Thursday, December 31, 2015

Our Favorite Reads of 2015

After seeing a slew of articles circulating the interwebs titled "The Best Books of 2015," etc., we knew that we needed to do our own. We've had quite a productive reading year! Charlotte read over 30 books, and Liz read 16! We've read some really crap books, but, more importantly, we've read some truly excellent books that will stay with us for years to come. Here's each of our top five for 2015!

Charlotte's Top 5 Books of 2015

5. The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

Okay, okay. This is technically five books. I’ve reviewed three of them so far: one, two, and three. They weren’t the most spectacular books I’ve ever read, but they left a mark. I can always dig a book about rebellion, about ending oppression, about equal rights. I enjoyed this myself, and I know it’s something I can share with the tiny humans in my life: siblings, nieces and nephews, my own kids one day. Books that teach kids about these things make me happy. 

4. The Martian by Andy Weir

Now, this was a damn good book. An astronaut gets stranded on Mars after his crew mistakenly thought he was dead. It’s a story of survival and resilience and the worth of human life. Without giving much away, I’ll say that our protagonist must try and stay alive and his team, as well as hundreds or thousands of people on earth, need to figure out if there’s any way to save him.

I loved this book a lot. It was thrilling yet smart. There are some books I just devour, but they don’t make me think much. This book is jam packed with science and logic but is written in such a way that those of us without degrees in rocket science can still understand it. It’s a real adventure. It’s one of my favorites for the year because it kept my adrenaline pumping; I couldn’t put it down.

3. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
I wouldn’t necessarily call this a crucial book, but if you’re looking for something from a female role model who doesn’t fuck around, this is a great place to start. I loved it because it was hilarious, but I also gleaned some insight from Kaling’s experiences. Her first book was also terrific, but this offered a more grown up attitude while maintaining fast paced humor. I’ve been a fan of Mindy Kaling for a while, and I hope she never stops writing books. This book is top five for the many, many laughs as well as the insights. Highly recommend. (And I reviewed it here.)

2. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I haven’t reviewed this book yet, but I did write a few things about it in this post.

Gretchen Rubin is my favorite author for this genre. She combines research, history, and experience to form really great advice to change habits. This book left me feeling more optimistic about my chances to actually improve and gave advice that was actually possible to implement.

And finally, my best book of the year:

1. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Just, let’s not get me started on this book again. It’s phenomenal. The writing is unbelievably good, the stories are terrific. I couldn’t put it down. The writing will just blow you away. I reviewed it here and I talked about it a bit more on my personal blog right here.

Liz's Top 5 Books of 2015

When Charlotte and I were discussing this post the first thing she said to me was “so your entire list will be Murakami.” HAHA, CHAR. VERY FUNNY. While she’s spot on, 2015 became the year I discovered Murakami and he became one of my favorite authors, my top 5 is not all Murakami. This list is compiled of the books I read this year that will be the books that stick with me for years to come- the ones I’ll bring up in conversation (and constantly recommend), the ones I’ll think of when I’m reading a different book that shares a similar element, and the ones that drew intense feelings and thoughts from within me.

5) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre was a pleasant surprise (I was wary given my bad history with other novels of the same period). While I haven’t seen any film depictions of the novel, I assume they focus almost wholly on Jane’s relationship with Rochester, but Jane Eyre is not a romance novel. Jane Eyre is a survivor, a woman that bucks the norms of her time, strong willed, intelligent, and honest. Jane Eyre is entitled after the main character because it’s about her life, and her life is more than just the man she ends up falling in love with. It is about the abusive household she was raised in and survived through, how she came into her own at a strict and unforgiving boarding school and the important relationships she built while there, how she questioned women’s preordained roles in society and challenged them on the basis that women have the same wants and skills as men, and finally, how she found true love despite trying circumstances that would ordinarily keep two people apart.

From the beautiful writing to the themes that still hold true today, Jane Eyre as a novel, and as a character, will stick with me for years to come.

4) 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I was torn between including 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore for this list. As I’ve written before, Kafka on the Shore is the Murakami novel that pieced together the puzzle for me- it’s the novel that made me finally feel like I was starting to truly understand what Murakami is all about. But it’s 1Q84 that has made my list because it’s the first Murakami novel I read. As I’ve continued to read Murakami novels, and even works by others, 1Q84 frequently comes to mind. 1Q84 was, in some ways, a challenging novel as an introduction to Murakami’s works, but as I’ve continued to read his novels, I gain a better understanding of 1Q84 as I reflect on it.

1Q84 is a combination of a dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy, and love story all wrapped into one novel. The story follows Aomame and Tengo as they navigate some kind of parallel universe, which Aomame calls 1Q84. As they try to figure out this strange new world, Aomame’s and Tengo’s paths eventually come closer and closer together. Aomame has become one of my favorite female literary characters, and as I’ve read more of Murakami’s novels, I would argue that Aomame is the strongest female character he has ever written.

1Q84 is complex, fantastical, confusing, and both heartbreaking and beautiful, which is why it makes my top five of 2015.

3) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If I could only choose one word to describe The Handmaid’s Tale it would be “terrifying.” Published in 1985, this dystopian novel is frighteningly relevant to today. In the future, a supposed terrorist attack takes place (blamed on Islamic extremists) that ends up killing the President of the United States and most of congress. This gives the opportunity for a religious extremist group, the “Sons of Jacob,” to put forth a revolution and take over the government. This new world strips women of all human rights and creates new class divisions. The story is shared by the protagonist, Offred, a handmaid that was assigned to the household of Fred (thus her name, Offred). Due to declining birth rates, Handmaids are assigned to upper class households for  reproductive purposes.

Through flashbacks of Offred’s life prior to and after the revolution, we are introduced to a world of rampant pollution, sexism, and religious extremism. This book is one of my favorite reads of 2015 because, especially given the dialogue that has taken place during this presidential election season, it’s themes of environmental degradation, the desire of men to control women’s lives and bodies, and class warfare are more important to understand than ever. Atwood’s novel is not a cautionary tale about our future- it’s a warning about the present.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards bring you down.

2) A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

For those of you who are familiar with Doctor Who, you probably will recall one of the Doctor’s famous lines about the nature of time: “Time isn’t a straight line...time is more like wibbly wobbly...stuff.” A Tale for the Time Being is a superb novel that will make you question the nature of time and how we are all connected.
This novel is told through the narrative of Nao, a teenager who was born in California that is forced to move to Japan, where her family is originally from, when her father loses his job, and Ruth, a Japanese-American writer who lives on a small island off the coast of British Columbia. Nao’s story is told through her diary, and Ruth’s story is told as she is reading Nao’s diary, which she finds one day on the beach. As an American, Nao is treated by her peers as a foreigner, and consequently she is relentlessly bullied while she is in Japan. Her father struggles to find a job and is thrown into a deep depression. After he tries to commit suicide numerous times, Nao’s own mental health is greatly impacted. Ruth finds Nao’s diary while she is in the middle of severe writer’s block. Nao's diary takes Ruth on a crucial journey to possibly save Nao, while also saving herself. While Ruth and Nao's stories are on different timelines, the two are connected both literally and figuratively in ways that, at times, will boggle your mind.
Thrilling, thought-provoking, and emotional- this novel will stand the test of time for me.
1) Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood, which I recently reviewed at length, is my favorite book of the year. Beautifully written, touching, and relatable, I could hardly put this book down. Murakami’s insightful words on death and the importance of love leave a lasting impression. As someone who has experienced death, when I read Toru’s thoughts as he was trying to understand death himself, I thought “yes, exactly, this is precisely what this is like.” This book is not only a favorite for this year, but possibly one of my all-time favorites because when I recall this novel, all the feelings it gave me come flooding back.

Liz & Char

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