I read a lot this year, so it was inevitable that I read some of the best books I have ever read in my life. I’ve been reading since I was five, and I always felt like my reading peak was between the ages of eight and eleven back when I re-read the Babysitter’s Club books weekly, but I may have surpassed that landmark. I finally outshone elementary school Christina in one area.
I read somewhere around fifty books this year, and it was great. I have a pretty hard time remembering things a lot of the time, so I decided to document every book on my Goodreads account. In lieu of ranking them, I decided to create categories to highlight a few great ones.
- Bossypants by Tina Fey: This book was laugh out loud funny, but it also showed how good of a writer Tina Fey is. A lot of funny people write books that are average because their humor doesn’t translate to the page. This book is just essays about Fey’s life and they aren’t in an overly rigid chronological order, but they are funny and help you to understand Fey better as a woman and a comedian.
Best YA Novel that Crushed my Heart
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This book was pretty heavy and realistic. Rowell is great at explaining the emotions of people you might not understand. We have all known (or not known) an Eleanor. She seems cold or distant, but she contains so many more layers than we are aware of. Rowell knows how to write a dynamic character, let me tell you.
Best Children’s Novel for People of All Ages
- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: I really tried to branch out and read more YA novels this year. This book was fun and surprising. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, so I read this pretty quickly. It’s a story about a bunch of orphans who are recruited by Mr. Benedict to take on a secret mission that will save the world. That’s all I can say. Carson Ellis, who is apparently pretty well-known in the independent music illustration scene (I made that up), illustrated this book, and her art is wonderful. It fits the precociousness of the four main characters very well.
Best Book about a Group of Friends that is Also Sad
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: This book was heart-wrenching. It follows four people from the time they meet at summer camp when they are teenagers to sometime in their fifties. The main character falls in love with two kids after they make her feel included and interesting for the first time in her life, and she remains bound by this for her whole life. This bond is strong and understandably produces a lot of drama. I empathized with every character, which made this novel particularly heavy for me.
Best Disillusioning Historical Fiction
- Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler: I had to constantly remind myself that this was just a fictional account. F. Scott is a longtime favorite writer of mine, and this book skewed my perception of him quite a bit. It is a very illuminating account, and the word is that Fowler was as accurate as she could be. It will make a diehard Zelda fan out of you, but shouldn’t we all be? She was tough, and I admire her so much. Fowler is also just a fantastic storyteller. I hope she disillusions all my favorite authors for me.
Best Disillusioning Historical Non-Fiction (or biography)
- Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady: I didn’t really hold many illusions about the so-called Beat generation, but I really didn’t know the extent of Neal’s relationship with Carolyn. This account may be biased since she is the one relaying it, but she is somewhat of a saint. She did so much for all of those men. She is essentially a cornerstone of the whole scene, and no one really knew it. Short version: Neal is a deadbeat, Jack is a romantic and sad idealist, and Allen is kind of a jerk (this is the short short version of Ginsberg, but that’s a story for another time). This book enabled me to see this scene from another much needed perspective.
Best Book by my Hero
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Rowling continues to be my literary hero AND kick butt fifteen years after I read her for the first time. In her first non-Harry Potter book, she goes in a very different direction. This book is far from magical; these are all normal people, and they all kind of suck. The adults in this British town constantly screw each other over and the kids try to ignore them and be good people anyway. Krystal Weedon reminded me a lot of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor; they are both tough and seemingly cold while doing nearly heroic
Best Book about Sports that is about so much more than Sports
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: This is another of those books where I empathized with every character. And Quentin, man. I loved how disconnected everyone seemed at the beginning juxtaposed with the final scene. A high school baseball star is recruited by a fledgling team at a Midwestern university and this recruitment has implications for the most unlikely people. Good and bad implications. And surprises. I want to read this book again and again. It crushed my heart and made me supremely happy. I wish Harbach would write a million more novels.
Best Detective Novel not by J.K. Rowling that was really by J.K. Rowling
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith: By now everyone knows that Rowling wrote this, and she killed it. Apparently she didn’t want to call attention to the novel because of her fame and, although I read this after I found out she wrote it, I would have loved it even if I didn’t know. I was dying to know what would happen next, and I made plenty of theories about the killer’s identity, all of which were wrong. Damn, Joanne. I did not see that coming. She is so good at writing four dimensional characters. Snape, anyone?
Best book I Hated Initially and Fell in Love with
- Serena by Ron Rash: This book is about a powerful couple running a timber company/monopoly in the 1940’s. The premise sounded terribly boring to me, and I could not get into it at all for the first little bit. I just wanted to finish it. But then things started getting crazy. Serena is a wild lady, and her husband is weak and submits to her every whim. She wants to take over the world, and she will combat anyone and everyone to get there. The movie comes out this year, and I know that Jennifer Lawrence will be the perfect Serena.
Best Book that Made me Reconsider my Life and my Role in the Universe
- Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.: This book is too sacred to discuss. I want to knock on the doors of America and force them to read it, but I want to keep it for myself. I want to be selfish with it. The story begins with the main character in the womb. Unidentified voices tell him how and when the world is going to end, and this knowledge (along with the voices) set the narrative for the rest of his life. Damn.
Best Book that Changed my Life and Made me Want to be a Better Person
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed: When Strayed was in her early 20s, her mother died of lung cancer. They were extremely close, and this event understandably turns her life upside down. She falls into an abyss of depression and extreme behavior. During this period, she finds a book in a gardening store about the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. She immediately decides to hike the entire trail despite having no backpacking experience and little hiking experience at all. She goes and the hike changes her world, and it will change yours vicariously. The hike is so physically hard that she has little time to dwell on or process her emotions, but when she does, holy cow. This book made me want to do two things: 1) hike, and 2) change my life. I believe that this is the On the Road of my twenties.
Best Book about Advice
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for the website Rumblr for several years. When she revealed her identity, she compiled her columns into this book. I can assuredly say that Strayed is the best writer I have ever read. She is so honest and visceral and raw, but she is also incredibly poetic. She knows just what to say to make me want to change or to make me feel that somebody understands me. I think she is such a good human being, and she makes my heart grow with every word she writes.
Best book that made me want to close my computer right now
- The Circle by Dave Eggers: This novel tells about a woman named Mae who gets a job with a company called the Circle, which is like Google on steroids. It is the equivalent of every social media website together. They believe in intellectual freedom to a scary, Utopian degree, and Mae is supremely and easily swayed by their ideas and their strength. It made me fear the negative aspects of technology more than I ever have.
Best book I read that introduced me to a musician, inspired me to create, and made me fall in love with my friends
- Just Kids by Patti Smith: Patti Smith is my hero. She is so humble and has no idea how inspiring she is, and I love that about her. Creating is essential to survival, and she embodies that truth more than anybody. In this book, she details her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. He inspired her to be herself and to create art that mattered. She placed him on a pedestal, and he never really let her down, which is amazing. While she admired and loved him, she didn’t have any illusions about him. She didn’t always agree with everything he did, but she loved him for being an artist. She refers to him as the “artist of [her] life,” and that aptly describes their relationship, or the snippets she shares in her book. I had never listened to Patti Smith before reading this book, and I was blown away when I listened to Horses for the first time. Just Kids does not do justice to her talent, but I guess it isn’t supposed to. This book reminded me who and what I write for.
Best book based on a favorite song
- This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann: “This Side of Brightness” is a song off Thursday’s Full Collapse, so when I saw this book of the same name at the bookstore, I had to buy it. Geoff Rickly has never let me down. McCann is so adept at weaving the past, present, and future. In this book, he weaves the story of the creation of the New York subway with present-day homeless people living in the underground tunnels. I kept wondering where the stories would converge, and it hit me like a ton a of bricks when they did.
Best Book about Families that made me want to cry
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: This book tells the story of two brothers in India who are inseparable. Their interests and beliefs diverge as they get older, and this results in tragedy. The slightly older brother, Subhash, eventually moves to the United States to study and to separate himself from his brother, though his proves impossible. I don’t want to give anything away, but it is really heartbreaking. Ultimately, this is a story about inescapable regret.
Honorable mentions: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford, This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Room by Emma Donoghue