My Top Ten Books of 2015!

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I love making book lists (as is very obvious from this blog) and one of my favorite lists to make every year is the top ten books I’ve read over the past year. To be clear, these weren’t all published in 2015 (although a couple of them were). So, here they are–my favorite reads of 2015, some of which will join the all-time favorite book list or the list of authors that

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 5 stars

I’m typically more of a science fiction/fantasy reader, but my number-one read of 2015 turned out to be an intensely relevant realistic fiction book. Americanah is about race, identity, alienation, and finding your place in the world–and it’s also a love story. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking, and I plan to read one of Adichie’s earlier books, Half of a Yellow Sun, in 2016.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – 5 stars

Another realistic fiction read! Although technically it’s less realistic than most, since it does deal with a family that raises a chimpanzee as a child. It’s a premise that doesn’t seem like it could be taken seriously, but it was the most heart-wrenching book I read this year. Told from the perspective of one of the family’s human children who is in college years after the experiment that brought Fern, the chimpanzee, into her family’s life, I dare you to read this book and not cry. It makes you think about ethics and what it means to be human, and the ways in which our families shape us.

3. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – 5 stars

I’m a huge N.K. Jemisin fan and have read and loved both of her previous series (the Inheritance trilogy and the Dreamblood duology), so the first book in her new series was an instant buy for me when it came out this summer. Her worldbuilding is so impressive–her planet of successive disaster events and earth-mages is intricately planned, and none of the three separate stories told within the book went in the directions I’d predicted. It was a perfect creative fantasy, and I’m anxious for book 2 to come out next summer.

4. Ragnarök The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt – 5 stars

I was really not expecting to love this book the way I did. It was a random find at a library book sale that turned out to be part of the Canongate Myths series. It’s a testament to the power of myth, and deals with a young child in England during World War II reading Norse mythology, which helps her to better comprehend the horrors of war.

5. Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) by Leigh Bardugo Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – 4.5 stars

One of two absolutely fantastic YA reads this year. Six of Crows is an adventure that’s also moving, it’s exciting but it also really makes you care about each of its characters. In particular, Kaz, the mysterious gang leader at the heart of the book’s caper, is one of my favorite characters of the year. It’s been described as a magical Ocean’s Eleven, and that’s not too far off. I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself, but I can’t wait for book 2 to come out in 2016 and I really hope all of the characters find what they’re looking for.

6. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – 4.25 stars

Carry On is a special, special book. It’s a love letter to Harry Potter that doesn’t hesitate to point out the book’s flaws. It’s also a really beautiful YA romance, one of the best I’ve ever read. I read this one during the Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon, and I’m glad that I had planned in advance to spend all day reading that book, or else I definitely would have canceled whatever plans I’d had and done it anyways.

7. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins – 4.25 stars

Super creative fantasy/scifi/horror that managed to be both disturbing and hilarious.

8. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – 4.25 stars

Beautifully written book taking place right before, during, and after a flu pandemic and celebrating the importance of art.

9. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – 4.25 stars

It took me way too long to get to this book–I loved the creative structure and was so impressed that the author was able to inhabit so many different voices.

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – 4 stars

Haunting and beautifully written. The pacing was strange, but the book had so many moments of beauty, and the ending was perfectly done.

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Reading Goals for 2016

I may be a little early with this post, but as 2015 winds down and I begin to analyze my reading over the past year, I can’t help but look ahead to what I’d like to do differently once we hit January 1st. I’ve never been big on the idea of resolutions, because it seems too arbitrary, but I like the idea instead of setting goals. Resolutions are mandates, lines in the sand that make you a disappointment if you don’t stick to them (not that anyone ever does past the third week of January), but goals are inspirational and motivational. They’re encouraging rather than mocking. So, in the spirit of finding new areas of reading inspiration, here are my reading goals for 2016.

1.) Read more long books.

I love long books. I have the “I like big books and I cannot lie” mug to prove it. There is no better feeling than the arm strain associated with complete immersion in a giant book that you never want to end. But sometimes it’s hard to start a long book, because it means committing yourself to something for an extended period of time–there’s always the fear that it’ll be a lot of your precious reading time devoted to a book that wasn’t worth your while. This year, I’ll ditch the fear and dive into as many doorstopper books as I can. Particular book I have in mind: Little, Big by John Crowley.

2.) Read some older books, including at least two classics.

Goodreads has really helped how I analyze my reading. There’s a fun little tool that lets you analyze your reading year to year by number of books, number of pages…and the year books are published. When I took a look at mine, I was extremely embarassed–prior to reading Northanger Abbey last month for a reading challenge, the oldest book I’d read since 2009 was We Have Always Lived in the Castle, published in 1962. Even worse, the vast majority of my reading had been of books published during the 2000s. I like reading new books, and I’ve had some amazing reads, but I think in 2016 I need to think more about reading backwards in time as well. At least for a few of my picks. I also am a bit behind on my classics reading; I read a ton of classics in high school, but I haven’t returned much to the genre since then. Particular book I have in mind: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

3.) Make a dent in my TBR shelf.

My TBR shelf is out of control. It’s been out of control for awhile, but now it has morphed from one single shelf to a jam-packed shelf plus a breakfast bar covered in books, plus several stacks of unread books in my closet. There are a lot of factors at work here: my love for library used book sales; my love of libraries in general that causes me to check out new books rather than reading what I already have; and my love of buying books that I either think I’ll love or that I’ve already read and are meaningful to me. But in 2016, I need to get down to business and read the books I have. I won’t ban myself from buying new books, because I physically cannot do that, but I’ll at least try to reduce the unread pile substantially.

4.) Read more books I think I will love, and fewer books I think I will like.

Sometimes I don’t pick up a book looking to find my next favorite. Sometimes I pick up a book because it seems like it will be a decent, fast read. And this is okay once in awhile, but I feel I did this a few times too many in 2015 and ended up with too high a percentage of two-star books that come out of me picking up a book and thinking, hey, this could be an okay guilty pleasure read. (examples? I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this year I read both I’m Not Here to Make Friends by Courtney Robertson, a memoir detailing her time on The Bachelor, and Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison, about her life before, during, and after The Girls Next Door. Yeah. I’m not super proud about this.) In 2016, I want to avoid the lazy reading feeling that leads to two-star books, and focus more on books that I’ve been excited to read for a very long time because I have a strong feeling they could enter the favorites list. Particular book I have in mind: The Just City by Jo Walton.

5.) Discover new favorite authors.

I, like everyone, have several authors that I consider my favorites (Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Jose Saramago, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Ilona Andrews, Lev Grossman, etc) and while I will happily devour new books by these authors as quickly as I can buy them, this year I’d like to add some new names to the list. This year I discovered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie after reading and loving Americanah, and I plan to hit Half of a Yellow Sun hard in 2016, but I’d like to add at least one new name to the “favorites” list in 2016, or at least strive towards then. In addition, it seems criminal that I have never read a book by Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Jo Walton, or Jonathan Franzen, and books by each of these authors are currently sitting on my TBR shelf, mocking me. Particular book I have in mind: White Teeth.

6.) Read books I haven’t read by authors I know I love.

There are a lot of authors whose books I’ve completely loved, but I haven’t yet gotten around to checking out any additional books by them yet. (See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, above). 2016 is when I fix this! I’m thinking in particular about picking up The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (I loved Never Let Me Go), 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (I enjoyed the strangeness of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Dawn and Parable of the Sower are two of my absolute favorite books), and The Passion by A.S. Byatt (this year I read Ragnarok, one of the Canongate myths series, which was so beautiful and thought-provoking that I went crazy and bought two more books by Byatt).

7.) Participate in at least one Dewey’s Readathon.

This year was my first time doing a Readathon, and I absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic excuse to escape into books for the day and abandon outside stress. The thing is, I didn’t plan for it very far in advance–I read about it online about a week before the event and it was pure luck that I didn’t have to work that day. So in 2016, I want to schedule my Readathons early and block off those Saturdays so that I can be sure to participate in them again. And try to blog more during the Readathon next time, as well!

8.) Continue with my favorite book series.

Some people like to wait until an entire series is published before starting it. I am not one of these people. I am not nearly patient enough for that. I rely on new books to distract me in between series installments. That also means that every year there are plenty of great new releases to look forward to. In 2016 I’m beyond excited for Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews, the ninth Kate Daniels book; N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, the sequel to The Fifth Season and the second book in her Broken Earth series; Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, the follow-up to the stellar Six of Crows; and A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas’s sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Complete!

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I’m usually not a huge book challenge person. It’s surprising, since I’m obsessive and book nerdy in all other ways, but I don’t typically set challenges for the year and expect myself to finish them. I will pick an arbitrary number to set as a challenge on Shelfari and Goodreads, but I also cheat by continuously adjusting the numbers throughout the year depending on whether I’m feeling stressed about being behind on my reading or complete it early and feel like I should’ve set a higher goal for myself. But this year I discovered the Book Riot blog, which posts book reviews, lists, and bookish news, and their insightful and intriguing challenge to “read harder” in 2015–to challenge ourselves by reading more widely and pushing our typical genre boundaries. I was hooked. I even bought a “Read Harder” mug. And last week, I finally finished the 24-book challenge.

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And I’m so glad I did! I loved finding books to fit the categories–most came directly from my own TBR shelf, and a lot of them I most likely would have read anyways, but some were books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile and now had a deadline-induced reason to pick up sooner.

Favorite reads of the challenge? So many of them! The best for me were probably Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang. But there were so many other great ones–a lot of my favorite books of the year came from this challenge.

I was probably most surprised by the audiobook category–I’ve always been best at absorbing information through reading, not listening, and tend to zone out a lot. But the audiobook of Ready Player One was fantastic, and the story transcended the medium in which it was told. I went from being an audiobook snob who thought that listening to books would never work for me to a frequent audiobook listener who uses the books to liven up my commute.

The biggest stretches for me were poetry (because I like reading and thinking deeply about the occasional poem but am not a big fan of reading a lot of poems one after the other) and, surprisingly, a book written before 1850. I used to read a lot of classics (although, in retrospect, this may have been because when I was younger there wasn’t Shelfari or Goodreads and most of my book recommendations came from written lists in my school library) and this challenge really showed me how behind I am on my classics reading. I ended up choosing Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s first novel, which is sort of a satire on Gothic romance novels as well as a typical Jane Austen romances, and really enjoyed it. One of my bookish goals for 2016 (blog post for that is upcoming) will definitely be to read a few more classics than in the past years.

Least favorite book of the challenge? Weirdly, this was for the award-winning book category: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I bought this at a library used book sale and thought it sounded like an interesting, intelligent read; what it actually was was pretentious. I hated it. I got it, but I felt like the entire book was just about the author celebrating how smart and tricky he was. I also was not a huge fan of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which was my pick for the “retelling of a classic story” category. This was the only book that was a real disappointment for me–the idea of feminist fairy tale retellings sounds right up my alley, but other than the title story, I didn’t really enjoy any of them. They weren’t as creative as I expected, and tended to be very repetitive read one after the other.

Here’s my challenge in its entirety:

✓ 1. A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2) by Samantha Shannon The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

✓ 2. A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion  The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

✓ 3. A collection of short stories
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

✓ 4. A book published by an indie press
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang

✓ 5. A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

✓ 6. A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1) by China Miéville Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

✓ 7. A book that takes place in Asia
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

✓ 8. A book by an author from Africa
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

✓ 9. A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
Euphoria by Lily King Euphoria by Lily King

✓ 10. A microhistory
Stiff The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

✓ 11. A YA novel
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

✓ 12. A sci-fi novel
Cloud Atlas by David MitchellCloud Atlas by David Mitchell

✓ 13. A romance novel
Steel's Edge (The Edge, #4) by Ilona Andrews Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews

✓ 14. A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
The Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

✓ 15. A book that is a retelling of a classic story
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela CarterThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

✓ 16. An audiobook
Ready Player One by Ernest ClineReady Player One by Ernest Cline

✓ 17. A collection of poetry
Ani DiFranco Verses by Ani DiFrancoAni DiFranco: Verses by Ani DiFranco

✓ 18. A book that someone else has recommended to you
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) by Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

✓ 19. A book that was originally published in another language
The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1) by Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

✓ 20. A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

✓ 21. A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure
I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson

✓ 22. A book published before 1850
Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen

✓ 23. A book published this year
A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) by Sarah J. Maas A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

✓ 24. A self-improvement book
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Now that it’s over, I’m a little sad–and extremely pumped for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge. Bring on the categories, Book Riot! I’m ready to go!