First, moment of silence, because I did not finish the 52 books I set out to read in 2015 (I finished 44), so this post is clouded in a thin layer of shame. BUT, beyond that, it was not my best reading year. I read QUITE a few books I was not a fan of, that I actively eye-rolled my way through, and even more books I was just so-so about that once I got to the last page, I wanted to streamline a Netflix show instead of seeking out my next book to read. 2016, let's improve on all THAT, okay?
Regardless I read some real gems. Here are all the books I finished in 2015 and below are my top ten. These ten I either loved, really liked, could not put down until I finished, or just could not stop thinking about once I had.
(Spoiler note: I've included some top-level spoilers and favorite passages below, although I tried to be careful about spoiling the actual reading experience or specific plot points, of course, but if you're a reading purist, maybe tread lightly?)
Anyway! In no particular order, except for the last two, here we go:
I could not believe this book. It was INSANE and, in fact, I read a part of it while sharing a hotel room with a colleague on a work trip, and I kept saying aloud to her while reading it, "ADRIENNE, THIS IS INSANE." But, I also couldn't put it down. The writing was engrossing, and somehow the author created a main character that you hated but then didn't? It's hard to explain, other than to say terribly unsympathetic characters that an author somehow makes sympathetic (under, again, INSANE circumstances) interest me. I'm all in for interesting.
The sequel comes out this spring, and I've already pre-ordered it.
9. Lucky Us.
This was an unexpected gem, as it started pretty quiet. The writing was just lovely, though, and the story was so sad and uplifting, all at the same time. It's such a human book, telling stories of people who you feel actually lived out there somewhere, with real loves and losses. It's one of the books I've started gifting the readers in my life, which is always a sign of a book that really grabbed me. And while I loved so many of the book's passages (read some top ones here), I particularly loved this:
You know, the crisis passes, the crucible cools, and there we are, slightly improved, not much altered.
I read this basically in one sitting, on a plane ride back from California, and I cried as it ended and turned to Mike as I cried to say, "I just love when a book makes me feel like this."
(Don't worry. He's QUITE used to what weird things and in what weird places his wife is capable of crying at/in.)
I feel like it might be no longer cool to admit how much I enjoyed this book -- okay, not enjoyed, the book was supremely depressing, but was enthralled by? -- because it was THE book of 2015, in a lot of ways. (Goodreads agrees!) But, damn, I could not put this book down, and I cannot wait to see it as a movie.
Personal vent: I've softened on Gone Girl as time's gone by (I had big ole' issues with it after first reading), especially after seeing the movie and after thinking about Amy in these terms, making the book all the more interesting to me. All said, this is no slight on Gone Girl, I swear, but can we please stop comparing every single modern mystery with a flawed female main character to it? I get it, keyword search is big, but this book was solid all on its own, no need to compare it to a book in the same genre but otherwise completely different.
7. Station Eleven.
Hell is the absence of the people you long for.
This quote, from this book, is just one of those things that grabs you at just the right moment. I caught my breath on the plane, as I read this (I apparently read a lot of favorite books on planes; more trips for me, I guess).
And the book itself was just downright wonderful. Terrifying but hopeful, and I loved the parts of the book that gave us a look into the characters' backstories.
A book that felt not a far throw from what could actually happen to us, or what might actually happen to us, but a book surprisingly brimming with hope and heart and humanity.
I loved it.
To All the Boys I Loved Before was on my list last year, and the follow-up was just as charming and lovable. I really would read a dozen more books about Lara Jean.
These two books are everything I love about YA -- sweet and romantic and a little eye-rolly, sure, but mostly just refreshingly optimistic and lovely.
I feel like the CW should make this into a show. Or hire me to make it into a show.
I read the whole Raven Boys series this year and loved it all, but the third book (this one) was my favorite. I swooned over this book. It's certainly a different YA series. It's weird and supernatural-y and fantastical but also ... beautiful and real and pure.
I fell so in love with these characters, these friendships, the love stories weaved throughout all the characters, that I'm almost NERVOUS about reading the last book. Ohhhhh please let that book -- not end well, no way it's ending well -- end right. Just let it end right.
I've already briefly spoken (very bottom of that post, by the way!) about the beautiful scene that inspired my next tattoo, but it should also be said there's a scene in a car that's basically two characters touching fingers that was written with more sexual tension and believable feeling than 75% of the actual sex scenes I have read in my day. So if you're into straight-up ROMANCE that is not packaged as romance in the slightest, this weird series (and this particular book) might be for you.
This book. It was realistic, romantic, sweet, awful, sad, funny, and I ended the book being the characters' biggest cheerleaders because they could have been people you actually wanted to know and love and root for 15-20 years ago (hold me, I'm old).
Please more books about actual teenagers dealing with actual things like navigating relationships as a boy who just happens to be gay, with the focus on the teenager, not the issue. Let it be this inclusive moving forward, those out there who love to write books, and let us pick these books up and celebrate them as often as we can, those of us who love to read.
3. The Royal We.
I put off reading this book because a zillion years into being an active reader and I still think I know what I'll think of a book before I read it. SELF, YOU CAN BE DENSE. I thought, ohhhh I dunno, I'm not a huge Royals person (like, is Royals supposed to be capitalized? Not sure) and it sounds a little too fluffy for me.
I WATCH THE CW RELIGIOUSLY BUT SURE, THIS WAS SURE TO BE TOO FLUFFY.
It was long but only because it was so good I wanted to know how it ended 15 pages into it. I would have read 17 more books about Bex and Nick after it ended.
Look, if you don't enjoy romantic fiction, you probably won't enjoy this book but if you don't like the Royals and know little about William and Kate and THAT'S keeping you from reading this, read it immediately, let my idiocy be your teacher.
I don't know how to talk about this book. And I honestly don't know how to talk about the countless race issues facing our country today. Because they feel so big, and I feel so inadequately small, and I want to say a million things, and I fear they'll all be wrong.
But that's what this book gifted me, the desire to talk about all of this even if my words are messy and clunky and wrong. Because the only way to better anything so broken, like our country and our country's collective conversation and view on racism and racial issues is for people who care to keep on talking.
This should be required reading for all humans, front to back. There are endless quotes that should be studied, written on post-its, tattooed on bodies, because that's how important I feel this book will become to us one day, but here are a couple that I cried my way through reading (keeping in mind that this book was about race in America but also a letter to the author's son):
My wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.
It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.
Read this and read it immediately.
1. A Little Life.
(Trigger warnings are important, and I wish we had a better way to communicate them as I personally understand their worth. So please know this book is potentially full of triggers for physical and sexual abuse and also self-harm, and I encourage you to research the book further if you're considering reading it but are someone who struggles to read about those topics, in any way.)
Where the last book should change all of us, this book changed me. I read it, all 700+ pages of it, with a sob lodged in my throat. And I had to put it down so many times so I could give the sobs the time they needed. That sounds like a terrible endorsement for a book -- who really wants to sob their way through any book, let alone such a long one -- but don't misunderstand me. I am better and kinder and more open and more alert to other human beings because I read this book.
It's a masterpiece. It's unbelievably written. It's painful and terrible and horrible and you might ask yourself while reading, "Come now, are we expected to believe any one person could suffer so much?" and then you drop the book on your lap when you realize how silly that question is because, come now, how privileged are we to ever think this book captures the worst suffering a single person might endure.
And yet it still manages to be a beautiful love story, full of mighty love that can light up the darkest of hearts. This book showed me what it means to be loved for all our broken parts, in a way all the hundreds of books I've read before never did. Love is not an eraser but love sure doesn't know that. And seeing it try so desperately to fix, no matter how futile, is beautiful even if it's also tragic, and this book captured all of that.
I know this may sound silly, to anyone who doesn't fall in love with books and stories and words the way that I do, but I carry Jude with me every day, as fictional as he might be. Because, ultimately, I know that he isn't fictional at all.
His ghosts are out there, walking around, unnamed, and they need us to see them.