Happy New Year! I rung in the New Year in Nuremberg and wow! I have never seen so many people just shooting off fireworks in the street. It was amazing, and a very special moment. Gut gemacht, Nuremberg.
Now that it’s 2016, it’s a good time to look back on 2015 and honor the best books that I read and criticize the worst books that I read, which I probably enjoy a lot more, as hate keeps me strong. I arbitrarily picked to do top five best/worst and in no particular order.
I am excited to be disappointed and surprised in 2016. I’ve already dived into Leaves of Grass and Lolita, so it’s shaping up to be another good year of classics.
Worst Books of 2015 (in no particular order)
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
I am not going to write a lot criticizing this book because I love McCarthy and his writing. The worst that I can say about this book is that it was underwhelming. I just wanted…more. For all the praise it got, I was expecting more. This is on my worst list because of the discrepancy between expectations and reality, not because it’s a bad book objectively. I don’t know, too much nothing happened.
The 100, Cass Morgan
Alternative title: teenagers are fucking insane. I couldn’t get into this book because everyone in it was off their rocker to the point of being homicidal. I just don’t understand? Was I supposed to sympathize with the character that risks the lives of everyone he knows by sabotaging the space ship because he’s IN LOVE and wants to see the girl he’s in love with?
I seriously don’t know. Everyone risks way too much with the only apparent motivation being that they’re horny teenagers. I just don’t get it. None of what they risk is worth it for their teenage crush. Usually I love the whole, lord of the flies teenagers stranded and forced to survive genre.
But for me to care what happens to the survivors, I have to care about them. I wanted these teenagers to fail because they’re certifiable. There was like two characters I liked, which was not enough to read the sequels to find out what happen to them. I’m still caught up in the sabotage, risking thousands of lives to have another chance with your ex-girlfriend. Help.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
LET DOWN OF THE YEAR! This book had everything going for it! There’s a dog on the cover, it’s narrated by dog, and it’s got a great title! Too bad it’s god awful!
My least favorite part of this book is how ham-fisted the metaphor in the title is. Get it? He’s a race car driver, who is especially good at racing in the rain, which is where the title comes from! But also…Life…is like….racing in the rain. Because you just gotta react, and it’s slippery….and visibility is bad….and you’ve got to trust your instincts….and it’s easy to crash…
It’s a shame that the metaphor was handled so inelegantly and obviously, because there are parts to this book that are genuinely gut-wrenching and touching. The relationship between Enzo and the main character’s dying wife is an emotional stab to the kidney. The zebra metaphor, though kind of obvious as well, is actually well enough written that it’s also impactful. Death, which is hard to understand or explain and the anguish it causes is expressed well through Enzo’s enemy the zebra.
But the racing metaphor! I can’t deal with it. Just let yourself go, you know, you just got to stop trying to control it because you can’t! Life is suffering! You’ve got to navigate the best you can!
Enzo deserved better.
The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks
This book deserved a movie starring Miley Cyrus. That’s all I can say. It was the worst book I read this year, and that’s saying a lot because there were a lot of books that I read that were free kindle e-books and not written by famous authors.
From the weird preachy-ness to the bullshit teenage love story, (she’s not like other girls! But actually this is said multiple times. Because you know, girls don’t read. Or like turtles. Or are good at music. Also Ronnie has purple highlights in her hair, which makes her so, so interesting. ???) there’s nothing redeeming about this book.
I just started drinking because I am thinking about this book. Have I mentioned that the phrase “she’s not like other girls” is used as the main motivation for the romance in this story? And the main reason for that is because she reads?
Why is Nicholas Sparks even writing about teenagers? Hot tip: don’t, especially if you think having purple highlights makes a girl unique enough to differentiate her from her entire sex. Fucking stop.
Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James
The Best of 2015 (in no particular order)
Tin Star/Stone in the Sky, Cecil Castellucci
I always get excited about YA sci-fi novels with a female protagonist, and this series by Castellucci is the best I’ve read in that genre. The books have an incredible atmosphere—though we only see a small part of the universe because the main character is stranded on an obscure space station, I felt through the whole book that there was a huge world where politics were changing the state of things in a slow grind that became ominous over time, even if Tula only ever heard murmurs of it.
Castellucci’s prose is spartan in its sparseness, but she avoids being dry and stale. Instead the prose works with the story, adding to the feeling Tula has of being alone in an alien environment placed on the far edges of civilization. Tula isn’t in the middle of the action, like a lot of protagonists. This is a small, personal story that feels like it is on the side of the actual main event. Narratively, it’s a choice that makes me feel connected to Tula, who is no grand hero but instead a survivor.
This isn’t a grand space opera or packed with intense space battles. This is the story of one girl trying to survive and take revenge while being immobile. It’s fantastic.
The Republic, Plato
What I love about the Republic is how insane it is—and it is insane. Plato endorses a totalitarian government, advocates the collapse of the traditional conception of a family, and subverts the rights of the individual for the overall good. Anyone who is interested in discussion on who should rule and how should read this book (or anyone who hates nuclear families). I mean, the man argues that parents shouldn’t raise their children, or even have children with people they chose themselves. Propagation of the population would, essentially, reduce to a positive eugenics where only the fittest are allowed to reproduce.
And when it comes to rulers, Plato’s philosopher-kings appeal to me because they are educated, and not just in one field. These are the people who are interested in all fields of study, more so than rule, which is what qualifies them to be rulers. It’s almost a catch-22, but it is a romantic idea we’re familiar with.
Plato tries to walk a line of having individuals finding their own happiness and having an extent of choice, but being restricted in the sense that they can’t harm the city through their freedom of choice. With the declining state of the world, the discussion on personal rights vs the total good is more relevant than ever, and Plato’s philosophy calls for unheard of sanctions on our personal lives.
Emma, Jane Austen
Going into reading all six Austen books, I would not have picked Emma to be my favorite. The heroine is the least sympathetic of all Austen’s women, being a spoiled heiress. Emma doesn’t understand the realities of life, all of it is like a cute game where she thinks things can’t go wrong, especially if she interferes in people’s lives. A person like that should be intolerable.
But Emma is fun. She’s witty and good-hearted. All of her interactions with her father and Mr. Weston reveal a woman who cares about the feelings of others. She indulges her father’s craziness when it comes to health and soothes Mr. Weston every time Frank fails to arrive. Emma is also vivacious. She draws people to her by being bright and fun. Her personal flaws, most of which are a result of her wealth (lack of dedication being a big one) are overwhelmed by her charisma. I want to be Emma’s friend. There would be moments where I would have to roll my eyes at her, but in the end I would still want to be around her.
I’ve heard that Emma is about the humbling of a pretty rich girl, but I think that’s unfair to Emma. She’s humbled, but it isn’t by someone else. I would rather say that Emma is about some who is a little selfish and self-absorbed maturing. Emma makes mistakes and she learns from them. She wants to be a better person than she is and by the end of the story, she has matured. Emma is, for now, my personal favorite Austen.
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
The big reason this book ranks in my top five is because it prioritizes friendship over romantic relationships. So many YA fiction does the exact opposite—two people become each other’s whole worlds because they’re in “love” (quotations because YOU’RE SIXTEEN). When you’re older than 16, this total obsession that characters reach is disturbing. I don’t want teenagers to read books and think that relying on a single individual because you’re in “love” is healthy. Often these books side line friendships—friends are side characters that are often neglected for interaction with the love interest.
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl focuses on friendship. It examines why friendship is so powerful—how strong platonic bonds can be and how they can save you in a much healthier way than a romantic relationship.
I want to scream from rooftops about how much I care about platonic relationships, and Andrews has created a book where this is at the forefront. There are parts of Earl that I don’t like and ways in which Greg is problematic as a human being, but I forgive him because we’re all flawed. He’s also 16 and hopefully will mature.
Andrews doesn’t exploit cancer (I’m not saying John Green but John Green). It’s raw and it’s miserable, but not because romance is involved. Greg handles the situation poorly, which I also like. He doesn’t really understand the situation until it’s too late. Human relationships are messy, even when they aren’t romantic, and this book captures that. For all its problems, Earl has a special place in my heart this year.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
The magic of this world has captured my imagination. It’s raw and brutal in many ways and I love how Taylor’s characters don’t really understand their magic themselves. The story of the world unravels slowly to the characters and what a world it is.
Taylor has major pacing problems. The first book of the series takes too long to get started and there are stretches in the third that focus on a character I care very little about. This series is rough around the edges in a lot of ways. But the center is so rich and gooey that I’m in raptures anyway.
Perhaps it is because Taylor’s world is so immense. This isn’t just werewolves (actually there’s no werewolves) or one supernatural being. This is a world full of history and different races, all with their own traditions and customs. There’s just so much to explore it makes me giddy. A lot of YA books I’ve been reading have committed to, “well, it’s basically the same world that we live in, BUT WITH VAMPIRES.” So a series like this is just a real treat. I can’t recommend it enough to lovers of YA fantasy, if you can work through the writing.