One of my favourite things to ask people is "what are you reading?", and once we get started, I am telling you, I will not be able to shut up, and we will probably be forever friends if you share my love of books too, seriously. Whether you're reading children's books or graphic novels or modernist novels or something from oprah's book club - whatever it is you're reading, I want to know. With that said, I am more than happy to start off the conversation by sharing my top five books I read in 2015!
Before I dive in to this though, let me just say that deciding a top five is a tricky affair. What makes something a "top five" book? Is it not being able to get the story or the characters out of your head? That it's oh so beautifully written? That you find yourself leafing through it again and again? I find that books often fit into different categories of what makes it good - an impactful book might not be something you want to read again and again, but that doesn't make it any less important or good to you. So because I'm a huge nerd, I made different categories for the books I read this year (eg. "couldn't get this book out of my head", "these characters though", "groundbreaking") but I thought I'd simplify that here into a top five I'd recommend. Some of these I'd recommend because they're so beautifully written, and others because of their impact, even if they're not so interestingly written. All that to say, these are at my top five list for different reasons, but I'd heartily recommend all five!
1. "The Good Earth" & "The Portrait of A Marriage" - Pearl S. Buck
Yes, these are two separate books, but I just couldn't choose between these two! I picked up "The Good Earth" after one of my good friends recommended it to me, saying it was one of her favourite books (!), and I think it's quickly found its way into my favourites as well. It tells the story of a farmer in rural China before the Cultural Revolution - and it's not that the story is something unusual or crazy, but it's more of the way it's told. I found myself so captivated by these characters, and I loved the way Buck approached themes of greed and wisdom and feminism in a non-judgemental way, and showed these stories that gave you as the reader the opportunity to come to your own conclusions. She does such a wonderful job of painting a scene and a picture and letting you get inside the mind of her characters so honestly and without judgement - and she does the same with "The Portrait of A Marriage". I think this book was more of a surprise for me - I picked it up at a local used bookstore just wanting to read more, anything that Buck had written, and I was so so pleasantly surprised by this incredibly honest portrayal of a marriage between two very different people, and all the very honest thoughts in a marriage, as well as the sweet and tender and quiet moments of love. In fact, this ability to capture the quiet and anti-climatic and in between moments is what Buck does really well, and I think is something I so treasure.
2. "All The Light We Cannot See" - Anthony Doerr
I read this one in the summer when there was quite a lot of buzz about it, and rightly so! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found that I couldn't get the story or its characters out of my head - I would finish a chapter and just immediately have to move on to the next one, which was also helped by the fact that the chapters were so short. The premise was super fascinating to me - a valuable gem hidden inside a little paper house for a blind girl??? Whaat?? And similarly with Buck, I loved that this novel let you into these small acts of rebellion - not something big or crazy or flashy, but these little moments of success and failure to be steadfast in the face of the terrors of WWII. I found out later that the structure of this book is set up to mirror the gem being hidden inside the house, so it unfolds similarly, which only made me want to read it again, of course!
3. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" - Betty Smith
I love love loved this book, much more than I thought I would. Super narrative, it tells of a girl growing up in Brooklyn in a poor neighbourhood, coupled with her love of books/the library (similar setting to Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, no???). I think I really loved this book because it was so approachable, and I was so caught up in Francie's world and its various injustices and the way people fought it and accepted it. I couldn't get this one out of my head, and I'd have to snap myself out of the world she created. I feel like this book is a classic coming of age story, and I'm not going to deny that I love these - I love seeing a character grow up into themselves, and getting to see what forms them and the process.
4. "Women of the Word" - Jen Wilkin
Yes, the only non-fiction book to make this list... mostly because I read very little non-fiction! I think this book is up here though not just because of its content, but also because of the context in which I've read it - I read this book first with my friend J, and then that slowly grew into a women's study where we read it with other women and then got to do the actual work of reading a book of the Bible together. This one is essentially about how to read the Bible and develop a love for it. I so appreciated this book because of the grace and discipline with which it approached reading the Bible - it talked about the importance of reading Scripture in an orderly way, but also in a patient and gracious way, that recognized people being in different seasons. It didn't demand a love of scripture, but demonstrated it, so that at the end, you're like okay let's read a book of the Bible STAT! I think this book, coupled with the context in which I read it, has been helping to nurture and grow in me a love for scripture, and that invaluable work makes it a book to reread and come back to again and again.
5. "The Cellist of Sarajevo" - Steven Galloway
One of the reasons I love fiction is that it takes me to these otherwise unknown worlds and invites me into them while also encouraging me to delve deeper into them. I didn't really know much about Sarajevo being under siege in the 90s, so I'm glad this book introduced me to it. It tells of a cellist who vows to play the same piece for twenty two days in honour of twenty two people killed by a bomb, and the people surrounding that and who it affects, from a sniper to others in the city. I appreciated how this book took this singular event in history, one not widely publicized or discussed, and delved into the lives and feelings and thoughts of individuals. This book felt to me like a way to remember, almost a eulogy for those involved in this particular event, but also for those innocent civilians caught in any bigger political war that they didn't actively choose to be a part of. Galloway published this in 2008, but I feel like it has themes that resonate especially so in our contexts today.
Do you see what I mean? How I could go on about books all day??? And how this post has become like a longwinded essay instead of a simple blog post??? #sorrynotsorry
What are your top five books from 2015? What are you looking forward to reading in 2016? Would so so love to hear recommendations!