Monday, December 7, 2015
2015 favorite fiction
Although it's not quite the end of the year, it's close enough for me to list some of my favorite reads of the year.
As usual, there is no rhyme or reason to the books I read. I get most of the books I read from the library and I read largely based on recommendations from others or a book review I might catch in the paper or a magazine. At the time I'm writing this, I have read 36 books this year, which is a substantial increase from the past several years, when I averaged about 2 per month. Maybe the books I read this year were shorter on average than in past years or maybe I am reading faster.
It looks like a little less than half are non-fiction. Again, no system there. I don't set out to read a set number of fiction vs. non-fiction; I just take them as they come. For this blog post, I am only going to refer to fiction. I'll come back later and tell you about my favorite non-fiction picks of 2015.
As I look back over the list, I realize I liked nearly every book I read. I have a rule that if I don't like a book after 50 pages, I'll allow myself to put it down. That didn't happen at all this year, although there's one I wish I had given up on, and I'll start there.
The Nashville Public Library (not the library I use; we live in a suburb a few miles south with a great local library) has a wonderful series where they bring in authors from time to time. It's free, and it always surprises me when I go and there are so few people there. For example, yesterday afternoon we heard Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie and Five People You Meet in Heaven. He was extremely interesting and entertaining and I would estimate there were less than 100 people there.
But I digress.
Earlier this year, Wife and I went to hear Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We both read that book several years ago and loved it. Barrows is primarily a children's author and Guernsey was her first adult novel.
As it turns out, she co-wrote Guernsey, as she explained when we heard her speak. Her aunt was in the middle of writing it when she became ill. When she knew she was going to die, she asked Barrows to help her, and complete the book for her when she was gone. As I said, Wife and I loved it.
Barrows was a great speaker. Her second novel, The Truth According to Us, had just been published when we heard her, and she read from it. I felt sure I would like it as well as I liked Guernsey, so I got it. I even purchased it, which is rare for me.
After 50 pages, I was not impressed, but I just knew it would get better, so I kept going. At 100 pages it was still dragging for me, but since I'm a borderline obsessive-compulsive rule follower, even when the rules are self-imposed, I stuck with it to the end. After all, I had gone past page 50 and rules are rules. (I need help, I know that). Unfortunately, I just didn't like it.
Bet let's not dwell on the negative. Here are some of the ones I liked:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is the story of a college professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and how she and her family deal with it. Because I have not dealt with a close family member who has had this horrible disease, I was able to read it with great interest and it was also a great story. I've heard from some who have had close family with Alzheimer's that it was just too close to home and they couldn't do it, and I certainly get that. I have not seen the movie of the same name and probably won't. Although I have heard it's good, movies made from books I like rarely live up to my expectations.
Genova also wrote Inside the O'Briens, which I also read this year, which is also about a family dealing with disease, this time Huntington's. Although the story did not grab me as much as Still Alice, it was still interesting and well written.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was probably my favorite book of the year, and also Wife's. It's set during World War II, and traces parallel stories of a French girl and a German boy. I don't want to give you any more detail for fear of being a spoiler, but please go buy this book or check it out at the library. It's a beautiful read and I can almost promise you will be enriched.
Here are the three funniest and quirkiest fiction books I read this year, all from foreign authors:
What Alice Forgot by Lillian Moriarty, about a woman who has a concussion, forgets she has three children and must become reacquainted with them. Set in Australia, it's a poignant story but also hilariously funny.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. If memory serves, this is another one set in Australia, about a college professor with a mild form of Autism who finds love in a most unlikely place.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This one takes place in Sweden and if you have ever had a lovable curmudgeon in your life, this book might be for you. I laughed out loud.
I read the final book in Ken Follett's Century trilogy, which started pre-World War I. This one, Edge of Eternity, ends with Obama's election to the presidency. Over a thousand pages just like the other two, I enjoyed it but I was glad to be done with the series.
And speaking of series, I thoroughly enjoyed Jan Karon's Come Rain or Come Shine, her latest installment in the Father Tim series (which succeeded the Mitford series), and The Splendor of Ordinary Days, the third in Tennessee author Jeff High's Water Valley series.
I would also give honorable mention to The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani; Peace Like a River by Leif Enger; Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult; and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
So there you have it. As usual, so many books and not enough time. I'll be back soon with my favorite non-fiction of the year.