19 March 2016

Favourite Books of 2015

Yes, I know that we are now more than 2 1/2 months in to 2016, but it was recently pointed out to me that I hadn't posted my favourite books of 2015.  Better late than never!  Though I have to say, it is a bit of a challenge going back and trying to remember the books that I read in 2015; not helped by the fact that I recently had to re-load Overdrive on my iPad (the library e-book app) and lost my reading history.

Same rules as other years - it doesn't matter what year the book was published it, but I only include books that I read for the first time in 2015 (i.e. no re-reads allowed).  So in no particular order other than the order that I remembered them in, here are my favourite books of 2015:

Disgrace (J. M. Coetzee):  This was a book that I read for a course last semester, Confessing to Love: Theology and Literature (otherwise known as The Course that Saved My Sanity Last Semester - I got to come home from school and curl up with a novel and not feel guilty about it, and then go to school and sit around a table talking about the aforementioned novel).  I have to say that I didn't really like any of the characters in the book, but was fascinated by it, and I suspect that it is a book that I will re-visit in the future as well as looking up other books by this author.  It was a fascinating look at one element of South African society in the immediate post-Aparthied era.

People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks):  This book was recommended by a friend (thanks LM!) and so I borrowed it from the library (e-book) and read it at the gym and on the bus travelling to and from school.  It basically tells the history of the Jewish people in southern Europe working backwards from the present day, through telling the history of a book volume.  Very interesting structure and well executed.

Learning to Walk in the Dark (Barbara Brown Taylor):  I read and reviewed this book last summer - it made me consider how I view literal and metaphorical darkness.

This One Summer (Mariko and Jillian Tamaki):  I love a well-done graphic novel, and these cousins know how to tell a story that draws me in.  Their previous book Skim made my top ten list a few years back, and this book was just as good.  The story and the illustrations evoke rural southern Ontario with their attention to details, and the book took me right back to summers at Granny and Grandad's cottage.

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie):  This was also gym reading for me, though I have to confess that it took me more than 2 weeks of workouts to get through it and I had to renew it!  I have had the experience of moving between cultures when I moved to Tanzania in 2003 and then back to Canada in 2006, and got an understanding of how strange your native culture seems after you have been living away.  This book tells the story of a woman from Nigeria who moves to America to go to school, and then many years later moves back to Nigeria.  I could relate with many of the observations that she makes when moving in each direction.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Jeanette Winterson):  I have heard Jeanette Winterson interviewed on CBC's Writers and Company about her life growing up in the north of England - the stories that she tells in this memoir.  It was a fascinating look into a different place and time.  Even though the time is the not-too-distant past (1960s) and the place is one that is familiar (Manchester), the book describes a totally different world than the one that I know.

Gang Leader for a Day (Sudhir Venkatesh):  We read the first chapter of this book for class and it grabbed my attention enough that I gobbled up the rest of the book over the summer holidays when I had a chance.  A sociology doctoral student walks up to a bunch of gang members in south-end Chicago and asks them what it is like to be poor and black; and instead of ending up dead, he is eventually welcomed into their lives in a limited way (and the longer he is there, the more he realizes the limitation of his acceptance).

Smoke (Catherine McKenzie):  I used to have a book blog, and one of the perks of writing a book blog is that authors and publishers will sometimes send you free books.  I had previously read, enjoyed, and reviewed other books by Catherine McKenzie (Arranged and Forgotten) so when her publicist offered to send me a copy of Smoke, I couldn't refuse!  I found this book different than her previous books - first of all, it is set in the US rather than Canada, plus there seemed to be less action in it - but it was a very timely read.  The story is set in the mountains as a wildfire threatens the town, and I was reading it at the end of last summer as wildfires were threatening many places in western Canada.  Unfortunately the book wasn't released until October, by which point the correlation between the book and the news would have been over.  I did enjoy it, even though it was a bit heavier than her previous books, both in subject matter and writing style.  I find that she writes very convincing characters so that I can get right inside the characters' heads.

And that is my list for last year.  I couldn't quite make ten this time around, as I had a fair number of re-reads this year, as well as many forgettable books.  I have already read several good books this year, so hopefully this year's list will be easier to compile (and more timely in its appearance!).