Sunday, January 03, 2016

2015 in books

I will remember 2015 as the year I read all the hard books.  It was not the most fun reading year of my life, but now I'm feeling very satisfied, perhaps a bit smug even, at what I read last year.  I wrote blog posts about some of these, but there are quite a few I didn't write about.

My bedroom bookcase is my favorite thing in our whole house.

The Cranford Chronicles by Elizabeth Gaskell (1851)  Delightful collection of three novellas about an English village.  The BBC movie adaptation is superb.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
Drood by Dan Simmons (2009) Horror fiction about Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
Tarry Awhile by Lenora Mattingly Weber (1962)  Beany Malone wants to hurry up and get married.
Desiree by Annemarie Selinko (1958) Fictional biography of Napoleon's first love, who later became queen of Sweden.
Pioneer Girl, the Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder edited by Pamela Smith Hill (2014)
March by Geraldine Brooks (2005)  Ridiculous novel told from the perspective of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March's father.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)  Funny essays.
Jackson's Dilemma by Iris Murdoch (1995)  Murdoch's final novel, written as she was succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure (2011)  One woman's obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O'Brien (1993)  One of the excellent Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series.
Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)  Man cooks breakfast, attends a funeral, and visits several pubs.
Three Men Out by Rex Stout (1954)  Nero Wolfe mystery.
The Commodore by Patrick O'Brian (1995)  More Captain Jack.
The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian (1996)  Captain Jack Aubrey again.
Swan in the Evening by Rosamund Lehmann (1967)  A memoir.
The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats (1936)
Mr. Wrong by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1975)  Collection of short stories, some rather creepy or gruesome.
Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson (1904)  Improbable romantic fiction set in a jungle in South America.
And Even Now by Max Beerbohm (1920) Essays
The Middle of my Tether by Joseph Epstein (1983) Essays
Wry Martinis by Christopher Buckley (1997) Essays
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941)  Stunning travel log through the countries of the former Yugoslavia, on the eve of WW II.
The Diary of John Evelyn (1640-1706)
Before Midnight by Rex Stout (1955)  Mystery
Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1972) A young girl visits her step brother and his wife and turns their lives upside down.
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)
Minnow on the Say by Phillipa Pearce (1955) Children's book about two boys searching for a long-lost treasure.
Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell (1934)  Not her usual garden-party novel.  Story of a somewhat ribald ocean voyage from England to Australia, carrying troops home from WWII.
The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian (1998)  More Jack and Stephen!
The Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington (1748)
Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian (1999) Again with the nautical fiction.
A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne (1768)  Epistolary novel about a journey through France and Italy.
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940)  Grim novel set in a soviet-style prison in the 1930s.
Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore (1869)  Swashbuckling romantic fiction.
The Reminiscences of Lady Dorothy Nevill (1907) Memoir of an aristocrat.  Lady Dorothy was one of the great Walpole family.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2011)
21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey by Patrick O'Brian (2000) I finally read every Jack Aubry novel!
Something Borrowed, Something Blue by Lenora Mattingly Weber (1963)  Beany Malone gets married.
The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
Utz by Bruce Chatwin (1988) Charming little novel about a man and his porcelain collection.
The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout (1953)  Mystery novel--a cut above Stout's usual caliber.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (1926)  Young woman rebels against her suffocating family.
Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books by John Carey (2000)
A Reader's Delight by Noel Perrin (1988)  Essays about books.
A Woman's Work is Never Done: A History of Housework in the British Isles by Caroline Davidson (1982)
Eating in America by Waverly Root (1976)  An entertaining history of how Americans eat, starting with native Americans, moving through colonial times, and on up through the 1970s.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (1977)  Travel through Argentina in search of legend, in the days before airbnb and translation apps.
Assorted Prose by John Updike (1965)  Essays
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana jr. (1840)  Account of being a member of the crew on a sailing voyage from Boston to California in the 1830s.
I. Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)  Blog post coming.
All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard (2012) Blog post coming.
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara (1934) Blog post coming.
A Child's Delight by Noel Perrin (1997)  Delightful essays about children's books.
The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell (2010) Blog post coming.

That's fifty-six books, although I have to admit that I read a big chunk of War & Peace in CY 2014, and I didn't finish The Bucolic Plague until January 2nd, and I finished A Child's Delight yesterday. Obviously, not all of these were hard, but I needed the Rex Stouts and the Patrick O'Brians and the Beany Malones to rest my brain while I read the difficult books.  I am looking forward to a more restful reading year in 2016.  How was your reading year in 2015?


  1. There is a new BBC version of War and Peace for those who can't make it through the book. No need to identify yourselves in public but someone who shall remain nameless skipped all the war parts of the book.

    Looking at my list, the books I read in 2015 (I think some are actually from 2014) that I liked the best are:
    The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (horrible, horrible hipster book title)
    Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin
    The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
    Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
    Mislaid, by Nell Zink
    Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Eckback
    The Best Creative Nonfiction, vol. 3, by Lee Gutkind (vols. 1-2 were a disappointment)
    A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
    Let Me Be Frank With You, by Richard Ford
    How To Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran (if you can find the TV show, Raised By Wolves, based on this show, it's worth watching)
    Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart
    An Italian Education, by Tim Parks
    Fourth of July Creek, by Smith Henderson
    Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin
    We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
    Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

  2. Oh wow, thanks for that list! I love Kate Atkinson, so I know I'll be reading A God in Ruins at some point. I have Far from the Madding Crowd in my netflix queue. I ought to hurry up and read it before it comes. Caitlin Moran's books are already in my list.

  3. Holy bananas - you read all the grown-up books in 2015. I bow before your literary throne! Thanks for sharing your list.

    Not Beehive, I had no idea "How to Buikd a Girl" was made into a show. Hurray! Thanks for the tip - love Caitlin Moran.

    1. Cha Cha-
      I mis-typed. I meant to say that the TV show is by the book author.

      Raised by Wolves isn't based on How To Build a Girl. Caitlin Moran (and her sister Caroline) wrote the show about their childhood. It's an exaggerated sitcom.

  4. This is so impressive! You read Ulysses - I have not even dared to crack that book open. And War and Peace in the same year!

    I love your blog posts about books you have read. You have introduced me to some authors I would not have known about. I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gaskell

    1. I saw that you included Cranford on your list for 2015. It's such a good book. I really want to read North and South now.

  5. Maybe this will be the year I start keeping track of the books I read, although my list is not nearly as impressive as yours. I tend to avoid hard books, sticking to rock star memoirs.

  6. First of all, I love that bookcase. I need more space for bookcases. Luckily my husband builds cabinets for a living...I just need more walls!

    I read about 65 books last year (Goodreads says 79 but that includes the ones I didn't finish because it makes me list them as read.) However, not nearly as many were challenging as the ones on your list. This year I plan to read at least one book a month from my classics list and one nonfiction as well. That was an awkward sentence but hey, it's late. I always enjoy your book posts.

  7. Dang. That's serious reading. I mean, some of those books are real whoppers. Well done, you.