Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Best Books I Read: 2015 (Also Top Ten Tuesday)

Every year since I began blogging I make a big post about the best books I read. Since then, I've added a ton of end-of-year lists, and I wanted to try and spread them out a bit. I saw that today's Top Ten Tuesday (a lovely meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish) would be our best books list, so I decided that today would be the day - a little earlier than usual. I'm going to make this list only include what I've read from the start of the year through December 14, and anything I read from today until the end will just go on next year's list.

The books selected are the only ones I gave 5/5 on Goodreads. This list is a bit weirder than in previous years - I didn't read nearly as much YA as I usually do. (I still love YA - I simply read a different kind of variety this year... Primarily because of the university workload as an English Education major.) I found some new favorites in places I least expected this year!

Looking for Alaska 
by John Green

Well, I finally read it, and I must say, John Green knows how to write a damn good book. Looking for Alaska, which follows a teenager nicknamed Pudge who goes to boarding school for a more exciting life, was beautiful in just about every way. Green's writing style is immaculate: Not only are this man's sentences linguistically pretty, but he also does an exceptional job of describing emotions and making readers feel them. I cried - but that's hardly a surprise. The themes are easy to connect with as this book heavily deals with guilt and forgiveness, and the characters are so wonderful and flawed - it would be hard not to love Looking for Alaska. On a personal level I feel as though I picked a really good time to read this one.

To the Lighthouse 
by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse is the first Virginia Woolf novel I've read, and it surely won't be the last. It resonated with me quite deeply - I still think about it all the time. I've wanted to reread it since I put it down, and that doesn't happen often. I could really find myself in the painter Lily Briscoe and her relationships with a number of other characters; I could make connections between the Ramsay dynamic and my own family's way of functioning. Woolf uses her complicated stream-of-consciousness writing style to unravel psychological states and to show time's slow progress, giving us a perfect, clear picture of several characters over the span of two days (separated by ten years). She is clearly showing readers rather than telling them. All aspects considered, To the Lighthouse instantly became one of my favorite books this year.

A Room of One's Own 
by Virginia Woolf

See, I told you To the Lighthouse wouldn't be my last Woolf novel (although A Room of One's Own is a big essay... you get the idea). Woolf addresses the needs of women (and really, of all writers) in order to write something and write it well: Financial security, education, and space to herself. Naturally, it is a feminist essay, but from a literary nerd's standpoint this was especially interesting to read because Woolf uses classic authors as examples, namely William Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and Jane Austen. The connections she makes and the theories she comes up with are equally fascinating and powerful.

Go Set a Watchman 
by Harper Lee

Yep, I consider Go Set a Watchman one of the best books I read this year. I enjoyed this pre-To Kill a Mockingbird manuscript thoroughly for what it was - and what's really unique about reading this is you can take it as seriously or as not seriously as you want - there are details about To Kill a Mockingbird that are inconsistent with what became the actual novel. I accept the argument that Harper Lee likely changed her mind about what she wanted Atticus Finch to be, but regardless, the fallen idol concept of this book really moved me, and there's something about Lee's writing that makes me plow through pages at high speeds.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 
by Mark Twain

I first read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 2013 for a high school class and I really enjoyed it. I gave it a four out of five on Goodreads. I reread it for a college class this year and somehow my appreciation for this novel really expanded. I don't think I fully realized how much I loved Huck's story and how it's really everyone's story to some extent until this reread. Plus, Twain can be quite funny, thus making this book even more enjoyable to read. It has a good comibination of feels. I imagine I'll reread it a third time someday.

Wide Sargasso Sea 
by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea is essentially wonderful Jane Eyre fanfiction, as Jean Rhys writes about Bertha (Antoinetta) Mason's troubling childhood and her eventual marriage to Mr. Rochester. This book is written beautifully. I read it for a university class, so I learned about why Rhys slightly shifted the time it was written and how Rochester's typical British culture clashed with Antoinetta's unique one (as a British girl raised in the Carribbean). Rhys' cultural and historical considerations offer an interesting perspective on the characters Jane Eyre fans have already been so fascinated by. Many who read this prequel seem to hate Rochester afterward, but I did not - for a variety of reasons that I won't get into. I ultimately feel the same way as I always have: He's flawed, but I feel sorry for him. I think he truly tried to do the best he could in his situation. Altogether, I think this is a very valid prequel.

The Handmaid's Tale 
by Margaret Atwood

I kind of dreaded reading The Handmaid's Tale because I expected it to be kind of scary and morbid. It definitely was, and that's why it's good. Imagine a futuristic society that restrict's women's freedom in every sense - that's what's in this book. Some of the ideas this society argues for may seem so ridiculous, but people make them even now. Offred's story is told from her present standpoing along with flashbacks, and Atwood strategically reveals information to keep readers asking questions. It's definitely thought-provoking - a nightmarish scenario that can go on society's list of futures to avoid encountering.

by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Once again, I use my best books list to honor the series everyone loves to hate. Redeemed is the final installment of the Cast girls' House of Night series and I thought it was an incredibly fun and satisfying read. The characters are silly and the magic is awesome, as per usual. There are also some twists in Redeemed that I definitely was not expecting. Perhaps the biggest theme of this series is forgiveness (an element I have always appreciated), and of course this came full circle in Redeemed. I really enjoyed this conclusion.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 
by John Boyne

I was nervous about this one. I heard the author was pretty ruthless with readers' hearts in the end, and the Internet was right. A book about Nazi Germany from a child's perspective is bound to dampen eyes and help gain perspective - the Holocaust is even more confusing and stupid when examined from the eyes of a child. The simplistic writing tackled a scary world ever so innocently from beginning to end as Boyne traced the friendship of Bruno, the son of a lead Nazi officer, and Schmuel, a Jewish boy at "Out-With." This book shows that sometimes a whole other world is just over the fence, if we care to look.

Gruesome Playground Injuries
by Rajiv Joseph

I somehow stumbled into an acting class at my university this semester, and Rajiv Joseph's play Gruesome Playground Injuries was required reading (and performing). I don't read a ton of plays and when I do they're usually older literature, and I guess I just didn't expect to love this one as much as I did. It's a peculiar story - two people cross paths time and time again throughout their lives as they hurt themselves and each other. Between intentional self-harm and merely reckless behavior, these characters go through a lot together. Quite a few themes and emotions are represented; it's so easy to get something out of this short read. I loved it.

Feel free to share your list with me. I hope you had a fabulous year in books! More fun lists are coming - I have a two-part countdown of the year's best musical singles, a book survey, and a new kind of music list scheduled.


  1. I read 'Jane Eyre' and 'Wide Sargasso Sea' for the first time this year - it was great to see the second book take the hints of colonialism/nationalism in 'Jane Eyre' and run with them! Glad you liked 'Sargasso Sea' too.

    Also, Virginia Woolf is great :)

  2. I really need to read Go Set A Watchman. I've had a copy since it was released! :-) Great list!

  3. Handmaids Tale is on my list this week as well. I loved this book so much, but the very end bit kind of broke the magic for me a little. Still amazing though. Great list, happy readings :)

  4. I read and enjoyed Go Set a Watchman this year too. I would like to read some of Woolf's work. It is good to see her on your list.

  5. I have only watched the movie of The Boy in Striped Pajamas, and it broke me! I have a huge soft spot for holocaust movies and books, and this one was one of the most powerful!

    Here's my list

    1. I also have a huge soft spot for Holocaust-related tales, but this is actually the first piece of Holocaust fiction I've encountered. Everything else I've read has been nonfiction. I've been meaning to get to The Book Thief, but it looks so sad that I've been kind of avoiding it - it doesn't take much for a story to make me cry. I'm sure I'll get to more books like this one of these days.

  6. I have only read Looking for Alaska from your list (which I also quite enjoyed) but I really want to give The Handmaid's Tale a shot. I have actually been hesitant for the same reasons as you were, but since we were in the same boat and you ended up loving it, I am definitely going to try to read it in the new year! Great list :)
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    1. Awesome - I hope you find it as thought-provoking as I did! It's still morbid nonetheless, but it's definitely a book that I think everyone should check out. It's a very interesting read.