It's been a while since I've truly checked in with the books I've been reading.
Last year I made it a goal to get reacquainted with the Russian novelists I loved in high school, a goal I failed miserably (and now I'm faced with a terrible choice -- watch War and Peace or finally slog through 1000+ pages only to have people think I read it due to the show and not because it has been on my to-be-read pile for *gulp* ten years). But despite my failings I have been reading quite a bit. To the point that Chris can't believe I'm still reading the same book I was working on last week (The Gollum and the Jinni -- some books just need to be savored).
I recently started listening to the new What Should I Read Next? podcast by Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy. Confession time: I did not start reading her blog until after I started listening to the podcast because the name was a real turn off for me. I am not a Jane Austen fan (put that pitchfork down!). Not because I don't like to read older literature, but my tastes are more dark and tragic than the plucky Austen heroine. If I'm being honest I haven't given her books a try since I've been an adult, but it became such a part of my reading identity that I don't feel compelled to change that any time soon (ever the rebel am I).
But I'm getting sidetracked. The podcast has caused me to really think about my reading habits. What are my favorite books? Can I decide on any that are not staples of my high school or college years? In case you have not heard the show, the format is very simple. Anne has a guest on each episode and they list three books they love, one book they hate, and what they are currently reading. Then she gives them three personalized recommendations. I decided to do this myself, but based only on the books I read in 2015. Because, well, that's not as hard as going through my entire back catalog. Right?
Ok, so three books I love.
First, Valley of the Dolls
Stop judging me! Why do I feel like you're judging me right now?
We have this used book store called The Dollar Book Exchange that operates on a very basic premise. Every book is $1. They are open one weekend a month and it is a truly delightful madhouse. I often get swept up in the excitement and end up making crazy impulse purchases simply because why not? Which is how I ended up with Valley of the Dolls. I was skeptical when I picked it up, but I fell in love with it. Remember what I said about enjoying literature that takes a more tragic route? This does exactly that. And it was just after You Must Remember This finished their Charles Manson series, so my brain was already in a 1970s headspace. For the uninitiated Valley of the Dolls is the story of three young women who find fame and misfortune in mid-twentieth century America. There are affairs, tragic deaths, and of course lots of drug use. It's delicious.
This was my first Atkinson, which might have been bad because I'm not sure how the rest can live up to such a treat (I've been assured they can). Several of my coworkers spotted me reading obsessively and asked me to explain to them what it was about. And it was simply impossible to explain in any way that made sense. Which is the mark of a great book if you ask me. Broadly, it is an exploration of the many different paths a life can take through the life of Ursula Todd who continually restarts her life after each death. I don't want to tell you more because that would take the magic out of it, but I love the subtle humor and the way that the author seems just as exhausted as the reader at stages. Like we're all in on the same joke. I've since made it a goal to read all of Atkinson's novels starting from the beginning. I love when I find an author whose entire catalog I need to read as it gives me so much to look forward to.
If you're into books at all you probably heard about this one. I preordered it after hearing an NPR rave (this is how I find a lot of my favorite books) and could not put it down. Based in Russian fairytale and featuring an unlikely heroine this was tailor-made for me. Just writing about it makes me want to reread it. I hear the audiobook is phenomenal, so I might save that for a late-night with baby treat to myself. Don't let the fact that it is a fantasy novel that starts with a young woman being taken as tribute by a wizard turn you off. That barely scratches the surface. Every time I'd reach a point that in any other novel would be the majority of the story, events would transpire and suddenly we'd be past that. "How can there be more" was a thought I had almost as much as "can this never end".
As for the book I hated? That's a no-brainer. Aftermath
I disliked this book on so many levels. So much so that I didn't finish it and it made me very fearful for The Force Awakens. I've mentioned before that I am a wee bit Star Wars obsessed (OK, maybe a lot. My friend Michal recently outed my tattoo in an article on the new film). I have a lot of experience with the Expanded Universe, which did for me what Harry Potter did for so many other kids (I love those too, never fear). So the fact that this entire back catalog of knowledge was being erased filled me with trepidation, but I was hopeful that it would be done right. Boy was I wrong. I have nothing to say about the story itself because I did not make it far enough to have a real opinion. My big problem? The writing. The writing was so bad! Like how could anyone publish this bad. Like the very reason people don't take franchise-based novels seriously bad. I just know Ann Crispin was turning over in her grave.
So there you have it. A brief snapshot of my 2015 in books. It seems I love slightly tragic female heroines and have a definite preference for female authors. I know you're shocked. But my question to you is this.
What should I read next?