The Books of 2015
It’s here! The highly anticipated (see: not anticipated at all) Carly Gelsinger reading list. This is everything I can remember reading in 2015, packed into a concise list for your enjoyment or disdain.
It’s interesting to me why we read what we read when we do. Looking back, I didn’t read the things I really wanted to read this year. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The Color of Water by James McBride. Both sit on my shelf, unread. I read what I wanted to read in the moment, and that is not a defense or an excuse, just a fact. I’ve learned to stop apologizing for what I read and watch (there’s really no such thing as a “guilty pleasure” you know, just pleasures.) That’s not to say I ever want to stop challenging myself through books. And that’s why I keep a list. I like to keep track of what I read so that at the end of the year I can look back and remember what in my life led me to a particular book and why. It is also helpful (painful) to look back and admit to myself that I read three Hollywood memoirs and no books on social justice.
So here’s to good reads and disappointing reads and everything in between. Without further adieu…
Arcardia by Lauren Groff.
I kicked off the year by reading Groff’s debut novel about a boy growing up in a 1970s hippie commune.
What I remember: Gahhhh, so beautiful. Groff is such a show-off writer, it bugged me and made me cry.
Recommended for: Readers interested in commune culture of the 1970s, readers who like pretty words, suckers for coming-of-age stories, the strong stomached (lots of scenes of young children tripping on acid.)
Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch.
I love Rachel Dratch and when I heard she wrote a book about comedy and motherhood, I knew I had to read it.
What I remember: A lot of talk about her perceived physical ugliness, which made me chuckle but also made me want to buy her some therapy. A few fun SNL and 30 Rock stories. She speaks a lot about rejection which normally I HATE in a celebrity memoir, but Dratch’s story resonated with me. She even gave herself a hilarious moniker about the amount of times she has been passed over in Hollywood…Something like “Second Chance Rachel,” only funny. The whole book had a bit of a Debbie Downer tone though. I gave this four stars on Goodreads so I must have enjoyed it more than I remember now.
Recommended for: Fans of SNL, women who think they are ugly, people who have felt the sting of failure.
Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler.
What I remember: Thinking, “how have I never read this book,” picking it up at the library on a Saturday, finishing it by dinnertime, and not remembering a single scene in it. Except maybe one seen where Handler goes to a birthday dinner she doesn’t want to go to and re-gifts some terrible gift. OK I think it was probably funny.
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to be culturally relevant in 2007.
Angry Conversations with God by Susan E. Isaacs
What I remember: AHHHH NOOOOO MY EEEAARRS. So I listened to this one on audio, read by the author and JUSSST NOOOOO. So whiny. So much self-destruction. Not much self-awareness. Creepy images of God. I picked this one up because my default genre is spiritual memoir and this one happened to be written by an improvisational comedian. But Nope, Nope Nope. Second least favorite read of 2015.
Recommended for: People who enjoy getting root canals.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell
What I remember: I’m a sucker for a memoir with accolades from the New York Times. Especially ones that take place in Boston. Oh, and cancer. Yeah, cancer is the backdrop for this story, but it’s really about friendship. Friendship between women and their dogs. I remember beautiful prose.
Recommended for: Memoir readers, those who resonate with grief and loss stories, dog lovers.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
What I remember: Feeling like I couldn’t breath after the scene where her boot falls off the cliff. Reading this during a spa day and feeling like my well-lotioned thighs wouldn’t last a day on the trail. Eight months later, I’ll say it’s the second best memoir I read this year.
Recommended for: Book lovers, nature lovers, writers.
The Daughter by Jane Shemilt
What I remember: Not much. While reading, I knew I would forget the content of this book within a few days of finishing it. I was right. It was a thriller of sorts about a teenage girl who goes missing. I picked it up at a time I needed an escape, and I got it.
Recommended for: Fans of mysteries, people looking for a darker beach read.
Scary Close by Donald Miller
What I remember: Feeling like the person who sent me this book has my number. The whole book is about the things we do to hide our true selves, and yeah, it made me uncomfortable. I think that was the point?
Recommended for: People who check their Instagram feed while eating dinner with their partner, people tired of the game, Don Miller fans.
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
What I remember: Wishing I could write like Mary Karr.
Recommended for: Humans.
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
What I remember: Ahhh, we are now in the string of books I read on vacation this summer. I bought this one because book blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended it as a part of her famous summer reading list. The author is a poet, and it took me a bit to stop wanting to throw up when she describes her love interest’s eyes as “black-lashed, chocolate colored stunners” and notes that his name shares all but three letters with Cary Grant’s. I know, I know. But it’s the voice of this character, and it’s a character that grew on me and a story that made a little home in me. I loved it.
Recommended for: Chicks (let’s be honest) who want to read chick-lit but like to call it literature.
Revival by Stephen King
What I remember: This was the first full novel I’ve read of King’s in a long time. I tend to like his short stories more. But I grabbed this one at the airport before our international flight because of the creepy religious themes promised in the book. It was creepy enough, but definitely not one of King’s best.
Recommended for: Stephen King diehards.
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
What I remember: I picked up this book because I read at least one Moriarty book every summer. I inhale them every time because of their witty dialogue and flawed, realistic women characters. These books read like soda pop and always find a way to my heart. Obviously not for long though, because I don’t remember anything specific about this one, six months later. (Sometimes me saying I don’t remember a book isn’t an insult to the book, but a testament to my poor memory.) I gave it three stars on Goodreads.
Recommended for: Weekend reading.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
What I remember: S.A.A., although I think I liked this one more? This is why I only read one Moriarty book a year I guess. Reading two in one summer caused them to mold together in my mind.
Recommended for: S.A.A.
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay
What I remember: This one has some great research and insight about women and confidence, especially as it applies in the workplace. Though not about comedy at all, it helped me break some of my bad habits in improv. It also gave me some ideas for raising Georgie.
Recommended for: Women, anyone who knows a woman, parents of daughters.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
What I remember: Being annoyed most of the book. I guess it’s a cute love story or whatever, but the breezy writing style, flat characters, and predictable ending drove me crazy. As you can see from my summer reading taste–de los Santos and Moriarty–I’m not above a love story, even one with a happy ending. But this style was not for me. This was my first time reading Rowell and I probably won’t read anything else. (Sorry, but authors get one chance with me. There is too much else to read in the world for me to bend this rule.) Also, the male protagonist is a serious stalker and apparently that’s cute because it’s supposed to be romantic? Also also, half the book is texts of emails written back and forth between best friends at work.
Recommended for: Someone with extreme nostalgia for the early 2000s, someone who thinks “You’ve Got Mail” was so good it should be revisited every ten years or so with a new spin.
“It’s Not About The Sex,” My Ass by Joanne Hanks
What I remember: My dear friend Emily and I share a sick fascination with polygamist cults so we read pretty much anything we can get a hold of on the topic. Our main complaint is that so many of them gloss over the sexual comings and goings (easy joke there… go ahead, take it), of the lifestyle which let’s face it, is what we’re curious about. So Emily bought me this very subtly titled book for my birthday this year and I devoured it in a day or so.
Recommended for: Weirdos like me who enjoy reading about cults.
Euphoria by Lily King
What I remember: Feeling like I was there on the Kiona River in the 1920s with Nell Stone, one of the most successful anthropologists of her time. (The novel is loosely based on Margaret Mead’s life.) The love triangle thing I was kind of “meh” on, and not because I’m opposed to a good triangle but because the two male characters were undeveloped for me. Still, I loved this book because it took me to a time and place I’ll never get to go in real life.
Recommended for: People who like to name drop awarding-winning books at cocktail parties (who are these people and how do I get invited to their parties?), people fascinated by anthropology.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
What I remember: Wishing I could shake the characters. Being heartbroken. Thinking about the pressure we as parents put on children to fulfill our own deferred dreams. Empathy for the Chinese-American experience in the 1960s midwest. This is a short novel, and perhaps because of that, the characters can sometimes feel like archetypes. Especially toward the end of the book — I think the author wanted her characters to fit her theme a little too desperately.
Recommended for: Readers of “literary” AKA sad fiction, lovers of poignant prose (the kind that stops your heart for a second before you can move on.)
The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr.
What I remember: Wishing I could write like Mary Karr, and getting little insights, tiny ones as to how I maybe can someday. Also I remember laughing a lot. Mary Karr, will you critique my book, also will you come live in my guest room?
Recommended for: Writers, people who love (or hate) memoir as a genre, anyone who is looking for new books to read (the recommended reading list at the back of the book is worth the list price alone.)
You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
What I remember: Being kind of bored. There were gorgeous turns of phrases for sure, but the overall book felt disjointed to me. It wasn’t awful! I gave it three solid stars on Goodreads. I did feel the author lacked self-awareness, which is fatal to a memoir. That said, I learned a lot about face blindness, a disorder I didn’t know much about before.
Recommended for: People interested in face-blindness, I guess?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
What I remember: Y’all are going to call me a heretic but I didn’t love HP #1, and yes, this was my first read. It was a tight story, imaginative, funny at points, bla bla. I think in reading for the first time as an adult I may have missed out on some of its gleam? As I read, I kept thinking two things. 1) I would have thought this was pretty awesome when I was ten. 2) This story would be so much better in the hands of Roald Dahl.
My friends tell me to stick with it, that the story gets darker and more complex and whatnot, so I probably will. I may wait until Georgie is of age though so we can experience them together.
Recommended for: People who have lived under a rock for the last twenty years.
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
What I remember: Laughing, crying, etc. My favorite spiritual read of 2015. I got to read it alongside a good friend, which I think is how this book should be read.
Recommended for: Faith seekers, cranky Christians, people who need to believe there’s hope in a world with mass shootings.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
What I remember: Actually throwing the book across the living room. Look, I need as much help as I can get with tidying but honestly you will never find me talking to my socks or dressing up alone in my own house out of respect for my possessions, or throwing out anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” My Neosporin doesn’t spark joy. Nor does my crockpot. Or my green couch that doesn’t quite go in our new living room. Am I really supposed to go through my entire house, fondling every object for a feeling of joy? Also, her ideas on books are inhumane for this reader. Throw away any book you’ve read, and any book you haven’t read because let’s face it, you never will. If you like a certain quote from a book you enjoyed, just rip the page out of said book and then toss the rest in the trash. (WHAT AUTHOR TALKS LIKE THIS?) Also, throw away that coat with a missing button. Don’t repair it. Just go buy a new one! I found the whole thing coming from a disposable, privileged, OCD perspective I couldn’t relate to. (At one point she stresses the importance of putting every object in the entire home in its place before getting to bed at night.) Also, the opening chapter alone gave me intense flashbacks to my fundamentalist thinking – THERE IS ONLY ONE METHOD TO KEEP A TIDY HOUSE AND THIS IS THE WAY AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS WRONG. Fundamentalism isn’t just for religion, folks. Kudos to Kondo for getting famous on selling this stuff, but it wasn’t for me. (I also realize I could get in trouble for saying that; this book was the buzz of the year.) Side note: I don’t want to bash on ancient Japanese animistic culture, which is supposedly what Kondo’s methods teach… But after reading some commentary, I think what Kondo is selling to Americans is not really animism at all but a plastic replacement.
Recommended for: Someone who has always wanted to throw a book across a room, students looking for extra credit in their abnormal psychology class, droids.
Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling
What I remember: Feeling vaguely inspired but mostly just guilty for reading this book instead of doing anything else for two days.
Recommended for: Kaling fans, women in comedy, Hollywoodophiles open to some light feminism.
Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
What I remember: This is the sequel to “Love Walked In,” which I read over the summer. While “Love Walked In” laid the foundation for this one, I think this one is richer. Of course, I had to get past the fact that our protagonist has a flawless face and “weighs less than a 12-year-old” and is married to a bronze-skinned, ripped doctor who also discusses poetry over bagels on Sunday morning. It was way easier to for me to look past this than you might assume. I enjoyed the characters, their insights (and oh, these are people with insights), their interweaving stories.
Recommended for: reading by the Christmas tree when you should be getting your shopping done.
So, read anything on this list? Agree/Disagree with my review? What were your favorite reads this year?