2015 :: My Year in Books

2015 was the best reading year I’ve ever had in my life! I successfully read 25 books this year and even joined book/beer club called Titles on Tap, which has largely contributed to so many books under my belt. Taking the train every day and having 40 minutes of quiet time both ways also provided the perfect time for reading. Since I’ve read such a wide range, I decided to share the best and worst of the year, and what I hope to accomplish in 2016.

Best Reads of 2015

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // This novel was on many “best of” lists this year. And rightfully so! It’s lyrical, haunting, and impossible to put down. There are a lot of post-apocolyptic novels out there, but this is the first I’ve read that really explored the things we take for granted in modern society. This was one of those books, that was truly an amazing reading experience.
  2. Horns by Joe Hill // I don’t know what it was, but I feel like I read this book at the perfect time in my life. The New England imagery, twenty-something year old ennui, themes of Catholic guilt, a healthy dose of magical realism; it just spoke to me. If you saw the terrible disappointment 0f a movie this was, don’t be dissuaded. I couldn’t believe how much they changed. It was practically a different story! But if you want a very juicy, dark tale, this novel will hit you.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood // This is supposedly a work of fiction, but it is very much on its way to being a reality. With the upcoming election looming over us, this classic work is more poignant than ever. With it’s powerful themes and symbols, it’s easy to see why this book has become a must-read in everyone’s lifetime. You can read more of my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale in my book pairings post.

Worst of 2015

I usually have more to say about books I don’t like…

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker // Ugh. This book was so misguided. Many have praised it as Margaret Atwood meets that biddy who wrote the Something BorrowedSomething Blue books – the modern feminist manifesto. Well as we know, I adored The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood this was not. I guess it had potential; I’m always down for women overthrowing the patriarchy, but this book had a serious tone problem. For an earnest attempt at satire, it lacked the necessary snark. The good? It is a voice out there campaigning for change. But is this the kind of feminism that we want? One that believes their way is the only way? One that has an extremely narrow view on mental health, body acceptance, and sexual expression? I implore that this book be kept out of the hands of baby feminists so they don’t make it their doctrine.
  2. Breed by Chase Novak // What an ill-written, hot mess. To be fair, it was for book club and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. The narrative style changed throughout, not a care was given for the characters, the story was figutatively and geologically all over the place, and for a horror novel, it was about as scary as your 6 year old neighbor with a sheet over his head. Snore.
  3. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn // Dark is right. I don’t know what disturbed me more: pedophilia and assisted suicide, or Middle America? At least it inspired my first Book Pairings Post!

2016 Reading Goals

  1. 24 Books! 2 Books a month. I think that’s a good pace.
  2. More non-fiction.
  3. Read the Cormoran Strike series.
  4. Try to dive into graphic novels.

Happy New Year, bookworms!


Worst Book of the Summer: Memoirs of a Geisha

I’m ashamed of myself; usually I read dozens of books over the summer, but this time as September and its association with the end of pleasure reading approaches, I’ve only finished three books. I blame the Song of Ice and Fire series and their near a thousand pages each. But while I cannot think of a title to call the best book of the summer, I can certainly name the worst. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha had been on my reading lists for years. I had heard the story was heartbreakingly beautiful, the language rich, and the movie rendition wasn’t too bad to boot. It also graced the list of Top 100 Books of All Time. Needless to say, I was eager to get my hands on it. As soon as I graduated, I was free; I could read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and not worry about writing a paper on it at the end of the semester. Memoirs would be my first novel as a free woman! Halfway through the book, however, my emotions turned for the worst. I was still eager alright, eager to finish the damn book. Frankly, it was a bit boring. For me the most riveting part was the main character, Sayuri’s, petty fight with a rival geisha that could have been taken straight out of the movie Mean Girls. Unfortunately, that problem was dealt with early in the novel, and everything else lacked the pace and excitement that had brought out my inner 14 year old. Although this annoyed me, it didn’t toe the line of enraging me like the next issue did.

I love a good cat fight.

Golden’s novel is often criticized for writing intimately about an exotic culture as an outsider. While I have no problem with this Western perspective on the Eastern world (in fact, I believe this makes it more accessible for readers), I do agree he is an outsider: an outsider to the secret world of women. Now, I’m in no way saying that men should never write through the mind’s eye of women or vice-versa. What I’m trying to get at is that when Golden tackles Sayuri’s emerging womanhood and loss of virginity, what should be an emotional rollercoaster and moment of deep revelation comes across insincere and even hollow.

Let me put it this way:

I was born and raised in a predominantly white Irish Catholic suburb. There I played trombone in an award winning jazz band that was comprised of students from the exact same socio-economic background. I don’t mean to brag, but we were a really good band. We could play the charts perfectly musically and technically, down to the slightest dynamic changes. Yet when we’d go to regional competitions, we always placed behind the inner city schools. But we were so good! What did we do wrong? We didn’t have soul, that’s what. We were stiff, calculating, and no better than swinging robots. When our mentor, an experienced jazz legend, coached us during jazz bootcamp, he would yell, “Loosen up! You play like a bunch of white kids!” But that’s what we were.

Arthur Golden is the pasty, privileged whited kid in a hard swinging world. Only instead of in the jazz circuit he’s in a woman’s world that plays by more intuitive rules. And in order to fit in (which he should be trying to so, since his novel is mostly read by a female audience) he should have got more in touch with his feminine side. Instead a life changing event is brushed over in a few sentences and the rest of the plot is devoted to an improbably and slightly creepy love story.

This is how sad Memoirs of a Geisha made me.

I am in no way revoking Golden’s artistic license, but your middle school creative writing teacher was right: a good author writes about what they know. And dude, a woman’s relationship with her sexuality is not one of them.