Gillian Flynn

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
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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.

 

Summer Entertainment Update

Since I’m in this weird in-between time of having graduated but not started the next phase of my life (a.k.a grad school), I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands. Since I have a degree in Pop Culture Studies, however, it’s not too difficult for me to find ways to occupy my time; there are plenty of books and movies and TV shows to keep me quite busy. I posted a similar entry like this recently, but enough has changed that I thought it would be fun to update again. Here we go!

TV — I have been on a roll of TV binge-watching. Since my last post, I’ve started and completed two separate series, and almost completed a full season of another show. My first TV project was Enlightened, the HBO dramedy that ran from 2011-2013 and starred Laura Dern. I enjoyed the show to an extent, but it really doesn’t surprise me that the show was canceled. Laura Dern gives a fantastic performance as the narcissistic do-gooder Amy, but the show in general felt a bit confused at times. The pacing is rather slow, and I often found the voice over narration to be  annoying and slightly incompatible with the reality of Amy’s character. The three episodes of the show’s eighteen that follow three of the supporting characters were also pretty annoying in my opinion, though I did enjoy getting Tyler’s (Mike White, who also co-created the show and wrote/directed most of the episodes) back story. I felt like the concept of the show was good, but it wasn’t entirely flushed out.

As of just a few minutes ago, I also finished Showtime’s Penny Dreadfulan show that takes an interesting approach to representing a combination of the supernatural and famous literary figures. Among the show’s primary characters are Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his Monster, and a version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though this is more obvious in the characters of Mina and Van Helsing. I really enjoyed the first two episodes of the series, but it definitely had its ups and downs overall. Personally, I dislike Frankenstein’s character (I also kind of hate the novel), so I didn’t find his story very interesting. Like Enlightened, the plot moves rather slowly at times, and overall, the progress of the plot across the first season’s eight episodes is very minimal. I’m intrigued enough, though, that I imagine I’ll tune in for season two whenever it happens.

As for my other TV projects, I’m just a few episodes short of finishing season seven of Seinfeldso just two more seasons to go before I’ve completed it (hooray!). I’m a really big fan of crossing things off my list, so it feels important to make significant progress on a long project. My mom and I have also picked back up with Showtime’s Masters of SexI watched all but the final two episodes during season one, but I’m backtracking to get her caught up too. Once we’re caught up on that I’m sure we’ll return to The Sopranossince I’m rather embarrassed to say that we’ve still only watched the pilot episode.

Books — My reading projects haven’t been too eventful since my last post, but that’s probably because I’ve dedicated so much time to watching TV. After finishing The Marriage PlotI reread Gone Girlwhich was once again a thrilling experience. After that, I started reading Jane Austen’s Emmawhich I’m about one-third of the way through. I’m slowly realizing that I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan, and since I watched the film adaptation of this novel a few months ago, I’m having a hard time motivating myself to keep reading. I’m trying to meet a goal of reading 20 pages of it a day; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. To keep myself reading, I also started The Scorch Trialsthe second book in The Maze Runner trilogy. Of course, my problem now is that I’m getting more into this book and not spending as much time reading Emma. This week, though, I want to do my best to make good progress on them both, and I’m sure I’ll finish The Scorch Trial in the next day or two.

Movies — All my TV-watching kind of means that my movie-watching has been neglected. My goal of watching 125 movies this year is starting to be a bit more challenging; I need to watch 10 movies a month to stay on track, and I’m still 9 movies ahead, but I’m usually better off than that. Since my TV projects aren’t so numerous now, I’m going to try to get through some of my Netflix list to raise my movie quota. The last movie I watched was Happy Christmasanother of my Sundance favorites. Unfortunately, the fact that I saw it in January didn’t really help me keep my movie list growing. (Obviously these are really silly things to worry about since this is a self-inflicted kind of issue that has no real consequence, but I take this stuff seriously.)

Anyway, I’m setting myself a few pop culture goals for the week: finish one of my two books, finish season seven of Seinfeld, catch up on Masters of Sex, and watch two movies. Here’s to another productive week of entertainment!

Gone Girl

Book #56: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Though I’d previously read Gone Girl when it was first released in 2012, I thought it would be fun to revisit it before the David Fincher’s film adaptation is released this fall. I’m so very glad I reread this incredibly twisted and deeply entertaining novel. When I first read the book, I was the only person in my group of friends and family to have read it, and I was dying to have someone to discuss it with. Thankfully, my copy has made its way around, so I no longer feel like I’m bursting with information about it.

I don’t want to give much away about the story if you’ve not read it, but it’s fair the say that this book primarily follows the life of Nick Dunne, a man facing the disappearance of his wife, Amy, whose voice is also present in the alternating chapters through diary entries. (My description here only really touches on Part 1 of the book, but I can’t go further without spoiling something.) Suffice it to say that I was on the edge of my seat through this novel, both the first and second times reading it. Flynn does a fantastic job of making readers want more from her characters to the point that it’s very difficult to put this book down.

It was very interesting to read this novel for a second time and pick up on details that seem irrelevant until you know the outcome of the story. My only complaint was that it’s just not as fun to read it when you know how things end; if only I could return to the state of oblivion I was in when I first read it. Despite this fact, though, I’m still a huge fan of the book and can’t wait to see what David Fincher does to put this story on screen.

The Marriage Plot

Book #55: The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot

 

Okay, first of all, I have to say that I was probably a bit biased when I started reading this book because I knew my friend Ryan had some pretty serious frustrations about it. Unfortunately, I felt pretty much the same, though I may have liked the book a bit more than he did.

Since the book begins the day of Madeleine’s college graduation from Brown University, I expected that I’d feel kind of connected to the story, having graduated from college myself just over a month ago. However, I quickly realized that the differences between me and Ivy League students are vast, at least according to Eugenides’s descriptions. Madeleine comes from a wealthy family and feels put out by the fact that she has to entertain her parents for a bit before graduation. She’s recovering from a break up with a boyfriend who unfortunately becomes a major player in the book (I couldn’t stand Leonard as a character, so I really didn’t enjoy his parts of the book). The Marriage Plot isn’t really about anything specific; it follows the lives of two or three primary characters as they try to find themselves post-graduation.

I think I would have enjoyed this novel far more if I didn’t feel like Eugenides took major detours from the actual story to provide totally unnecessary details about various topics, from religion to Brown faculty members to scientific topics I don’t understand. Though these were vaguely relevant to the story, I mostly found these sections boring, and they seemed to me to be Eugenides’s way to prove his intelligence to readers. Not my thing.

In the end, I did find myself caring about the fates of Madeleine and Mitchell, the two characters I was most interested in, and I was happy to see that the book’s conclusion revolved around these two. I’m very happy to be done with The Marriage Plot after having devoted a week of my summer to reading it, and I’m very excited to be moving on to my reread of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a book I know I love. Oh well. You live and learn, I guess.