Year in Review: 2015

2015 was a big year for me: I had a semi-nervous breakdown, I learned how to recover from a semi-nervous breakdown, I realized that being a working adult means you have to smile and nod while everyone around you acts crazy and for this they pay you, I got my driver’s license after much anxiety and strife, I trained for a 20k and finished when just the year before I couldn’t run a mile without stopping, I cut out some negative relationships and behaviors, I fell in love, and I read Game of Thrones.

Amongst all the ruckus, I read 64 books (at the time of this writing I am still in the middle of the 64th: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer). My original goal was to read 80 books, but I adjusted that to 60 because I hate failing and love winning.

My list of favorite books in 2015 tilts heavily towards the beginning of the year. My life got busier in the spring, but in the winter I mostly just sat around crying all the time–which I guess means that conditions were perfect for being hit in the feels by a good book.

15 FAVES OF 2015

#1: YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler (read in January)
This is the first book I read in 2015. It helped me a lot by forcing me to think about personal growth in a new way. Reading this book was like reading a pep talk from a very sweet and funny friend.

#2: THE FIRST BAD MAN by Miranda July (read in January)
I love Miranda July. She is perfect for me. I love her voice, I love the slightly off-kilter worlds and characters she creates. I think I like her because I always feel like such a weirdo, and her stories make the weirdo the normal point of reference. Her first novel didn’t disappoint in this regard.

#3: WILD: FROM LOST TO FOUND ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL by Cheryl Strayed (read in February)
This is one of those books that found its way into my hands at just the right time. Strayed’s story of perseverance in the face of pain gave me a lot of hope and comfort.

#4: 10% HAPPIER: HOW I TAMED THE VOICE IN MY HEAD, REDUCED STRESS WITHOUT LOSING MY EDGE, AND FOUND SELF-HELP THAT ACTUALLY WORKS by Dan Harris (read in February)
I like self-help books sometimes, not gonna lie, but this book actually isn’t as big of a self-help book as it appears. It’s the story of the author’s experiences with mindfulness, from the point of view of a ‘normal’ guy. I started a meditation practice this year, and it was very helpful to me in recovering from my aforementioned semi-nervous breakdown. This is the first book I’d recommend to anyone interested in meditation and mindfulness but who is turned off by the spiritual aspects of other books on the subject.

#5: JANE EYRE by Charlette Bronte (read in February)
This became my favorite classic. I love Jane for being the spunkiest heroine I have read in a piece of gothic fiction. She is smart, she is driven, and she’s not there to look pretty and meek. I even love Rochester, the grumpy weirdo. I felt an actual ache reading this novel, I wanted those crazy kids to smooch so bad. Let’s just say I shipped it.

#6: STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (read in March)
Of all the books I read in 2015, I think I would recommend Station Eleven the most. It was beautifully written, but not too dense, and I flew through it. It’s a dystopian/speculative novel that is uniquely empathetic and hopeful. On the surface it’s about a future apocalyptic flu pandemic, but mostly it’s about the human spirit and the need to create and survive. I loved this novel because it took something I am comfy with (literary fiction) and mixed it with something I often feel unable to connect with (science fiction). If you like literary fiction and would like to branch out to adult sci-fi/dystopian, this is a must-read.

#7: SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn, (read in March)
#8: DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn (read in April)
I read both of Gillian Flynn’s non-Gone Girl novels this year, which only confirmed the fact that I cannot put down anything she writes. I love her insane, unapologetically bitter, in-your-face female characters. Flynn has an exceptional flair for plotting and pace.

#9: THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz (read in April)
I just remembered I planned to read more Junot Diaz this year, but I guess I never got around to it. That’s a shame, because this novel was amazing. Diaz’s characters are excellent, and he writes about race and family and heritage in such an accessible yet irreverent way.

#10: WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson (read in April)
This novel is so deliciously, wonderfully creepy that it is now my go-to Halloween recommendation. It’s about two little girls who live alone with their disabled uncle after a mysterious “incident” killed their family, and it is one of those short novels that are perfect in every way.

#11: SELF-HELP by Lorrie Moore (read in May)
Lorrie Moore’s first short story collection was a real treat to read. She is like Raymond Carver if Raymond Carver had a lighter, less masculine, less whiskey-stained point of view. She is better than Raymond Carver is what I am telling you! Her stories are simple, realistic, funny and heartbreaking.

#12: TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders (read in May)
I liked this short story collection for the same reason I liked Lorrie Moore’s. These stories have a great mix of heartbreak and empathy, with an extra distaste for consumerism and the corporatization of America.

#13: OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (read in June)
Reading over this list, it is clear the way to my heart is a headstrong, kind of weird female main character, which is exactly what Olive Kitteridge was. Not exactly likable, but not exactly unsympathetic either. Still, kind of a jerk. I love when writers give the women in their stories full permission to be a jerk.

#14: MODERN ROMANCE by Aziz Ansari (read in September)
I listened to this on audiobook, which was the right choice. Aziz Ansari is hilarious and I loved hearing his voice in my ears every morning while I made my way to work. This is a great book for anyone trying to navigate dating in the online world, if only because it will make you laugh and realize you’re not alone, with bonus Aziz Ansari.

#15: MISSOULA: RAPE AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN A COLLEGE TOWN by Jon Krakauer (read in October)
As much as I hate ending this list on such a bummer note, here’s a really great book about date rape I read in 2015.

Check out my Year in Books on Goodreads for the full list of what I read this year!


Now onto the resolutions.

I have decided to not set a goal for myself this year re: the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I would like to read longer books this year without feeling rushed–I want to continue the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, and I also have my eye on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Basically, I want to sink my teeth into books that are more of an experience.

Suggested reading from another book blogger abstaining from the challenge in 2016: 5 Reasons Not to Do the Goodreads Reading Challenge in 2016 on brokebybooks.com. It convinced me. I will still be on Goodreads, of course, because I don’t think anything can convince me to not obsessively log what I read. I just don’t need to challenge myself this year to a specific number of books. I’d rather just focus on having a good overall reading experience, one that informs my life and my work in positive ways.

I also have about 300 unread articles saved on Instapaper at the moment. So, I’d like to make time for that, as well as the unread literary journals I have lying around.

That all being said, I signed up for the #readmyowndamnbooks challenge, which is kind of loosey-goosey, but I’d like to read at least 30 books off of my shelf by the end of the year. I want to read books I own and then donate them, because I don’t have the space and do I really need that copy of The Art of Fielding? Who knows–not I, as I haven’t ever read it.

Let me know what your favorite book of 2015 was, what your resolutions for 2016 are, and what you think of the books I listed above. Happy new year, everybody–I hope the coming year is full up with good books and no new Harper Lee novels.

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A Brief August Round-Up/A Less Brief Pre-Autumn Check-In/The Summer Reading Wrapeth Up

Here’s a list of what I read in August!

Delirium by Lauren Oliver – This is the first book in the Delirium trilogy. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either? I’m still looking for an underrated gem of perfect YA dystopian, but I think after I wrap this series up, I’ll call off my search. Maybe I’m not the intended audience, but The Hunger Games was so awesome guys! Why can’t there be more like that? I have such a soft spot for YA, but a lot of it feels so tedious, especially dystopian, which follows a lot of formulaic plots without the benefit of interesting writing styles. This series, like the Legend series, really suffers because the main romance makes me roll my eyes. BUT, it has a seriously gutsy twist at the end of the first novel, and that is what kept me reading the second book later in the month.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – I reviewed that here, if you missed it.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver – The second book of the aforementioned Delirium trilogy has a markedly more mature narrative, and I liked that. I think it was slightly better than the first book, even, and a lot of that was because the love story in the first one had been completely altered. (No spoilers though.) For a summary of this series: basically, this is about a dystopian United States where people get a surgery on their 18th birthday that keeps them from falling in love, because in this society, love is considered the ‘disease’ that is the root of all mankind’s problems. Basically, like so many YA dystopian trilogies, it took an aspect of The Giver and just made it about a girl wanting to kiss a boy, on the lips even. I have the third and final installment on my Kindle as we speak, so I’m not exactly knocking it.

Champion by Marie Lu – While I found the second book of the Legend series completely boring, this, the third and final book, was my favorite. But I don’t exactly recommend anyone read it if they’re looking for a good YA dystopian series that is not The Hunger Games or even Divergent. The problem is I don’t exactly have anything to recommend that fits that description, and that bums me out.

So, as far as my summer reading challenge goes – I have read 3 out of 4 classic novels written by women: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The only one I haven’t gotten to yet is Beloved by Toni Morrison, (inexcusable, I know) which is on my desk to be read very soon. Once I finish the Delirium trilogy, I will have completed my 2 YA series. I have absolutely not started a short story collection but you know what is lovely in Autumn? Short stories. And I read and watched a book to movie adaptation early in the summer–Olive Kitteridge. So, not too bad.

In other challenge news, I lowered my Goodreads challenge goal from 80 books to 70 books, because it was stressing me out too much, I wanted to read longer books without feeling rushed or guilty, and I just have quite a lot going on in my life at the moment. I also think 2016 will be the year I have no challenge at all–it puts too much emphasis on quantity over quality, and I know I’m going to read every single year anyway, so why do I need a challenge? Maybe my challenge in 2016 will be to only read excellent books and have fun everyday all the time always.

So now it’s September. (92 degrees, but September) Which means it is almost my favorite time of the year. I am looking forward to reading a lot of Stephen King in the fall, because I like to do that and last October I wasted a lot of time on IT so I need a re-do. That, and lots of cozy warm-drinks-and-book instagram selfies, and NaNoWriMo. All very exciting things!

I also started a trial membership of Scribd, which I am using to try out audiobooks–something I’ve always actively resisted but am now trying out for reasons I will explain later. I will post a review of Scribd as soon as I’ve formed an opinion, so keep an eye out–but for the time being, please tell me about your experiences with subscription books services! (I.E. Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Oyster…) I am interested, and the idea of paying to borrow books is still kind of weird to me because IDK, libraries exist? But, still, we will see.

The Saltwater Book Review Summer Reading Challenge

I was thinking the other day about how I have an increased desire to read during the summer months. I think this is for two reasons: it’s something that’s nice to do in either air conditioned spaces or outside, and there is the nostalgic factor–do any of you remember the summer reading lists we used to get in school? Good times!

I decided to create a challenge for myself, and anyone else who wants to join, to get me to read with more variety this summer. You’re welcome to read books from the same categories as me, or make your own categories or amount of books as you would like. The point of this is to have fun reading.

I’m giving myself from June to mid-September to finish this challenge, just so I don’t feel so rushed.

THE SALTWATER BOOK REVIEW SUMMER READING CHALLENGE

assignment 1: Read 4 Classics Written by Women

For this category, I am planning to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Beloved by Toni Morrison, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and one wildcard pick that I will choose when the time comes.

assignment 2: Read (or finish) 2 Young Adult Series

I plan to finish the Legend series by Marie Lu, plus one more series. I would really like suggestions for this, as I’m having trouble thinking of another series to read, so please recommend me one in the comments!

assignment 3: Read 1 big short story collection

This is mostly because I have a lot of these that take up space on my bookshelf, and I never seem to want to make time to read them. Right now I am deciding between The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner or Collected Stories by Tennessee Williams.

assignment 4: Read/Watch 1 book-to-movie adaptation

I’m not sure about this one– maybe Silver Linings Playbook? Ideally this would be both a book I’ve never read and a movie I’ve never seen. I may change my mind on this one.

Extra Credit: Read 5 books that have been sitting around on my shelf for forever, unread. (This is just because I really need to do something about my overcrowded book shelf.)

All together this is 11-16 books, which is doable in 3.5 months at the current pace I’m reading, allowing for the fact that I will want to read other books, too. If you’d like to participate in this challenge, feel free to skip categories or reduce the amount of books as needed. Or, if you’d like to make your own assignments, PLEASE DO, and please let me know about them!

And follow me on Goodreads! I am making a bookshelf for this challenge called SWBR-summer-2015, so you can track my progress. You can also talk to me on there if you’re doing the challenge as well.

Happy reading, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Seriously.