Yeah, I know. This is the latest year in review entry in Loud Bookish Type’s history, and I apologize for that. So why am I finally getting around to recapping my favorite books of 2015, almost halfway through January? A couple reasons, honestly.
First and foremost, I’ve been in a writing rut ever since I finished NaNoWriMo in November. When I say “finished”, I mean finished in the sense that I got to fifty thousand words, but the story itself is far from over and I still don’t know how it’s going to end, so my coping mechanism for that problem has been to just avoid the draft entirely, and this slacking-off has affected my book reviews as well. But my Sims families are doing extremely well, so there’s that. Although maybe things are starting to turn around – last night I sat down and banged out two thousand more words in the NaNo draft, so I might be getting over my holiday slump. Finally sitting down and writing this entry seemed like a good way to keep that going.
The second reason this entry is so late is because, frankly, I didn’t do much reading this year. I moved from Atlanta to Chicago in November 2014, so this year has been a lot of adjusting to a different apartment (my studio is tiny and full of mold, but it is cute and it is mine), exploring a new city, and job hunting. I ended up getting a job at a bar near Wrigley Field, which means my summer was full of drunken Cubs fans, exhausting fourteen-hour shifts, and almost no spare time for reading. But the good news is that, of the couple dozen books I read this year, almost all of them were enjoyable, and I actually had a hard time picking ten to feature here.
Looking over this list, the theme this year was definitely It Books. Many of the books I read have been made into movies already, or are on their way to becoming movies. I don’t usually focus so heavily on the Bandwagon Books, as I call them, but I think the fact that I had so little time for reading meant that I was more likely to focus on fast-paced, fun books instead of trying to slog through the harder stuff (War and Peace continues to stare woefully at me from my bookshelf – I’ll get to you someday, my emo Russian babies).
So, without further preamble and in no particular order, here are Loud Bookish Type’s favorite books of 2015!
- Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film
Anyone who has spent longer than an hour with me knows that I have an encyclopedic, vaguely unsettling knowledge of movies. I know who starred in them, I know the behind-the-scenes-trivia, I know all the plot details, and I sure as shit know which ones pass the Bechdel test. I once got into a loud argument with my father over how many shots Tom Cruise’s assassin character uses to kill his victims in Collateral, and now whenever my dad and I disagree on something I just have to say “One to the head, two to the chest!” and he shuts up real quick. So it was a pure delight to read Silver Screen Fiend, a story of getting into (and then escaping) an obsession with movies. On a larger scale, Oswalt’s book is about the difference between criticism and creation, and how it’s so much more important to be able to contribute something of your own, instead of spending your life admiring or panning the works of others. Since Patton Oswalt is known primarily as a comedian, it’s easy to forget that he’s also a really, really talented writer – his concept of a Night Cafe, taken from Van Gogh and used to illustrate the idea of a space that changes you forever, is masterful and moving.
2. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
This was the end of my brief audiobook experiment over the summer – having a twenty-minute walk to work meant that I needed something to listen to, and after I blew through Serial, I dowloaded a free audiobook app and went to town. Turns out, I can’t tolerate an audiobook that has a bad reader, and The House of Mirth was the only one I could stand. The book is peak Wharton – it follows the adventures of Lily Bart, a brilliant and charming woman clinging by her fingertips to her position in high society, and slowly realizing that she is in danger of becoming a spinster with no prospects. The genius of Edith Wharton is that, when you look at the big picture, the stakes of her books are pitifully low, but she makes the most simple conversation seem like the fate of the world hangs on whether so-and-so will accept an invitation to a ball. For Wharton’s heroines, tea parties are chess games. She makes me care so much about who will marry whom and who started what rumor, in a way that Jane Austen, bless her, never could.
3. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
Let it be known: 2015 was the year I read a dog biography. Of course, dismissing Susan Orlean’s history of Rin Tin Tin (and the title is not an exaggeration – she discusses not just the first dog, but how his descendants were able to continue his legacy into the 1970’s) as just a “dog biography” is to misunderstand how wide her scope really is. This book covers, among other things, the history of the German Shepherd breed, the use of animals in both world wars, the beginning of the movie industry, and the importance of television. By focusing on a single, enduring figure of pop culture, Orlean is giving us a history of Hollywood.
4. Room by Emma Donahue
Yes, I finally read Room, and yes, I read it because I saw the trailer for the movie. Looking over my books for the year, I think this was what kickstarted my streak of Bandwagon Books (well, this and The Martian). Donahue’s book isn’t perfect (Jack’s speaking style, while original, doesn’t really make much sense, since his mom speaks perfectly well and he has access to TV) but it’s suspenseful as hell, to the point where I read almost two hundred pages in a day. The movie is equally well done – of course Brie Larson is wonderful as Ma, but Jacob Tremblay also does fantastic work as Jack. And it’s such a good adaptation. The scene in the truck? I had read the book already and knew what was going to happen, but I was still sitting in the theater clutching my face and thinking “come on Jack come on Jack come on Jack” for the entire scene.
5. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
I actually never wrote a review of this book – I wrote one for Goodreads, but the review, in its entirety, goes “This book was so stupid and hysterical and I loved every second.” My intention was to go back and write a longer review once I’d had time to come down from the hysteria of this story, but I never did, because honestly there’s not much else to say about Sharp Objects. You thought Gone Girl was over-the-top and melodramatic? Oh, my sweet summer children. You have no idea. Sharp Objects makes Gone Girl look like an exercise in subtlety and restraint, and I loved every insane page.
6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Speaking of hysterical stupidity, let’s talk about The Girl on the Train. In my initial review, I called it “the best worst Lifetime Original Movie ever made” and I still can’t think of a better way to describe Hawkins’s book. Whenever I think about this story, I start hearing Stefon’s voice in my head: “This year’s hottest book is The Girl on the Train. It’s got everything: unreliable narrators. Abusive husbands. Cheating spouses. Shifting timelines. Murder. Kidnapping. Booze. Trains. Reverse blackouts. That’s that thing where you get super drunk and you don’t remember what happened the night a woman disappeared but you have lots of weird injuries, and even though you tell the reader that it’s impossible to recover memories from blackouts because your brain literally stops making memories, you remember them anyway at the end of the book and it’s awesome.”
7. Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks
After I read The Chaperone, a fictional version of the summer Louise Brooks spent in New York when she was fifteen (and featured almost no Louise Brooks), I had a serious urge to read more about this woman who was one of the most famous silent film stars of all time, but practically disappeared once talkies were introduced. Lulu in Hollywood is the story of Louise Brook’s rise and fall in the motion picture industry, told in her own words. It’s less of a memoir and more like an essay collection, but all of them are gold. I loved the details she provides about working in Hollywood in the early days of the film industry, and what a unique period of history that was. Film was a completely new medium, so everyone involved was just sort of making things up as they went along, and Louise Brooks had a front-row seat for the whole thing. Great reading for anyone who wants a firsthand, clear-eyed account of Old Hollywood.
8. I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres
I was initially unsure if I wanted to include this one – I was torn between it and Just Kids by Patti Smith. I read both books around the same time, having had a sudden urge to read memoirs about rock and roll in the 1970s. Technically speaking, Patti Smith’s book is better, and deserves to be on this list (and you should definitely read it) but in the end, I had to give Des Barres her due, because lord this book was a rollercoaster. Initially, I hated it – Des Barres is totally that girl who loves being catcalled because she thinks it’s a compliment, and her gleeful stories of being used and abused by rock stars had me rolling my eyes at her willful ignorance of the toxicity of that culture. But slowly, I started to love Pamela Des Barres, and I think this is mostly due to her honesty. She states, frankly and without reservation, that she wanted to sleep with all of these men because they were rock stars, plain and simple. So they fucked her and never called? So what? She got to sleep with Mick Jagger, and that’s a win as far as she’s concerned. By the end of the book, I had fallen in love with the way Des Barres lays herself bare on every page, not caring how the reader might judge her for it. This book is the truest portrayal I’ve ever read of what it really means to be a fan, and to want nothing more than to love and worship your favorite band. Pamela Des Barres might be my hero, guys.
9. The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey
Before I read this book, I was pretty sure that I was done with zombies. I had already given up on The Walking Dead, and I was at the point where any mention of the z-word just made me roll my eyes. But I’d heard only good things about Carey’s novel, so I decided to take a leap of faith. And I’m so, so glad that I did. By focusing his story on Melanie, a very special and very gifted girl, Carey manages to find a new way to tell a very old, very tired story. And Carey even manages to do something new with the zombie mythology, which, considering how oversaturated the market has become, is a miracle in itself. The stock characters and situations are all still here, but somehow, through pure technical skill, Carey is able to make everything about his book seem new and innovative.
10. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this one yet, having finished it over the holidays, but I had to include it. I haven’t read any Atwood since the last book in her MaddAddam trilogy, so it was fantastic to get back into her books. It’s pure, unfiltered Atwood, where the women are clever and conniving, the men make a lot of noise but are largely inconsequential, and everything is so beautiful and well-written it makes you almost angry.
So that’s it for 2015, dear readers! Thanks to everyone who’s still following this blog, and I promise I will try to read more books this year. And see more movie adaptations, of course.