My Ideal Bookshelf

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

Snow Days

I couldn’t be happier to be writing this from the comfort of my bed, snuggled under a pile of blankets with snow falling outside my window. My semester got off to a busy start, so I thought I’d take this moment of reprieve to write a quick update of my pop culture life these days.

Books — School reading obviously takes precedent over any leisurely reading, but I’m still free enough that I’m able to maintain something for myself. After forging my way through a book of William Inge plays, I took a sharp turn to reading Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight, a fun teen novel about murder (I guess it doesn’t sound that funny, but it really is). My latest Southern lit reading assignment was Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, a super strange and darkly comic book chronicling the strange lives of a group in Depression-era rural Georgia. It’s a truly entertaining read. This past weekend I finished My Ideal Bookshelf, a collection of lists made by various celebrities of the handful of book they’d put on their “ideal” bookshelves. It was especially fun to read the lists of celebrities I like (like James Franco), and the book provided me with several books I’ve added to my own reading list.

Currently, I’m in the middle of reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and I’m enjoying the experience tremendously. I’ve also started Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time, a book I’m required to present about in one of my classes next month. This snow day (which just might turn into two snow days) is giving me the perfect opportunity to stay in and read guilt-free.

Movies — I’m well on my way with my 100 movie goal for 2015, having watched 23 new movies this year. Some recent favorites include the classic Pulp Fictionwhich I hadn’t seen until recently, and Still Alice, the movie for which Julianne Moore is likely to win an Oscar. Admittedly, I also got really into this Lifetime movie called Restless Virgins that I watched on Netflix, so I guess that should make the list as well. Sometimes you need something mindless to watch, I guess.

TV — I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so busy with TV-watching as I do now. I’m making pretty good progress on my rewatch of Lost (I’m currently watching episode 2×15), but I’m also kept very occupied by all the normal TV shows I watch that are airing. This list includes: Downton Abbey, Girls, Bob’s Burgers, Jane the Virgin, Parks and Recreation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Broad City, Scandal, Reign, and How to Get Away with Murder. It’s both sad and a little stress-relieving that Parks and Rec and How to Get Away with Murder will be ending in the coming weeks so my watch list can be pared down a bit. However, Bates Motel, Game of Thrones, and Veep will all be returning soon, so the madness continues, I suppose. For now, though, I’m content to stay in my bed and enjoy my cozy day inside.

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