Recently I was visited by the book fairy. At first, I didn’t realize it was the book fairy. I thought I had gotten drunk and ordered books online then forgotten about them. But no, a quick look at my account proved I hadn’t ordered Writing Great Books for Young Adults or Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through. These books just magically appeared on my doorstep the other day. It must have been the book fairy, working her magic through Amazon.com. Or, perhaps it was a sign that 2016 is going to be a good year for reading.
2015 has certainly been a good year for reading. I finally started using Goodreads for real, which has been super helpful for remembering what I’ve read and what I want to read. It’s also a good place to gush or vent about books, sort of like having an Internet book club.
According to Goodreads, I’ve read fifty-two books this year — an average of one per week. What have I been reading? Well, since I write books for young people, I try to read plenty of YA and middle-grade to get a sense of what’s out there. (Plus they’re just fun to read). And reading thrillers is a great way to study plotting and how to write with suspense. (Plus they’re just fun to read.) This year I also read some (but maybe not enough?) literary fiction, and I rounded things out with a hefty does of nonfiction.
So here is my year in books, with special notes next to those I particularly did (and did not) enjoy. Oh, and as it turns out, Our Family Outing was actually ordered for me by a friend, not left by the book fairy after all. But Writing Great Books for Young Adults is still a mystery. Was it a gift or was it magic? Is it a sign? Will it be a good read? Only time will tell…
It Was a Very Good Year for Reading, or, The Books I Read in 2015
LITERARY FICTION: 11.5
The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katharine McMahon
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (didn’t finish so this counts as a half)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Find Me by Laura van den Berg DO NOT RECOMMEND How can a book with such a cool premise be so boring? I don’t know, but van den Berg manages to turn an apocalypse into a snooze fest. So disappointing.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July HIGHLY RECOMMEND So weirdly sexual, so strangely heartfelt. July takes her usual type of protagonist — a lonely, neurotic, middle-aged woman — and gives her a disgusting and aggressive young roommate. This book is not for everyone, but it was definitely for me.
A House Made of Stars by Tawnysha Greene
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert HIGHLY RECOMMEND How can a historical fiction novel about an old maid who studies moss be a page-turner? I don’t know, but Elizabeth Gilbert manages to make it so. Completely compelling and beautifully written.
Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh RECOMMEND Creepy and suspenseful murder mystery set in an ominous small town in the Ozarks.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (Note: The first half especially is suspenseful as heck, but it is not for the faint at heart – it gets pretty darn gruesome. Trigger warnings out the wazoo.)
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon RECOMMEND I read a lot of Jennifer McMahon books this year, as you can tell. Even when they are sort of silly, I enjoy her stuff immensely because she mixes murder mystery suspense with supernatural spookiness in a way that is evocative and hard-to-sleep creepy. This one was probably the most suspenseful and had the least ridiculous ending. In a small town a girl is murdered… perhaps by the ghost of a girl who was murdered there thirty years before?
Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware DO NOT RECOMMEND Wanted to like this one, but the characters were dumb and the plot was even dumber. The big reveal at the end caused me to groan and hurl the book across the room. About a “hen party” (what the British call bachelorette parties) that turns deadly.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith Wanted to enjoy this hardboiled mystery by J.K. Rawling, and I sort of got into it for a while, but then it didn’t quite hold my attention, and I ended up skimming the second half just to find out what happened.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (didn’t finish so this counts as a half)
Flora and Ulysses by Kate Dicamillo
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jen Han
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
Never Have I Ever by Sara Shepard
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor RECOMMEND Beautifully written fantasy with a kick-ass, blue-haired protagonist and a wild otherworld of dangerous angels. I don’t usually get into YA fantasy like this, but I was totally into this one. I tried to read the sequel, though, and I couldn’t get into it.
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillio
The Chosen One by Carol Williams RECOMMEND Thirteen-year-old Kyra lives in a polygamist society and has to escape before she is forced to marry her sixty-year-old uncle who already has six wives. Whoa is right. Go get this book now.
NONFICTION: 16 (5 of which were books about writing)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert HIGHLY RECOMMEND I hate Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, but boy can she write a book. This one looks at the life of a fascinating and complicated man, Eustace Conway, who dresses in the skins of the animals he’s killed and eaten (and tries to convince everyone else to do the same.) The really fascinating part, though, is the psychology behind Estace’s failed relationships with girlfriends and his own father.
The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs HIGHLY RECOMMEND Oh so heartbreaking! So very, very heartbreaking! Will give you much to think about as far as the stew of poverty, race, and class in America. Written by his roommate at Yale, this is the true story of brilliant and charismatic Robert who grew up poor and black, managed to work his way to Yale, but then returned to his old neighborhood where he dealt drugs and was murdered in 2011 at the age of 30. This is the only book in years that has moved me to tears.
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (only read half the essays so it counts as a half)
Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s by Brad Gooch
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (didn’t finish so counts as a half)
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (This book is forgettable, yet pretty hilarious and enjoyable while you’re reading it.)
Queen of Fall by Sonja Livingston
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (This book is long and full of trigger-warnings, but an important book, I think.)
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin HIGHLY RECOMMEND I would recommend this book for anyone: man or woman, whether you’ve given birth or plan to or not. Through individual stories as well as research and decades of midwifery experience, Gaskin shows that once birthing was taken out of the home, out of the control of woman, and put under the control of hospitals and doctors (and men), things changed, and not for the better. This book gave me new understanding and appreciation of the mind-body connection and what women’s bodies are capable of doing, and it pretty much convinced me that if/when I have a baby, I want to do it at home.
Lust & Wonder: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
Books on the Craft of Writing:
Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Writing Irresistible Kid Lit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction For Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole HIGHLY RECOMMEND I’ve said this before, but this book is SO GOOD and I’d recommend it even if you’re writing for adults. Lots of good stuff in here that I hadn’t read in other writing books.
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin
Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
You Can’t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction — From Memoir to Literary Fiction and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind