Ian McEwan

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.

 

Life in 2015

In the gratuitous time of my winter break that feels approximately 8,000 weeks long, I’ve been fortunate to accomplish tons of reading and watching and sleeping and adventuring. My standard blog consists largely of reading updates, but I’ve also been doing other things as well (I’m so interesting!).

Unfortunately, the thing I’m probably doing most with my life these days is wallowing in self pity over the fact that I will not be attending the Sundance Film Festival this year. Exactly one year ago today was Opening Day of Sundance 2014, and it was the most glorious 10-day experience of my life. If you’ve encountered me in person or online since then, you’ve probably heard about it. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I know I’ll be reminiscing a lot in the days to come. One year ago today, for example, I saw my first celebrity of the festival, Joe Manganiellowhich immediately prompted my friend Lendee to burst into tears (our emotions were pretty crazy while we were there). We also saw Mark Ruffalo and Aaron Paul said “hello” to us. And that was just day one. If you’re interested, here are two posts I wrote last year about the Sundance experience. The first is an overview of what we did and the second is a list of miscellaneous rememberings two months after the fact.

Okay, now back to the present, where life isn’t nearly so exciting. So like the true TV-watching champion that I am, I’ve crossed six TV series off my list since finishing the semester in mid-December. To be fair, the longest of those shows (“Downton Abbey”) just meant finishing a few episodes and most of the other shows have been short, but still, I probably watch too much TV. Here are some quick reactions to what I’ve watched:

  • “Black Mirror” is pretty freaking depressing, but not necessarily in a bad way. For six episodes (on Netflix), it’s manageable, but I’m not sure I could handle much more. It’s an episodic show about the evils of technology in a modern/futuristic society. Upside: lots of good British actors who are always fun to watch.
  • “Broadchurch” is really good and disturbing. If you watched “Top of the Lake” and enjoyed it, give this a go (but the tone is definitely lighter on “Broadchurch”). The show is about the death of an 11-year-old boy in a small English seaside town and the ensuing murder investigation. Also, I watched an episode of the American version, “Gracepoint,” and don’t really see it’s purpose. If you’ve got Netflix access, go with the original.
  • “Olive Kitteridge” is a wonderful little miniseries that I really enjoyed. First of all, Frances McDormand is wonderful in the titular role, but basically all of the acting performances are great. The story is very character-driven, chronicling the lives of Olive and her husband over twenty-five years in a small town in Maine. There are some pretty great poop jokes in the third episode to watch for.
  • “Luther” IS GREAT. I think the world realizes already that Idris Elba is super hot, a fact confirmed from watching this show. However, I had no idea of my love for Ruth Wilson until watching her fantastic performance as Alice Morgan. Elba plays John Luther, a very talented London detective, and Wilson plays a criminal he tracks in the first episode, though their relationships develops a lot from this point. In three short seasons, the show develops lots of great ensemble cast members and features a few surprising character deaths. If you’re a fan of “Sherlock,” you’ll love “Luther.” If you aren’t a fan of “Sherlock,” you obviously haven’t watched the show and I do not wish to speak to you until you have, so get to work.
  • Finally, I finished “Inside Amy Schumer” yesterday. Meh. As my mom and roommate know, I struggled with this one. I marathoned the first season in one day and felt very unsure whether I wanted to continue. It’s so short! my brain said, followed by, But I also kind of hate it! After my internal battle, I decided to continue, but broke up the episodes more than I did with season 1. Season 2 is undoubtedly better, but the show still isn’t one I care much about. It’s a sketch comedy, so some sketches are good and some aren’t. I never found myself laughing aloud. It’s fine, but I doubt I’ll continue on that journey.
  • Now to my current TV projects: yesterday I started my long-anticipated rewatch of “Lost” which I haven’t watched since the show ended in 2010. Since it’s a longer project, I might also slide some shorter things in occasionally to break it up. My mom and I also started “The Affair” last night. I watched the pilot episode in September and wasn’t crazy about it, but after our newfound love of Ruth Wilson (not to mention the fact that she and the show won Golden Globes on Sunday), we’ve decided to give it a shot. After two episodes, I’m at least intrigued and want to keep watching.

Now we turn to movies. I’m currently ten movies deep into 2015, 10% of the way to my goal of seeing 100 new (to me) films this year. I’m doing my best to balance between award-nominated movies, clearing out my Netflix list, and catching up on missed movies at Redbox. You can see the full list on my 2015 Movie List page, but here are my biggest reactions:

  • Foxcatcher is a great, slow-burning movie with fantastic performances. I’m so happy Steve Carell made the cut for his first Oscar nomination.
  • Selma is beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s a real disappointment that David Oyelowo was overlooked for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, but in a year with lots of great performances, it’s an unfortunate truth.
  • I rented Calvary from Redbox because it was one I’d missed at Sundance last year, and I’m now happy I didn’t waste my time on it then. It’s a movie that lacks any certain tone and suffers from poor direction. It’s a pity to see a great cast in a clunker.
  • Pride, on the other hand, is a lovely little indie that’s full of joy. It tells the true story of an LGBT group in London who worked to raise money for a community of Welsh miners who were on strike under Margaret Thatcher’s government. I was pretty much in love with every guy in the movie, despite their being gay. Such is life, I suppose.
  • My last Redbox rental was The Maze Runner. I read the book series over the summer but didn’t see the movie, and I’d say waiting on the DVD release was just fine for me. I think it was a fine adaptation, but I don’t feel the need to rush to the theater for the next one.

To know what I’ve been reading, you can consult my recent blog posts, but my quick recommendations are as follows: Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Looking for Alaska by John Green, Sanctuary by William Faulkner, and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 

It’s not been the most eventful winter break (at least since my return from New York), but it has provided me with plenty of time to do what I do best. I plan to make the most of this time before my unfortunate return to the real world next week.

On Chesil Beach

Book #8: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

Again, I really didn’t expect to be writing so soon, but the fact that I can speaks for how busy I’ve been lately (by which I mean not at all). I’ve started Nick Offerman’s memoir, but since it’s not exactly plot-driven (and I find his writing style a bit tedious), I’m looking at it as a longer term reading project that can be accompanied by other things.

So last night, since I didn’t feel much like delving into Offerman’s book, I grabbed On Chesil Beach off my bookshelf. I just purchased this book last week, but it looked like a quick read and I really enjoyed reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement in November, so I thought I’d give it a go.

About 12 hours later, I finished the book (though I didn’t read it straight through). It took no time to read, but that doesn’t mean there’s no depth to the book; it’s heartbreaking and frustrating and funny and upsetting.

Essentially, the book is a scrutinizing look at just a few hours in the lives of Florence and Edward, a couple who married earlier in the day. The book begins with them sitting to eat dinner at the hotel where they’ll be staying on their wedding night, and both characters have anxieties about consummating their marriage (though their anxieties are quite different).

The book features almost zero dialogue, instead offering glimpses at the inner workings of the couple’s minds as they reach an important moment in their marriage. Without giving anything away, if this book doesn’t make you consider your own relationships and how you communicate, I don’t know what will.

Year in Review: Top 10 Books of 2014

Lists are very important to me, so I always get really excited at the end of the year when I can revisit all the reading and TV bingeing I’ve done. That being said, here are my 10 favorite reads of 2014. Considering I hit 90 books and plays for the year just a few days ago, this wasn’t so easy to narrow down.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre was the perfect way to begin my 2014 reading. Not only did I truly love this book, I also find it personally satisfying that such an important novel was the first thing I read in the new year. It makes me feel like a real English student. It’s a lovely, beautifully written book that I highly recommend, particularly to young women.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill

Few plays in American drama are as deeply personal as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play based completely on O’Neill’s own family. O’Neill was basically the great savior of American drama in the early-20th century, so he should be at the top of your reading list, and so should this moving, deeply personal play.

Tea and Sympathy, Robert Anderson

I really wish I could explain why I loved this play so much, but I don’t really know why I do. I read Tea and Sympathy for a class, and though I’d never heard of it before, I absolutely loved it (though again, I don’t really have a reason why). It’s a sweet (and slightly scandalous) story of life in a boys boarding school that deals primarily with sexuality and isolation. If nothing else, the fact that it was written in the 1950s and deals with such risqué subject matter should be enough reason to intrigue you.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

I might be a bit partial toward Of Mice and Men since I saw it on Broadway in May, but I also really, really love the novella. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you, and I think it was a perfect introduction into Steinbeck’s writing. I’m looking forward to expanding my Steinbeck knowledge in 2015.

The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman

The Laramie Project is another story that sticks with you. It’s told in a documentarian style about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. I really hope people are still aware of the story, especially because it’s an important reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of social justice in just the past decades.

Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

Though my overall experience in my Shakespeare course this fall was far from fulfilling, I’m certainly happy to have been exposed to some of Shakespeare’s best works (this is my glass-half-full approach toward this unfortunate class). I saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre in 2011, so I was very excited to read it for myself. The story is sweet and funny, and definitely one of my favorites as far as Shakespearean comedies are concerned.

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

Despite all the ridiculous (in my opinion) controversy that’s surrounded Dunham’s book since it was released a few months ago, it was still one of my favorite reads this year. As far as I’m concerned, Dunham’s memoir is exactly what I expected it to be, and more than anything, it makes me sad to know that she’s suffered with such anxiety in the past (but I’m also really happy she’s in a better place now).

Yes Please, Amy Poehler

It’s rare for me to read any nonfiction outside of required reading, but 2014’s surge of celebrity memoirs that I was interested in changed that fact. Amy Poehler is one of my favorite people on television, so it was of course important that I read her book. She’s just as charming and funny as you’d expect, so read it if you like her like I do.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

I’ve been generally slow on the Atonement uptake; I only watched the movie in the summer of 2013, so it seemed appropriate that I read the novel this year. I usually find British things very calming, so it was helpful to read Atonement during a busy point in my semester (but spoiler alert: this isn’t exactly a happy story).

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

Attachments was the last book I read (though I hope to finish at least one more before the end of 2014), so I’m happy I loved it enough to put it on this list. Attachments was the third Rainbow Rowell book I read in 2014, and it’s the perfect kind of light, sweet, romantic story for ending the year on a high note.

Ending 2014 having read over 90 books is something I never expected, but I’m always happy to expand my literary knowledge. Here’s hoping 2015 is equally successful!

Atonement

Book #83: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

You may have noticed that my book number has jumped a bit since my last post — I decided not to write on a few of my readings (mostly because they were school assignments), but if you interested in seeing what I’ve read, take a look at my 2014 reading list.

Atonement was one of the original sixteen novels on my reading list at the beginning of 2014, so I’m happy I was able to cross it off. I watched the movie in the summer of 2013 and I loved it, so it was only a matter of time before delving into the novel.

The story is told from multiple perspectives and across a wide range of time, but it primarily deals with the time surrounding World War II in England, focusing on the lives of the Tallis family. The first section of the novel follows the course of a single summer day that irrevocably changed the lives of the Tallises and those around them (I realize this is vague, but I don’t want to ruin the story for those who don’t know it).

Generally, I found this to be a delightful (if not upsetting) read, and it’s been a great distraction from the many things I have due before the end of the semester. I particularly appreciate McEwan’s ability to write from inside the mind of a thirteen-year-old girl; Briony’s voice rings very true to a reader who remembers the strangeness of adolescence.

Like I said, I’m busy with finishing up my schoolwork, but I’m looking forward to more free time I can inevitably fill with leisurely reading and shameless TV marathons. Enjoy the last moments of this Thanksgiving holiday; Christmas — and vacation — are just weeks away!