books end of 2015

LATE. I’m so late with this. Please don’t take it out on these books. They deserve more than that. These are the best reads I had from July onward. One of them is OH MY GOSH A CLASSIC FOR A REASON.

5. Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny I confess I like short stories that are clever retellings of what we all feel rather than those that are capital G Good but so unreadable I’d literally rather be parked on the Bay Bridge for two hours because someone tied a chain across all the westbound lanes as a protest (this actually happened) than read them. (Paging Lydia Davis. Sorry.) These stories, happily, are both very good and very readable. If you’re a woman in her 30s who reads the Internet, you’ll see a little bit of yourself in these. Almost all of them are about a woman in a relationship she probably shouldn’t be in. Almost all of them are funny. Many of them sad in that quiet, everyday way. And you guys know I love sad stories.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel There’s a scene in this book that takes place about 18 hours after an apocalyptic flu kills virtually all the world’s population. A few survivors are stranded at an airport. They watch a plane land outside. During this scene, you will either be crying or horrified or both because Emily St. John Mandel knows how to tease meaning out of the most mundane actions. Much of the book follows survivors who have formed a theatrical troupe. I loved thinking about the role art plays in a disaster, about sorting out what’s good and bad in extreme circumstances, and how relationships form and last. But mostly I’ll read this again just to catch the wonder of what’s everyday to us: airplanes, refrigeration, phones, lights, people.

3. Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey Shout-out to book cover designers because I judged this book by its star-speckled midnight black cover and was totally rewarded. This is a spectacular illness memoir. (I promise I do read uplifting, cheerful things. I guess I just don’t like them as much?) The author has an extreme sensitivity to artificial and natural light. When light touches her skin, it feels like a blowtorch is on her. As her illness progresses, she retreats further back into her house and tries different coping mechanisms. As she lays in the dark, she runs the fences of her limitations, chooses to leave the future alone, and thinks and thinks and thinks. It’s riveting. There was so much in this book that expressed my experience with Brad’s illness. The hope of a new treatment, the despair when it fails, the fear of the future, the wonder of what will be asked of you and worse: what you’ll have to ask of other people. As I read, I couldn’t stop nodding yes, yes, yes.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr Everyone is telling you to read this book. Everyone is right. But if you don’t trust everyone, trust me: Read this book. The writing has the kind of sentences I read, read again, then said out loud, then read again, then thought about underlining even though I was reading a library book. I WILL NOT BE TAMED. It’s set during World War II, but totally without the usual cliches. It’s about a girl and a boy, but not the way you think. It humanizes the bad guy and grows compassion for the bully, while never quite excusing them. Also the author lives in Idaho and if he can write this from there, certainly I can blog more than twice a year from here. (That probably wasn’t Mr. Doerr’s intention when putting this book out into the world, but whatever.)

1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck Just a little undiscovered treasure to recommend for you all. But really. The only way to describe how swept up I was in this book, how it carried me and devastated me, is to share a quote from the book itself: But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands. I was Tom while reading this book. It is everything a classic should be: Bread and wine after only eating Larabars for a week.

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Can I briefly throw shade at the worst books I read last year? These are the ones I was sorely tempted to throw at the wall.

The Wall Creeper by Nell Zink. OH MY WORD. Were I not held captive in a Denver hotel room with no other books and were this book longer than 100 some pages, I would not have finished it. It got rave reviews, not a single one of them deserved. Wake me up when something happens, Nell.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. People I love and trust love this book. I thought nothing happened except me snorting at how unbelievable the emotional story was.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. Boooooooooring.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I like Amy Poehler, but the majority of this book was her whining about how she didn’t have time to write this book. I wish I hadn’t had time to read it.

 

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