Friday, January 1, 2016

2015—A YEAR IN REVIEW AND CARE’S TOP TEN

To say that 2015 was an odd reading year for me would be an understatement of mammoth proportions. That is, in some ways, very good but in other ways nothing to blog about. But that is why I keep the stats and the lists—it is fun and enlightening to look back at the end of the year and ponder how my leisure time was spent. It also gives me a chance to list for all of you my annual Top Ten.

#1 in Nonfiction (2015)
Unfortunately, as with 2014, 2015 stats are not accurate, as I went through a very extended time in the middle of the year where I didn’t accurately keep track of my reads. That being what it is, here are 2015’s numbers to the best of my record keeping.

Using the number of books I actually annotated, I read 94 titles this year, 72 fiction and 22 nonfiction. Most years, somewhere between a third and half of my reads are nonfiction, so I read less in the realm of reality this year. My guess is I read about 30 books that did not get added to my list, so this year’s total of somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 books is pretty insane. Why so many? I have a theory. In December of 2014, my sixteen-year-old daughter passed away, and I went into a bit of a reading slump. Instead of my usual fare of literary fiction and pretty solid nonfiction, I read a ton of chick lit, and it is far easier to knock out one of those books in a day or two than it is for my usual reading material.

#1 in Fiction (2015)
2015 was also unusual in its very low number of pages read—9,086 in 27 print books—and very high number of hours—764 in 67 audiobooks. Since my patterns of when I read and listened remained the same, I really have no theories as to why. Challenges are another area in which 2015 was abnormal. While it is not unusual for me not to complete challenges, most years I come close; not so in 2015. I set very ambitious challenges hoping that it would give me something to focus on as I grieved the loss of my girl. The reality was that because I both read outside my usual genre and did not maintain my record keeping, my performance in my challenges was pretty abysmal.

Despite a lot of three star reads, I did manage to put together a pretty strong group of books for my annual Top Ten. Remember, these are books I read in 2015, not books published in that year. If a review was done for the book, you can click on the title to be linked to it.:

Fiction: 

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
Doc: A Novel by Maria Doria Russell
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Nonfiction: 

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
Wide-Open World by John Marshall
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
Poisons by Peter MacInnis

In as few words as possible, here is why they made the cut:

Fiction (five stars):

Bohemian Gospel: Strongest novel I have read in forever; originality; deep characters; great setting; tight plotting

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat: Dead people, live people, all kinds of crazy people living life in small town America; what more could you ask for?

Doc: A Novel: great package of plot and setting, but it was absolutely the characters that brought this one to life; cannot believe it took me so long to read it!

The Bonfire of the Vanities: Wonderful look at human nature and how society acts upon people and people upon it; no, it won’t be your easiest read of the year, but it will be one of the ones that will stick with you the longest

Fiction (four and 1/2 stars):

All the Light We Cannot See: This book just sings. Wonderful writing spinning an unforgettable tale of merging plot lines

The Girl on the Train: I don’t read very many suspense novels, but so glad I grabbed this one, as the plot kept surprising me right to the end (most don’t).

Nonfiction (five stars):

In the Kingdom of Ice: My favorite narrative nonfiction writer. Not as good as Ghost Soldiers, but still has characters you tuck away in your heart and a fascinating tale.

Nonfiction (four and 1/2 stars):

Wide-Open World: Great nonfiction escapism! The author’s openness and honesty make this far more than a travel memoir.

The Hot Zone: Yipes! Love Preston! If you want a true-life thriller, this is it!

Poisons: This book is an editorial mess, jumping from topic to topic from one paragraph to the next, but the content is so unfailingly fascinating that you happily roll with it! Even when it delves into chemistry, it is perfectly lucid.

And the sad disappointment:

A common question among readers is always what book was your biggest disappointment, the book that just didn’t live up to the hype. For me that book was Kristin Hannah’s much lauded The Nightingale. The book did squeeze three stars out of me, despite my inclination to give it two, because I liked the two main characters and the premise was good. Unfortunately, the book was a hot mess in two critical ways: the writing mechanics were awful and nobody should be writing historical fiction if they are so utterly incompetent with regards to historical research. What problem did I have with the mechanics? This novel was literally a textbook case of telling not showing. I actually used passages from it in our homeschool—as examples of what not to do—and my kids did her rewrites for her. As far as historical accuracy? Let’s just say it got to be a bit of a hobby picking out all the anachronisms that Ms. Hannah (or her editor) ought to have caught. I know many people loved the novel, but it was a massive miss for me.


I wish all of you happy reading in 2016. Perhaps we will experience a few of the same books and exchange a thought or two in the year to come. As an avid reader, nothing beats thinking through the upcoming months and wondering what bits of knowledge and enjoyment will leap from the pages into my memory and my heart. 

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