Can you believe 2015 is almost over? I can't believe it. Where did it go? All this writing and reading and BAM! another year gone. Curiously, since I started writing full-time, I also started reading full-time. Goodreads gave me this statistic. The number of books I read per year.
- 2012: 16 books
- 2013: 33 books
- 2014: 58 books
- 2015: 102 books
Staggering, eh? As you can see, it escalated quickly. I don't know if I'll be able to top 100+ books per year in 2016 and read, say, 120 or something, but it's a worthy goal for the New Year's resolution. More than ever books help me write better, and I wish I could read even faster. I wish I could eat books, drink books, swallow books, as they give me everything I need to know about writing and more.
You have asked me to share my opinion on the books I read. Mostly you Instagram junkies. So apart from posting silly pictures of my hair and whatnot, I started posting selfies with the books I'M ABOUT TO READ, but you told me I should post selfies with the books AFTER I READ THEM and include a little review. I did, and so far it's been great. You love it. I love it. Well then, the best of the books I read in 2015 are below, the books that twisted my gut silly or struck me right in the brain or turned me inside out. You know, poignant stuff.
I have read Anna Karenina in Russian, back in my teens, and this was a re-visit in English, while riding the train during the Amtrak residency. A superb new translation. What can I say that hasn't been said already? A masterpiece. Read it. But only read Pevear & Volokhonsky's translation, no other, please. It rings true to the original (take it from a Russian).
Takami blew me away with his storytelling skills, and lo and behold, when I read the little interview in the back (I highly recommend you read it, it's very interesting to peek into the writing process of this bloody mammoth) it turns out he was influenced by Stephen King and Robert B. Parker. I haven't read Parker, but I devoured King in my teens in Russian. Read this book. There is an incredible depth to it, if you dare to dive under the gory stuff.
Poetry of footnotes. Of geometry. Of architecture. Of love. Love is light. Without seeing darkness you can’t see light. Welcome to the house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Don’t try making sense of this book, simply read it and feel it, the cold, the darkness, the fear. 10 years of labor. It took my breath away, and it smothered all of my notions of what a novel should be. To never dare is to never enter the darkness.
I recommend this book to every writer, simply to see what you can do with prose (and fuck the rules). Here is a woman who dared. This book she wrote, her first...it's brilliant. Heartbreaking. Breaking all the rules, all the writing rules. Yes, you heard that right. Read it. You must. It will crush you and put you back together. (You can see a trend here, I love books that break rules.)
Best post-Soviet dystopian tale, hands down. Weird fantasy. Surreal. Almost fable-like. And funny as hell. Everything you ever wanted to know about Russia is in this book. Everything. And what is it, really? Let me try again. A satire. A fable. A fairy tale. A dystopian fantasy with a bit of weirdness. A history. A future. All rolled up neatly into a tale. With a tail. And mice, lots of mice. I'll be rereading this book in both languages many times. The translation is superb. The dialogue will make you pee in your pants. You better believe me.
Raw. Fierce. Bold. It has gotten under my skin and it will live there, and I wept when it did. I wept and wept and wept. Please read this book. It's important. Like air. Like breathing. And read it to see how you can write a book without a main character, how you can combine your own voice with the voice of the story, how (again) you can break all writing rules and get away with it and create something stunning in the process.
Beautiful bloody bizarrerie. I'm in absolute awe. Wish I discovered Barker earlier! I didn't just read these 3 books, I read all 6 of them, and I cried when I finished. His words at the end hit home. Big time. "It was a great relief to tell the story. Not because he wanted to be remembered, but because the telling relieved him of the tale. It no longer belonged to him, that life, that death. He had better business, as did they all."
Hemingway has validated the way I write. I was floored. I didn't know you could write like this. I didn't know you could get away with these long winding sentences! This book, and 4 more I read, has forever changed the way I write. It told me it's okay to strip everything down to pure story THE WAY I WANT TO TELL IT. My only regret is that it took me so long to get to it. If I knew, I'd read it sooner.
This book was gritty, face-punching, gut-wrenching. It's like if you took Tarantino and screwed him through the eye sockets of a teenage girl and sprinkled it with acid and added a bunch of knives and a helluva good spicy writing and you've got this. How did I not know about Lynda Barry before, I have no idea, but I know now, and I'm a fan.
It wrung me dry. It turned my heart inside out. Superb. As an immigrant, I could relate. More. I got to put on black skin and feel what it's like to be black in America AND an immigrant. (Great research for Janna.) Don't just read this book but watch this TED talk on feminism by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and marvel at her genius and finesse and intelligence and get inspired.
I don't usually like thrillers. I guess it's because I never read a good one. This one was so crazy good, it made the hair move on my head, it made my heart race and my stomach flip, and in the end it fooled me, it fooled me like a little girl. I didn't see it coming, dammit, I didn't. Thomas Harris, you win. And Hannibal Lecter is a charming sweetie. I have read the rest of the Hannibal books and am now reading Black Sunday and after it will read Making Murder: The Fiction of Thomas Harris by Philip L. Simpson.
Another "rule-breaking" book. It's a collection of short stories but they are all about one character and are spaced out in 13 years so it reads like a novel with chapters scattered in time. Moldy dreamland is what it is. If Alice goes down the rabbit hole, the policeman in these stories goes down a rotting tunnel slick with silt and mold and populated with body parts wrapped in newspaper or stuffed with rat poison. Quiet and chilly and mesmerizing.
Every writer who wants to portray a serial killer, specifically a sexual predator (and over 60% of serial killers are), should read this. However, if you're easily impressionable and can't stomach color photos of crime scenes and mutilated bodies, DO NOT READ THIS. It's brutally graphic. But if you can, the facts you'll glimpse, the torture tape transcripts and the investigative interviews and the offender diaries will be crucial to understanding how the mind of a killer works.
Aside from those listed above, authors I have discovered in 2015 and plan to read more of: Toni Morrison, Edward Gorey, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Khaled Hosseini, Anne Rice, Anne Sexton, Adam Neville, George Orwell.
Authors I'm excited to discover and plan to read in 2016: Marilynne Robinson, Paulo Coehlo, Katherine Dunn, Charles De Lint, Joseph Conrad, Alice Munro, Zadie Smith, Neal Stephenson, Albert Camus, Charles Bukowski, Frank Herbert, William Faulkner, Donna Tartt, Milan Kundera, and many more. If I manage to read 100+ books, that is.
What are your best books you read in 2015? What has kicked up a storm in your brain and last a lingering impression that you will never be the same after reading THAT AMAZING BOOK?