2015 in Books (Part 1)

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So last year, I decided to get some thoughts down on each and every book I had finished reading. Since I started a little late in the year, I had to do a reverse chronological order and work my way back to the beginning of 2014. It was a pretty major task, trying to remember in December what I’d read twelve months prior.

This year, I’ve been adding my thoughts all throughout the year so far. My goal of forty-five books read in 2015 is steaming along quite well. We’re at the end of March and I’ve finished twenty four of the goal. I’m going to go ahead and put out there what I’ve got so far (numbers 1-24) and then put up a second or third post a few months down the road, in order to somewhat “mitigate” the damage and eyestrain of staring at your computer screen for hours (yeah we’re already up to 3,000+ words so far here).

1) Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Read from January 1 to 7
-Really enjoyed this one and am very happy with making this my first book of the year. Fascinating character development set against the backdrop of a teenager’s death makes this a very rich read.

2) A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel
Read from January 7 to January 9
-Wow. What a sobering book about the myth that we can multi-task even while hurtling down the road at ever increasing speeds.

Highly recommended for anyone who may be interested in our attention span and how it is being taxed beyond its ability.

3) Math Smart:Getting a Grip on Basic Math by Marcia Lerner
Read from December 22, 2014 to January 09
-Purchased years ago when I was studying for an employment test, I dusted it off and started reviewing my math again this year in preparation for another employment test (which, sadly didn’t come to pass AGAIN.) With a nice little bit of humor in here, this is an enjoyable read if you are looking to freshen up your math skills.

4) A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog by Dean Koontz
Read from January 9 to 10
-Very emotional and heartfelt. Great read, for sure.

After putting our Welsh Corgi to sleep back in May of 2014 (see “Hanna The Lovely”), this holds even more relevance and I can understand a bit more than I might have just two years ago.

To add a bit to my initial thoughts on Goodreads, I’d like to voice my agreement with Mr Koontz’s sentiment of “No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog”.

5) Things I’ve Learned from Women Who’ve Dumped Me by Ben Karlin (Editor/Contributor)
Read on January 10
-I am having a tough time with this one. I did not downright despise it at all (with the exception of Stephen Colbert’s contribution; the redacting joke ran dry within about the first two to three sentences.), but I really didn’t love it either. There were several gems in here (and Nick Hornby’s intro produced a few chuckles as he usually does), but in the end I think there were more misses than hits.

6) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Read from January 10 to 14
-I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Always drawn to controversy, I remember reading some articles about this book and how inappropriate it was for its target audience of young adults (at least that was the opinion of the dissenters anyway). After having read this, I can see a few places where it may ruffle the feathers of some teenagers parents, but overall it was very enjoyable. There were several spots along the way that I chuckled, and the pictures interspersed throughout from artist Ellen Forney never disappoint.

7) More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby
Read from January 14 to 17
-The section, towards the end, where Hornby discusses Claire Tomalin’s “Charles Dickens:A Life” is one of the most fascinating summaries of a book I’ve read. In only nine pages, Hornby overloads the useless trivia part of my brain and I’m all the happier for it.

8) The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Read from January 21 to 28
-Meh. Not a bad book at all, but the comparisons to “Gone Girl” are somewhat pushing it. I don’t remember a book in recent memory leaving me feeling so ambivalent. I started out ambivalent, then got semi interested, and then the ending had me ambivalent again (after being predictable for awhile). Not a bad book necessarily, but doesn’t quite live up to the hype I’d seen about it.

9) Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Read from January 28 to February 5
-I have no shame whatsoever in admitting that I am a massive Nick Hornby fan. As much as I hated “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, I was intrigued by the movie since he’s the screenwriter. The last couple of Hornby books I’ve read were non-fiction and had more of an essay quality to them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the fact that he was willing to let a fellow book fan “pick his brain” for lack of a better term, but it was high time I got back into his fiction seeing as that’s what made me a fan in the first place years ago.

This book was not one of my favorites of his, but it’s far from a BAD book. If I may be so inclined, Mr Hornby has grown up and settled into fatherhood and family life, and this reflects in his writing as of the last few years. Although he is older than I am, his writing has grown up alongside me and I’m perfectly fine with that. Where as High Fidelity was (and I mean no disrespect, as it’s one of my all-time faves) somewhat juvenile and bachelor-esque, this specific book deals a little more seriously with relationships and the general malaise one may feel after a certain amount of time spent with the same person. The questions that arise regarding the relationship and it’s “return on investment” are standard fare in a long term coupling and Mr Hornby’s characters (both female and male) seem to be approaching these ideas in his stories.

In the highly unlikely event that Mr Hornby was ever to read this snippet of my thoughts, here’s what I’d love to say to him;

Mr Hornby (I don’t know you well enough to call you “Nick”, although your style of writing makes me feel as if we could be chums), keep up the good work and I’ll keep on reading it.

10) The Book Of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
Read from January 29 to February 7
-The ways in which various books can be introduced to us in our lives is a constant source of fascination to me. I bought this book, based solely (and I do mean solely) on the strength of Hemon’s essay of his young daughter’s illness and subsequent death (located over at The New Yorker) from an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, or ATRT as the acronym would naturally go. To give you an idea of how much that one specific essay resonated with me, I’ve attached a couple passages from it below;

-“There’s a psychological mechanism, I’ve come to believe, that prevents most of us from imagining the moment of our own death. For if it were possible to imagine fully that instant of passing from consciousness to nonexistence, with all the attendant fear and humiliation of absolute helplessness, it would be very hard to live, as it would be unbearably obvious that death is inscribed in everything that constitutes life, that any moment of our existence is a breath away from being the last one. We would be continuously devastated by the magnitude of that inescapable moment, so our minds wisely refuse to consider it. Still, as we mature into mortality, we gingerly dip our horror-tingling toes in the void, hoping that the mind will somehow ease itself into dying, that God or some other soothing opiate will remain available as we venture deeper into the darkness of nonbeing.

But how can you possibly ease yourself into the death of your child? For one thing, it is supposed to happen well after your own dissolution into nothingness. Your children are supposed to outlive you by several decades, in the course of which they’ll live their lives, happily devoid of the burden of your presence, eventually completing the same mortal trajectory as their parents: oblivion, denial, fear, the end. They’re supposed to handle their own mortality, and no help in that regard (other than forcing them to confront death by way of your dying) can come from you—death ain’t a science project. And even if you could imagine your child’s death, why would you?”

-“The cafeteria in the Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital basement was the saddest place in the world—and forever it shall be—with its grim neon lights and gray tabletops and the diffuse foreboding of those who stepped away from suffering children to have a grilled cheese sandwich.”

-“we wept within the moment that was dividing our life into before and after, whereby the before was forever foreclosed, while the after was spreading out, like an exploding twinkle-star, into a dark universe of pain.”

-“Isabel’s indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies whose sole function is a continuous secretion of sorrow.”

See what I mean? The inordinate amount of lyrical beauty in his retelling mixed with the incredible pain that he and his wife were feeling is palpable. Now that I have pulled you in, let me get to the meat and potatoes of how I felt about this book as a whole.

Numerous authors, over the years, have taken segmented pieces of their thoughts and collated them into one published work. Very often, it works as a single unit. Sometimes, however, the little pieces that were individually written at different times in the author’s life begin to show signs of a certain dissonance. In this book’s case, that is how I felt for the majority of it. As is the case in most of these memoir books, some essays were stronger than others. There were certain anecdotes that I truly enjoyed, but there were just as many that I felt were meandering and contributed nothing to my understanding of the author’s life. In no way am I insulting the writing style, as the man can no doubt craft a beautiful sentence, but there is no better way to state it other than I did not enjoy each and every one. There were several spots throughout my reading that I could almost hear his disdainful tone and pompous attitude, turning me off ever so briefly.

Wisely choosing to place “The Aquarium” at the very end of his various tales, as a bookend, I was sucked back in to why I wanted this book in the first place and spent months scouring the shelves at the book stores on every visit (and used an Amazon gift card from friends to purchase it). The one-two punch that initially drew my attention several months back was just as visceral this time around, and I still knew what was coming.

Bottom line, I would read more of what Mr Hemon has to offer readers, but I can only vouch for his nonfiction at this point.

11) The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Read from February 5 to February 12
-This book was a slow burn, but once it kicked off towards the end and got all “prisony”, it was awesome.

12) The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Read from February 12 to February 20
-I’ve previously read Jon Ronson (“Lost At Sea”) and loved his stuff. His injection of dry wit into each subject he tackles is a welcome change from some more technical writings. This book was a very interesting study of the mental health industry and, as the title says, psychopaths in society.

13) The Elements Of Style by William Strunk
Read from January 15 to February 21
-Not necessarily an “enjoyable” read as they go, but still a good one. It’s more of a miniature textbook than anything else. Chockful of some great grammar and writing tips though, this will help anyone who has ever struggled to craft the perfect sentence.

14) Destiny Of The Republic:A Tale Of Madness, Medicine, And The Murder Of A President by Candice Millard
Read from February 20 to February 25
-I absolutely LOVED this book. I posted some thoughts previously already, but this was a book that read like a train wreck as you watch ineptitude and medical shenanigans slowly kill our twentieth President.

15) True Grit by Charles Portis
Read from February 25 to February 26
-I’m honestly surprised that it’s taken this long for me to read this one. I purchased it a few days before a trip back to Florida to visit family, hoping to make it my “travel read”. Uh, yeah. I was done in less than a day with it. It flows very well, and the narrative voice of the teenaged Mattie Ross is a truly enjoyable one. Full of sly humor and well written action, this has a permanent spot on my bookshelf and most likely repeated readings.

16) Love Does:Discover A Secretly Incredible Life In An Ordinary World
Read from February 25 to February 27
-I’m conflicted on this one. As I’ve mentioned previously, I think that books involving more than one subject or author can be a tad disjointed. This book had some good essays in it, and some SUPER cheesy ones too. One that specifically jumped out at me was “Memorizing Jesus”, discussing how so many Christians sit around and study the bible and various factoids about Jesus but do nothing with that knowledge. I’m a big believer in “doing” being so much more important than just “talking” and this particular essay resonated with me.

17) The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
Read from February 27 to February 28
-My wife found this one at a bookstore before our vacation and I snatched it from her for a couple of days to fill in the reading gap left by my expediency in finishing “True Grit”. The ratings on Goodreads led me to believe this book would be amazing. Uh, not so much. The title story is THE BEST in here. There were a couple stories (the boy on the train discussing death with a complete stranger being the first one that comes to mind) that had a definite creepiness to them, but overall I was disappointed. Considering how many nice things have been said about Ms Jackson, this book feels like a “B side” of her material.

18) Devil’s Knot: The True Story Of The West Memphis Three
Read from February 28 to March 3
-I posted some throughts already here, but this was a fascinating read about what some would consider a miscarriage of justice and an absolutely horrendous crime.

19) Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman
Read from February 27 to March 8
-A quick read that can best be summarized with my Goodreads thoughts; “Some high points (which can’t really be discussed without giving up the crux of the story), but not a fave. More of a 3.5 than a 3, but still not quite a 4.”

20) Endurance:Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Read from March 8 to March 17
-Whoah. Just whoah. That’s all I got for this TRUE STORY of some dudes being MEN. When the ship (named “Endurance”, imagine that!) gets stuck in the ice, the men aboard begin one of the most incredible stories of survival out there. Walking for days, fighting sea lions, being forced to kill and eat their own dogs they’d grown fond of, where do you even go with this? These men all earned their status in history as card carrying members of the “Not Too Many Folks Could Make It Through This Nonsense” club.

Incredible read, highly recommended.

21) Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Read from October 28, 2014 to March 19
-The third book I read with my son, this was a great choice for us. Full of little lessons on survival, but on a level accessible for a preteen, we enjoyed this. We did start out strong with reading it, but then slowed down for the last couple of months. The best memory of reading this book, is BY FAR, the motorcycle ride we took to the base of the Santa Rita mountains. Once we got up there, we “dismounted” and read a chapter ABOUT SURVIVING IN THE WILDERNESS while IN THE WILDERNESS. Whoah.

22) Blue Like Jazz:Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
Read from March 15 to March 23
I have read several books on Christianity and religious thoughts over the years, most of which have left me wanting for more. This specific one, however, had more hits than misses within its covers. Once again, a collection of essays on different ideas about religion, Mr Miller does a fantastic job of verbalizing a lot of the same thoughts I have regarding Christianity and the people who subscribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Although there are several passages in this book I found myself nodding my head to, I can think of none better than the following (coindentally, this passage sits about a page or two from the conclusion, so as to ensure Miller goes out with a nice “BAM” moment);

“I know our culture will sometimes understand a love for Jesus as weakness. There is this lie floating around that says I am supposed to be able to do life alone, without any help, without stopping to worship something bigger than myself. But I actually believe there is something bigger than me, and I need for there to be something bigger than me. I need someone to put awe inside me; I need to come second to someone who has everything figured out.”

That, right there, sums up everything I feel about my relationship with God and the fact that it is my metaphorical “lifeboat”. Highly recommend this one to anyone.

23) To Die In Mexico:Dispatches from Inside the Drug War by John Gibler
Read from March 20 to March 24
-A very powerful read that improved as I got further into it. To be honest, the first section of the book read like a wet noodle and was almost like reading a tech manual. Not that I expect a ton of “flair” when reading about executions and gun battles, but the author started out the book incredibly dry and to the point. After the first section was over with, it almost felt that he allowed himself a little more space to expound on different killings and included more quotes from witnesses and family members. These insertions allow for a little bit easier reading and a sense that you can somewhat relate to the grief felt by the family and friends of those killed.

I suppose the biggest takeaway of this book, and what the author makes a point to prove, is that the drug war in Mexico is NOT only targeting fellow criminals but innocent people as well. The general consensus among uninvolved parties has been, too often, a case of “well they must have been involved in something wrong and that’s why they’re now dead”. The case of two college students who, upon being killed, were stripped of their identification and then had guns placed in their hands is infuriating. As the author informs us, the two young men were intimated as having been associates of one of the larger cartels down there, but this was almost immediately disputed by those who knew of their academic status at the university (They were both attending school on academic scholarships and were intelligent and driven young men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time).

As terrible as our news media is here in the United States has become, I can’t imagine having to work in a news profession where who you report about and what exactly you report is dictated to you by the politics of fear mongering. A good book, and worth a read. Not too long either, I think it was only two hundred pages or so.

24) The Troop by Nick Cutter
Read from March 23 to March 26
-A super quick and easy read about a boy scout troop’s wilderness trip going sideways. Oh did I say “sideways”? I meant ALL TYPES OF CRAZY. A guilty pleasure read full of carnage, teenage boy angst and competition, and secret government conspiracies.

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10 thoughts on “2015 in Books (Part 1)”

  1. Nick Hornby is underrated. He’s one of the first authors I got devoted to. “A Long Way Down” is his masterpiece if you ask me. It’s where he abandons feel-good messages for deep character exploration.

    This was a very interesting and diverse list. I might refer to it if I’m lacking more things to read. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who subscribes to ‘read everything’.

    1. Absolutely agree on Hornby, although I couldn’t get into “Funny Girl” for the life of me.

      It’s only been over the last several years that I’ve made an effort to “diversify my portfolio”, literary wise. I’ve crossed all types of books off my list. I’m even trying to find a good romance novel, to give me some good ideas on a story I’ve let stagnate.

      1. I find The Fault in Our Stars to be a really good romance novel. It’s a bit manipulative, sure, but it’s far from a feel-good novel. It’s the sort of mature thing a novelist writes only after growing up a little. I also heard good things about Possession (It’s on Time’s best of All Time list).

  2. Good to know about Girl on the Train. They often make these broad comparisons between a mega-bestseller and a lesser-known newcomer, but do often they disappoint. I’ve been trying to decide whether to push GotT to the top of my to-read list, but I think I’ll let it lie for now.

    1. I love the fact that so many opinions exist out there 🙂

      I didn’t hate it by any means, but just felt it wasn’t as incredible as I’d been led to believe

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