2015 Reading Recap
This year saw me tackle more young adult literature than usual with all seven Harry Potter books, but it was a solid counterbalance to the lengthy, compelling nonfiction later in the year. 2015, except for a few duds, was a win in reading.
Harry Potter and the … (JK Rowling)
… Sorcerer’s Stone
… Chamber of Secrets
… Prisoner of Azkaban
… Goblet of Fire
… Order of the Phoenix
… Half-Blood Prince
… Deathly Hollows
In the beginning of 2015, I sat down and read all seven Harry Potter novels back-to-back, which, if we’ve learned anything in binge-watching TV series on Netflix, is really the ideal way to consume protracted stories. (How people waited for years between books I’ll never understand.)
The series did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all expectations. The arch-story and its plotlines, the subplots and characters, the micro-interactions and scene-setting, the absolute clarity of writing over seven long books, and the ability to not only never lose focus but tie it all together at the very end, was so masterful, and so rewarding, that it’s tough to draw any contemporary comparisons.
Harry Potter is as approachable as Narnia, as intriguing as Game of Thrones, as self-enclosed and complete as Tolkien. If you haven’t read them because you think the whole kid-doing-magic shtick is for middle-schoolers, you’re shorting yourself one of the world’s great literary experiences. I look forward to re-reading them all again in the next few years.
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Another classic that I just got around to this year. What hasn’t been said already about Dune? A million readers thrilled, a thousand books influenced. This masterpiece of speculative science fantasy, set on a desert world where water is the ultimate resource and the environment is harvested by capitalism, remains deeply resonant.
The Martian (Andy Weir)
The story, a survival tale of one man stranded on Mars, is a page-burning classic of hard science meets human ingenuity meets the fickleness of inter-planet environments. The movie was remarkably loyal, but the book remains the better adventure. (Also a candidate for best cover this year. What an amazing painting.)
The Vorrh (Brian Catling)
Best described as “abstract fantasy”, this looping, layered novel threads disparate narratives of industrialists, hunters, photographers, scientists, shamans and a rogue cyclops into a dense tapestry centered on an impenetrable, enchanted tropical forest. While Catling writes with unchained imagination, the words trip over themselves and often great ideas get mired in language as obtuse and heavy as the very forest that confounds the characters. In the end, the storylines fizzled away and I was left grasping for meaning that felt just out of reach.
Hollow City (Ransom Riggs)
The second (of three) in the series, this follows the story started in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The writing has graduated beyond the stilted plotting of the first, and the storyline is less dependent on the antique photography that inspired the series. A rewarding read that leaves me anticipating the conclusion.
The Paris Wife (Paula McLain)
A pleasant narrative that follows the first marriage of Ernest Hemingway. The writing was very good, but ultimately the story failed to gain momentum. Made it two-thirds through.
(Often I read my kids’ books just to see what they’re consuming. They’re right at that sweet phase of imaginative young adult — older than Dr. Seuss but not quite Hunger Games — where authors range free in unrestricted, friendly, colorful worlds.)
Crenshaw (Katherine Applegate)
A book whose jacket would have you believe it’s about a giant imaginative cat, and it is, sort of, but the heart of the story is a husband and wife struggling to make ends meet and how drifting into homelessness and poverty affects their two young kids. Very real, very touching, very appropriate.
Treasure Hunters (James Patterson)
An adventure story of four siblings who take over a treasure-hunting operation when their parents disappear. Fun, non-stop action full of colorful characters, this romps through oceans and cities with twisty plot reveals. My son’s book of the year.
Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Framed as a letter to his son, this short and poignant meditation drifts between personal memoir, societal diagnosis and historical fact-checking to illuminate, in the scythe-like language of an ex-poet, what it means to be black in America today. Timely, relevant and, tragically, required reading. It’s plainly obvious why this appears on so many “best of 2015” lists.
The Oldest Living Things in the World (Rachel Sussman)
This extended photo essay traverses the globe to capture lifeforms that have lived contiguously for at least 2,000 years. From the usual suspects (giant sequoia; 2,200 years) to the unexpected (colony of aspen, 80,000 years) to the weird (Antarctic moss, 5,500 years) to the tragic (the Senator Tree, 3,500 years but killed in 2012 by assholes on meth), the elegant photography and outstanding essays offer dozens of ways to put our own lives, and really the duration of the entire human race, into blinding perspective.
The Sixth Extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert)
Ms Kolbert narrates us through a long case study of the five major extinction-level events that each killed off significant portions of the earth’s biomass and bio-diversity. The argument, of course, is that humans, and humans alone, are currently driving the earth’s sixth extinction event through environmental destruction, climate change, and sheer capitalist greed. The writing is sharp and unapologetic, the subject engrossing and fatalistic, the final conclusion as unavoidable as the cliff we’re about to drive over.
The Sound Book (Trevor Cox)
A fascinating journey into the science and psychology of sound, our author explains the most interesting spaces, the quietest place on earth, and much more. If you have any interest in recording, or the physiology of this crucial sense, this is about the best book out there.