2015: Year in Books

OK, I know this is a running blog, but I’ve been inspired by Angela and bt to write about the books I’ve read. I’m always looking for suggestions too, so please feel free to list your favorites in the comments!

In 2014, I finally started using my Goodreads account in earnest (you can find my page here). I’ve found that it’s a great way to keep track of books I’ve read and intend to read, as well as see what my friends are reading and get a sense of how their literary tastes might match with mine. Goodreads also has an annual challenge where you can set a goal to read a certain number of books by the end of the year. Having read* 21 books in 2014, I aimed to read 30 books in 2015.
(*Note: “reading” for me includes both audiobooks and actual printed books.)

How did I do? Well, I fell way short of my goal and only finished 23 books. However, in my defense, I also did a decent job keeping up with the weekly The New Yorker, gifted to me by my generous sister. As anyone who has subscribed to The New Yorker knows, it’s easy to let them pile up, and one of my goals in 2015 was to stay current and read each issue as they came in. The good news is that I did a decent job reading almost all of them; the bad news is that it left a lot less time to read actual books. Is that a good enough excuse? 😉 Now that my subscription has run out, I’m hopeful that 30 books in 2016 will be a more reasonable and achievable goal.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2015:Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.13.21 AM.png

Top of the bunch (4-5 stars):

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This was by far the best, but most painful to read book I’ve encountered in ages. While I was reading it, I kept turning to the Gypsy Runner and saying, “I’m so depressed by this book…but I can’t stop reading it.”
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. A friend had recommended this to me last year, and with the movie coming out, I finally jumped on it. I finished it in 4 days and I loved every nerdy moment. It’s awesome to read a thriller where the hero is a scientist and solves issues with his brains and not with brawn.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I had been planning to read this for a long time, but I knew it was going to be depressing, so I put it off. As expected, reading about slums and abject poverty in India is quite depressing, but I also found it well-researched and well-written.
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I didn’t know that much about Hemingway or life in Paris in the 1920’s, so I thought this book was quite enjoyable and enlightening, even if the language got a bit repetitive.
  • Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Think Gone Girl, but British and with a female protagonist that’s very flawed yet likable (sometimes). Not a literary masterpiece, but well-done and a quick, fun read.
  • Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner. #runnerdalert. I thought this was very good for a “how-to”/training manual. It did feel like a field guide, and a resource that can be used by novices and experts alike. Koerner comes across very likable as well.

Middle of the pack (3-stars):

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I resisted this book for a long time, but it was on a shared Kindle account, so I figured I’d give it a try. The plot was entertaining, if a bit preposterous.
  • Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was NOT a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but I was intrigued by this analysis of the history of Western marriage. Gilbert presents some very surprising (to me) facts, while weaving in her own personal feelings about matrimony, to which I could definitely relate. In the end, though, I was disappointed and unconvinced by her reason to get remarried (that marriage is the ultimate act of rebellion and sedition against the government).
  • The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein. A short novel with interesting characters, setting, and plot, but I came away without a lasting impression or emotional connection.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I can see why this is a classic. And given when it was written, I can also see how this was a trailblazer in its day…but it feels dated, precisely because so many have copied Vonnegut’s style. A victim of its own success?
  • Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I LOL’ed so many times while reading this memoir. If you love random, “what the hell just happened?”-type of humor, I highly recommend this book.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I started this book thinking it would be another Bossypants, but I quickly realized that Amy Poehler is not Tina Fey 2.0, in a good way. Even though it wasn’t as LOL-funny as other comedian memoirs, I felt like Ms. Poehler actually shared intimate details with her readers about how she REALLY feels about things. Example: the chapter she wrote about her sons is really heartfelt and touching. I may or may not have cried.
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I was annoyed at the name-dropping and the scattered “story telling” (if you can call it that), but I do think it raises a lot important questions for men and women alike about gender equity in the workplace and beyond.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. A novel that could have simply been a standard tear-jerker somehow stays above the fray. There’s enough “stock characters” that it was easy to envision the Hollywood version as I was reading it, but the main character’s voice rings true. Warning: I couldn’t read the last chapters on BART for fear of sobbing during my morning commute.
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers. An interesting premise that doesn’t quite deliver: a Facebook/Google/Amazon-like super conglomerate takes over the hearts and minds of Americans in the very near-future. I found myself annoyed with the protagonist, but invested in the plot.
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (audiobook). I actually liked the book better than the TV series, but I know a lot of people would disagree. I think it’s because the real-life Piper is more likable than her TV doppelgänger.
  • M-Train by Patti Smith (audiobook). Let’s be honest: if Patti Smith had a podcast where all she did was read her grocery list aloud, I’d probably subscribe to it. To say that she has a mesmerizing voice is an understatement. M-Train isn’t nearly as good as her earlier memoir, Just Kids, but it still has its moments.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. At first I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, then I got annoyed, and by the end, I was *really* annoyed. Plus, it was super long. (Why did I rate this 3-stars again??)

Bottom of the pile (2-stars):

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. I hated the first part, liked the middle portion, and felt “meh” about the ending. It was too long – that’s what pushed this from 3- down to 2- stars for me.
  • Stone Mattress: Nine Stories by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is one of my favorite authors, but I think I like her novels better, when she’s has the space to develop characters and plot.
  • Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. Hugely disappointing and forgettable.
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. I rolled my eyes a lot at this book and all of its clichés. (See what I did there?) The author may have accomplished a lot, but he sure is a know-it-all.
  • The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly. This is more like a long short story, or an extremely short novel, so I’m not sure it counts as a book? This was another story filled with tropes (recovering addict, finds redemption in running long distance, blah blah blah) — which might have been fine with me except it was 90%, “Hey, I was a cool guy that struggled a lot with drugs, alcohol, and women” and only 10%, “Running is cool.” But at least it was only 60 pages.

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Book review, Books
11 comments on “2015: Year in Books
  1. Cathryn says:

    Ha…Rich Roll is SO full of himself!!!

    Good recs, thank you. I’ll try the Paris Wife…have you watched ‘Midnight in Paris”? It’s one of my fave movies and I think Hemingway turns up in that too!

  2. Layla says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! I added a few to my list — lists, actually, since I’m also on the audio book train now.

  3. Grace says:

    Oh god, I thought I was the only one who felt that way about Rich Roll!! I have to read A Little Life. I was at the library the other day and blanked on both the title and the author, because I am an absent-minded genius.

    Also, if you liked Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you might also like (appreciate – also depressing) Robert Neuwirth’s Shadow Cities – it’s a broader look at the shadow economy.

    • Jen says:

      Re: A Little Life — I can’t ever remember the author’s name either! Whenever I told anyone about it, I’d have to Google it on my iPhone. Thanks for the rec for Shadow Cities…though given how long it took me to finally start reading Beautiful Forevers, I might not read it for a couple more years. 🙂

  4. bt says:

    Great stuff here. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Angela says:

    Heh, that is exactly what everyone I know who has read A Little Life has said, and exactly why I’m afraid to read it! (I really hate depressing books, yet many of them have been among the best books I’ve ever read.)

    • Jen says:

      Yeah, it helped that I had not realized how depressing it would be until I was totally immersed in it! Sometimes it’s good not to know too much about a book before I start… 🙂

  6. […] feature of Goodreads is setting annual reading challenges. Last year, my goal was 30 books, but I only read 23 since I also had a New Yorker magazine subscription. For 2016, I decided to try for 30 books again. […]

  7. […] year, they have a book challenge. For the past two years, I’ve pledged to read 30 books. In 2015, I didn’t quite make my goal and ended the year with 23 books. In my defense, I did have a […]

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