think all teens should read. Side note: I couldn’t be more excited about the film adaptation that comes out this June. Hooray!

The Book I Love The Most:

Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I’m kind of cheating myself by using two categories for Harry Potter, but if you know me, you’ll probably understand that I can only express my Potter love by being excessive with it. Even after many, many readings of Deathly Hallows, I can’t help but cry at the perfect ending, and I usually have to give it a nice hug before returning it to its place on the shelf. Deathly Hallows is not only my favorite book in the Potter series, it also features my favorite chapter, “The Forest Again” (try reading it without crying, I dare you). It’s perfect. There really isn’t anything else to say on the matter.

The Book(s) That Made Me Who I Am:

HP

The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

So, now to part two of my Potter picks. I’m not sure this really needs much explanation. Obviously the Potter books have made me who I am. I don’t know if there are many other topics I would dedicate the time it takes to write an honors thesis, but I happen to have an extra amount of love and devotion where the Potter books are concerned. The only thing I can really say is that I’ll be forever grateful I received a paperback of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my eighth birthday. It made me the person I am today.

The Best Book I Ever Read:

The Sound and the Fury

 The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

Again, The Sound and the Fury could be assigned to nearly any category on this list. Like For Whom the Bell Tolls, I read this novel for my Hemingway and Faulkner course, and I really never expected to be as impacted by it as I have been. This is not for light readers — Faulkner almost always write in a confusing style, by The Sound and the Fury takes confusion to a whole new level with its narrative style. Despite the confusion, though, this is honestly the greatest book I’ve ever read. The Compson family and all they represent create a harrowing portrait of the declining South post-slavery, and these characters are bound to stick in your memory. I look forward to the next time I read this masterpiece so I can be reminded of its greatness.

The Book That Makes Me Cry Every Time:

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

I think it’s rare to ever find a book that makes readers cry, and when they do, it’s usually just a tear or two (that’s been my experience, at least). A Prayer for Owen Meany, therefore, in an anomaly; I don’t think I’ll ever forget finishing this book in a hostel in Montreal, tears pouring from my eyes. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty. But that’s the kind of story Irving has created in this contemporary classic. I recently told a friend to read this to restore his faith in contemporary literature, and I think that’s one of this novel’s many benefits. The best quality of the book, though, is this epic, perfect, brilliant story. If you don’t love Owen Meany as a character, you must be heartless. This is my mom’s favorite book, and before I read it, she always used to tell me that when she finished reading it the first time, she held it and sobbed. After my experience, I understand that reaction completely, and I imagine you will too if you’ve read this book.

So, since I was limited to these seven categories, I decided to add a few honorable mentions that I think would also be likely to find their way onto my ideal bookshelf. Here are a few extra titles I really love.

Honorable Mentions:

Little Women, Jane Eyre, The Awakening, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Forever…, Gone Girl, Death of a Salesman

Year in Review: 10 Favorite Books of 2013

As we near the end of 2013, I thought, like all other somewhat self-centers millennials, it might be fun to write a few year-end posts reflecting on my favorite pop culture ventures this year. To start it off, I’ve decided to discuss my favorite books I read in 2013, and I’ll move on to TV and movies closer to the end of the year (there are still too many worthwhile movies to see before I can make my decisions!). So, in the order in which I read them, here are the 10 books I most enjoyed this year.

Little Women

1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, completed January 2013

There isn’t much more to say than that this is a rather perfect read, especially in winter, for all female audiences. I’d also like to say it’s appropriate for male readers, but there’s something about the March women that speaks to women of all ages. This is one of those stories that can simultaneously warm and break your heart, and it certain to be one you’ll want to revisit.

 A Moveable Feast

2. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, completed March 2013

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Hemingway fangirl, so you can’t be too surprised here. Not only does this book present Hemingway’s characteristically simple writing style, it also features the idyllic setting of Paris in the 1920s. As a French major who loves Papa Hemingway, this book is basically catnip for me. An added bonus: my favorite Hemingway wife, Hadley, is present for the majority of the book. She’s perfect, and you should read this, but only after familiarizing yourself with some of Hemingway’s great fictional writing. This cannot be fully appreciated if you don’t know Hemingway’s writing or life to some extent.

Fault in Our Stars

3. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, completed March 2013

In all fairness, this was a reread, but it doesn’t get any less devastatingly perfect the second time around. In fact, I think I cried more this time because I knew what was coming. Even though this book was just released last year, it’s become an instant classic; it’s an absolutely essential read for young and old audiences. John Green, you’re a god. And an added perk: the film adaptation will be released in June of 2014, so if you haven’t read this yet, be sure to before then.

The Great Gatsby

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, completed May 2013

Another reread, but also a perfect classic. I reread Gatsby before the new film was released, and I was happy to realize that I was just as enamored with the book now as I was when I first read it four years ago. Fitzgerald’s story is timeless and brilliant; I feel like I marked or underlined every other sentence because I loved the language so much. If you’re looking for “easy” but literary reading material, this is a must read.

The Awakening

5. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, completed May 2013

Before I started this novel I basically knew the whole story; I remember hearing my fellow students complain about the ending my junior year of high school. This knowledge, however, did not stop me from loving the 100-page novel so important to feminist literature. I understand why my classmates disliked this story in the past, but since I was four years older when I read it, I think I had the necessary perspective to understand how great it really is.

Divergent

6. Divergent, by Veronica Roth, completed June 2013

I debated reading this series for a while before finally buying the first installment on a whim, and I’m so very glad I did. This series is definitely for fans of The Hunger Games as it also features a strong-willed teenage female as the story’s heroine, but it’s important not to compare the two series too often. The film adaptation of Divergent comes out in March of 2014, and the sequel begins filming in April, so read this over Christmas break if you want to be part of the hype for what I imagine will be the next big thing in teen reading.

The Penultimate Peril

7. The Penultimate Peril, by Lemony Snicket, completed July 2013

I’m happy to say I completed the entire Series of Unfortunate Events in 2013, and there’s really only one reason why this one stands out as my favorite: this book had one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in children’s literature (if you’re interested, I posted it as a quote in July after finishing the book). The entire series is great, but I’m not sure I’ll ever quit laughing over some of the humor in this one.

The Cuckoo's Calling

8. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, completed August 2013

This is probably the most talked-about book of 2013 due to its real author: J.K. Rowling. It was definitely worth the fuss. The twists and turns are sure to keep readers’ attention, but the story also keeps to a rather straight and simple format that makes it an easy read. I certainly hope Rowling feels compelled to continue this in the future.

My Antonia

9. My Antonia, by Willa Cather, completed August 2013

Like The AwakeningMy Antonia is a notable work of female literature, though the settings and events of the two couldn’t be more different. As an almost-native of the plains of Nebraska, this novel speaks to me in a way that’s probably difficult for most readers to comprehend. Cather captures the frontier lifestyle of Nebraska perfectly; one reason I enjoyed this book so much was that I felt so at peace when reading it. I could feel the wind and smell the earth that can only be understood by visiting the region. This is certainly a novel I’d recommend, but a regional recognition is almost imperative to really appreciate it.

The Giver

10. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, completed November 2013

I had a hard time picking my final book, partially because this fall I took a long time to get through one reading project, but also because nothing else was really standing out to be as especially stellar. Maybe I’m being picky, but I had a hard time picking great books from those I read this year. On a positive note, I read several things outside my normal genres this year and completed some bucket list goals (A Series of Unfortunate Events, for instance) while exceeding my year’s goal by 10 books (so far). Ultimately, my favorite book I’ve read recently was probably The Giver, though I wasn’t totally satisfied by it. I liked the story so much for probably three-quarters of the novel, but I felt like Lowry rushed through the book’s climax and conclusion so much that I was left in a lurch. The ending chapters struck me as very odd, and I’m interested to see if it plays better on screen when the film adaptation is released in 2014.

So, what books did you read this year? If nothing else, here’s to a 2014 filled with quickly turning pages and stories worth reading.

2013 Book List: Update #3

I’ve finished another five books to add to the list, putting the year’s total thus far at 16. Here are my thoughts on the last five books.

We Killed

12. We Killed, Yael Kohen

I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing or organization of this book, but it definitely had some great information. As a huge Amy Poehler fan, I loved reading how much other comedians (both male and female) respect her as a person and professional. Definitely a fun read if you’re interested in learning more about women in TV.

The Great Gatsby

13. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

A perfect, timeless classic. It had been four years since I first read Gatsby, so I reread it to be prepared for the new movie. I was again amazed at Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose in this wonderfully tragic story. And for what it’s worth, I think Baz Luhrmann’s film captures the essence of the grandeur and indulgence of New York in the Roaring Twenties perfectly.

The Reptile Room

14. The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket

There isn’t much to say about the Series of Unfortunate Events books except that they’re always good fun. I’m making more progress toward the books in the series that I didn’t read as a kid, and I’m certainly enjoying the journey.

The Wide Window

15. The Wide Window, Lemony Snicket

I remember finding this book in the series frustrating as a kid, and I still feel the same. Aunt Josephine kind of drives me crazy as a character, so this one isn’t my favorite. I also have my own irrational fear of leeches because of seeing Stand By Me when I was probably too young for it, so The Wide Window is also a bit more traumatic for me than the others in the series.

 

Beautiful Darkness

16. Beautiful Darkness, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I have to say, I’m much more impressed by the Beautiful Creatures series than I ever would have expected. I read the first book just after Christmas last year because I thought the movie looked fun, and I’ve really enjoyed both the first and second books in the series. I finally watched the movie last night and I thoroughly enjoyed it (side note: I’m kind of in love with Alden Ehrenreich now. It’s fine.). For lovers of the teen fantasy/sci-fi romance genre, I would whole-heartedly recommend these books, not only for the entertaining story, but also because these books make some pretty great allusions to classic literature that just might spark your interest.


As of this posting, I’ve completed 40% of my 40 book goal for 2013. My current project: The Secret Garden, which will likely be followed by the next three Series of Unfortunate Events installments. Stay tuned!