And so comes the time for my yearly book review post, where I reflect on the various works I have read throughout the past year. My annual goal is 52 books a year (which I reached by November of this year!) and I read everything: fiction, non-fiction, new age, comic books, classical literature, science fiction, fantasy, young adults, children’s books, and congressional reports. My list of books to read is forever growing, which is not surprising considering roughly a million books are published a year. I get my suggestions from friends and family, cross-references in other pop-culture (Mad Men discussed Exodus so of course I needed to read it), whatever catches my eye at the bookstore, and my personal goal of reading all of the classics. So read ahead for my thoughts on this year’s list of works, listed chronologically from when I finished reading them.
Anthem by Ayn Rand (1937)- A quick novella that could be considered the forefront of the dystopian sub-culture. After a while, dystopian works run together, but the fact that this was written in 1937 makes this one more compelling than the usual “world amiss” themed books. Humans seem to have always been aware of alternate, and horrifying universes. Side note, I wonder if people in other universes write their ideas of our universe’s very real issues and recoil in horror.
*Peter Pan by James Matthew Barrie (1911)- Originally a play, this novel is well-known after the Disney remake. Quick and easy to read. I read it to my three-year-old son and he was very concerned about that crocodile.
Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)- Another novella that I realized I knew the story only from watching Wishbone when I was a child. I decided to round out my understanding of the story, and I believe the end was rushed in comparison to the entire first 3/4ths.
Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein (1964)- It felt like this science fiction novel was a bit distracted, like it was solidly going in one direction and then rapidly shot into another direction without much warning. It was unexpected but I probably should’ve expected it from Heinlein. Also, time travel solves all plot holes, quickly.
The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman (2017)- Everyone remembers His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), right? This is Pullman’s expansion of that fantasy universe that delves back into Lara’s world prior to the His Dark Materials timeline. This book is the beginning of another trilogy in this world, and so far I am not disappointed in the weaving of the old books and the new. I’m excited to see the rest written and published.
Y: The Last Man Books 1-5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (2002-2008)- An interesting comic book series that explores a life after everything with a Y chromosome drops dead at the same time…except for one man and his monkey. While the science is a tad sketchy, the explored ideas of a world without men is interesting, and the drawings are freaking fantastic.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1951)- I can’t tell if this is an allegory for the life of a man who is so beaten down by his life that he can’t see the legacy he has left, or if it is simply a sad story based on a man Hemingway met during his time in Cuba. Either way, this book made me think about the simplicity and finality of life.
Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein (1973)- Not the usual science fiction novel setup, this book discusses love, family, and time travel. I need to read more of Heinlein because of his discussions about multiple loves in the universe and across time. As always, Heinlein pushes the envelope of personal comfort in discussing…things…
Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis by Ben Sasse (2017)- Recommended to me by a coworker, this non-fiction book explores the reasons Americans are struggling to be successful contributors to the world. This book was hard for me to begin (because I’m tired of the generalization that my generation is full of entitled brats) but I discovered that what Sasse discusses comes in handy for understanding the possible reasons that multiple generations have struggled. I think it would be a good book for parents to read so they can possibly encourage their child to be independent and successful (define your own idea of success). Yes, Sasse is a Republican Senator, but he is well-spoken and doesn’t shove politics down your throat.
Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)- This is a personal re-read in expectation of the movie that came out this year. I loved the book and was disappointed in the movie like always. The book seems simpler now than when I read it when I was eight. I had an easier time grasping the quantum physics this time around, haha.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (1844-1845)- The best part of this classic novel is that I had no idea it was serialized until I was a few chapters in and I loved it! I’m sure that reading a serialized novel can be difficult because it can seem like the writer is constantly keeping you on annoying tenterhooks, but as a fellow serial writer, I enjoyed the suspense. I also seriously empathized with the Count’s burning desire to destroy everything an enemy holds dear. Some grievances shouldn’t be forgiven, according to the Count.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)- What an interesting story with an interesting look at the philosophy of life and death. I personally hate books that bounce around in time and perspective, but I can appreciate this book as the classic it is.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)- I don’t know what I expected from this book because I did zero research before I began reading it, but this portrayal of the Silent Generation is humbling. To leave everything behind, to suffer starvation and the Dust Bowl…this is another book that I am glad to have read because of the understanding I gained from it.
The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts (2015)- Okay, sit down folks, and let’s discuss how lightning never strikes the same place twice: it doesn’t. This is the sequel to one of my all-time favorite books, Shantaram. Roberts is such a good writer, but he should have ended the story with Shantaram. I didn’t need to hear about the rest, because I enjoyed the pain and sadness and life-learning experience that Shantaram gave me. Mountain Shadow wasn’t a bad book…but it wasn’t Shantaram. I had high expectations and they weren’t realized. Shantaram was a tough act to follow. It’s okay, Gregory David Roberts, it’s my fault for reading it.
Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling (2015)- Sarcastic, witty, but almost shallow. I don’t know if I expected more depth from Mindy but she seems to hide deeper conversations behind humor (like we all do). This book was okay, and you get some tidbits of the life of a first generation Indian, but don’t expect philosophy from her. Humor hid her depth.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2011)- This decluttering book is insane, and vastly changed my perception of items and their purpose in our lives. If you want to live more minimally and less materialistically, read this book and then you can fully understand the act of getting joy from things in your life. The book itself can be tedious and boring, but the shift in my perception was totally worth the repeated phrases.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)- Meh. This seems like an unhealthy relationship based on bad communication. Obviously I needed to read this because it is a classic, and yeah, there are some romantic gestures, but hard pass on the “hero’s” well-intended but blundering attempts to show his love.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)- This is the beginning of the series that later became John Carter (a movie made by Disney which I haven’t seen) about a man who ends up on Mars, interacting with the race of creatures there, becoming a warrior and falling in love. My husband enjoyed the entire series and I thought I would start reading it. Like The Count of Monte Cristo, this book is serialized and full of interesting events to keep the reader engaged. For the time it was written, this science fiction/fantasy novel was extremely well done.
Saga Book 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (2012)- This is a space odessy/fantasy comic that I was recommended by the comic book man when I finished Y: The Last Man (referenced above). The second author of Y wrote and drew this one and holy crap, the artwork is phenomenal. The story is Romeo and Juliet-like without all the suicide, and it has some great quotes. Seriously recommend.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (2016)- Alright, this fictional book was endorsed by Obama so it piqued my interest. It is about women gaining the physical power of electricity in their bodies, which shifts the male-centered world to a different and scary reality of women without limits in charge. I think it was revealing to see how women are expected to behave, and then the possibilities of what we are capable of when there is no accountability or restraint. There are similar themes in the comic series Y: The Last Man, referenced above. The book was OK, just OK, but the ideas were interesting.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005)- This memoir was a nice reminder that childhood trauma doesn’t have to be all abuse and neglect, that families are broken and twisted, but there can still be a sense of adventure and love throughout it all. I didn’t see the movie, and I probably wouldn’t. I don’t want to cry about this book.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)- I didn’t see the point in this book other than to allow a view into the adolescent and immature brain of Holden, which I remember all too well from my own selfish and angst-y teenage years, thank you so very much. If you want to remember those horrible years of your own isolation, go ahead and read.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)- What an interesting book about a patient in a psych ward! While seeing his surroundings through an “almost” normal view, the Chief tells us about the inter-workings of a mental hospital back when lobotomies were still conducted. Super interesting fiction, with a great ending.
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (1994)- I haven’t been so excited about a fantasy series since Eragon came out when I was a kid. I was recommended this book and I am so glad I read it. I will be continuing the series next year, because this is such a good fantasy book.
The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman (1980)- Another book about personal discovery through the use of a mentor, this book was pretty interesting, but the end was sloppy. I guess it is hard to tie enlightenment up into a nice neat bow.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)- This fictional book about a woman’s descent into depression and suicide attempts is well-written. I always like when an author can make a descent like this seem normal and accepted by the person it is happening to where the reader can barely tell it is happening either because it just seems so normal.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (1997)- This memoir is about a man visiting a dying mentor touches base with accepting death. Like most “end of life” books, it touches on living your best life and not passing on without stopping to truly live. The book was okay, but nothing earth-shattering.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (1990)- This book is so witty and fun, with tons of Christian humor and biblical allusions. Intelligent writing is always so hard to find, but intelligent writing with dry humor is next to impossible. Recommend!
Saga Book 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (2012)- A continuation of Saga Book 1, obviously. Still fantastic.
Paper Girls Book 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (2016)- Another comic by Mr. Vaughan. Less interesting than Saga, it is about a group of paper delivery girls whose world is attacked by time traveling aliens. I’m not sold yet, but I will read the second collection when it comes out.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)- Gaiman’s brain is just awesome. He wrote this story but only after he traveled America and saw what America had to offer; he refused to write about a place he hadn’t experienced (respect). Since most mythological stories come from the Romans and the Greeks and the eastern countries with fantastic stories and cultures, it is pretty interesting to see how America could be tied into the mythology of the world as a melting pot of humans (and gods!). So much research had to go into this book and it truly paid off for a good story.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)- Have you ever read a book that flat-out impressed the HECK out of you? When an entirely new world and way of speech is written as it is in A Clockwork Orange, I can only applaud the writer’s imagination. This story is an interesting approach to the lengths at which we will go to stop violence, and who is ultimately the bad guy. This needs to be a book read by everyone who believes in capital punishment, and what we will do to eradicate evil.
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (2018)- Woodward, responsible for the reporting of the Watergate scandal, spent over a year interviewing members of the White House before writing Fear. This book has been touted by Republicans as being full of lies, but honestly, Woodward conducted what I would consider a fair assessment of Trump based upon what others have said while serving under him. Woodward even praises Trump in what some would consider unbiased reporting. I read this book in the same manner as I read the Benghazi Report last year: I want to read what pisses people off so I can make my own assessment.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013)- Super cute, super fun book that allows a glimpse into the extremely rich Singaporean society. The prose is simple but educational about Asian culture and cuisine. I want to visit Singapore even more now that I’ve read this book. The plot is believable, and the book is based off of the author’s experience and exposure to that lifestyle.
You by Caroline Knepes (2014)- A thrilling fictional book that makes the reader empathize with a stalker…or was it just me? This is another simply prosed book that is unique because written in a way that makes the reader conduct the actions of a stalker and make the actions seem justified or necessary. Knepes doesn’t portray the stalker in a way that normal society would, and you might identify more than you realize with a character that makes your stomach turn.
Exodus by Leon Uris (1957)- This is a historical novel written by Uris after spending two years exploring and interviewing members of the State of Israel and Palestine. I knew nothing of the war between these two entities before this book. How the end of World War II pushed the Jews into needing their own country, how Europe and America treated the Jewish people trying to restart their lives…I knew none of it. I gained a new level of respect and understanding for Jewish people…at the cost of the Palestinians. The entire war is simply, unfortunate, and there are no simple solutions to the war. But the book was well-written, educational, and really cool to hear about the areas of the Bible in modern times!
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)- Worst book in the history of books. I understand that everyone thinks this is a defining American novel, and that some books need to be written, but I wouldn’t wish reading this book on my worst enemy. If people are inspired to travel America because of this abomination, I hope they end up drunk, high, and broke in a Mexican whorehouse.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)- Everyone loves this book because the message changes for you each time you read it, depending on where you are in your life when you read it. If I had read it two years ago, the message might have been grating for me. As I read it this year, I was able to look back and realize that the arduous journey I had taken, that I thought meant so much, was not a waste of time. Unfortunately, the book brought more sadness than any uplifting message. Maybe I’ll re-read it in a few years and the message will change to a happier acceptance of life’s journey.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (2000)- This is the first novel of the Dresden Files (the audio book is read by James Marsters, who is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!), which is a science fiction/fantasy series that reminds me a lot of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (what True Blood was based on and truly ruined) if they were masculine. Now, don’t get it twisted, it is a series about a wizard who is a detective of other worldly events and always gets dragged into crappy situations. Everyone hates him, including himself, and he is an intelligent smart-ass who everyone wants a piece of. You’ll learn about different types of magical bad guys, too, which is cool.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson (2018)- Peterson is such an intelligent man and author. It took me longer than expected to finish this book as I got stuck on Rule 9 for months. This self-help book is well-written and full of interesting stories and antidotes to understanding why we need to avoid the chaos that is our “normal” life. I highly suggest it for those of us who need self-help and can think above the “Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&ck” level of writing. If you want an easy to read book, this isn’t it.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (2012)- A cool non-fiction book about, and by, a woman whose brain descended into madness because of a rare auto-immune disease. The failures and successes of doctors, family members, and friends all solidify the idea that WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE BRAIN! Thanks for the suggestion, Sam Cash.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)- My only understanding of this story came from the original King and I movie in the form of a play that re-enacts the slave dynamic from a Siamese perspective. To read the story opened my eyes to a side of racism that I didn’t think of before. As I discussed on my Facebook, I have unfortunately become numb to the physical effects of slavery, i.e. the whippings and the rapes and the beatings and the auctions, but this book made me finally realize the extreme mental cost of slavery, which is not often discussed. The thing that got me was when a black man invented something and was treated WORSE for it, because he wasn’t supposed to have the mental capacity to achieve something. Because intellectual achievements mean so much to me, my heart broke for this character. I am so glad I read this uncomfortable book.
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (2015)- The sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, this book continues the story, expanding on other persons from the first novel. It was just a cute as the first book, and just as educational, but less fun.
Fantastic Mr. Fox* by Roald Dahl (1970)- Atticus enjoyed this book about a fox who sticks it to the man. Dahl is fun to read and upbeat in his delivery of prose and less than ideal situations. This is a children’s book (think 3rd or 4th graders reading on their own), and Dahl always delivers in fun (the BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda for example).
The Epic of Gilgamesh by ??? (2100 BC)- I cannot believe I considered myself a literary person without having known about this Mesopotamian poem until this year. This thing was written on stone tablets and is the supposed oldest surviving work of literature. Like all things that have been translated, it is hard to ensure you are reading the best interpretation, BUT this thing speaks about the great flood that is in the Bible and holy crap, this was written way before the Bible. It is interesting to think about all of the stories and possible truths we have lost to the passing of time. Most interesting story to read, but I need to brush up on my understanding of Mesopotamian culture.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&ck by Mark Manson (2016)- This was an easy to read self-help book that dicusses how to best let go of caring about things in a healthy way. Unlike what the title suggests, you should give a fuck, just about the right stuff. I read this book a few years too late, but it wasn’t a waste of my time to read it now.
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (2001)- The second book of the Dresden Files, this one follows Dresden through interactions with werewolves…and something more. Still a cute series.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan (2017)-The third and final book of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, this one gets a little more historical and sentimental as it ties up family relationships and loose ends. The resolutions are good, and the story continues, but it still wasn’t as fun as the first book in the trilogy.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence (1928)- This work of fiction threatened the bounds of accepted sensuality enough to be banned in multiple countries. After it was part of a failed lawsuit of obscenity against a publishing house, this book exploded in sales. For the time it was written, yes, it is a pearl clutcher. But for today’s time period, it is a wonderfully written book about a woman who has an affair with someone outside of her class, but is encouraged by her husband to do so. I normally hate when men write as a woman who is having sex because they miss the point/make the sex ridiculous since they are only men who have never experienced sex as a woman, but Lawrence doesn’t butcher the experience. The ending left me sad and wanting though.
Grave Peril by Jim Butcher (2001)- The third book of the Dresden Files, involving spirits. I am invested in this series at this point.
Blog, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho (2012)- This is a non-fiction book about blogging, one that I probably should have read PRIOR to starting a blog. Luckily I haven’t messed up too much, but it might have made the beginning a little easier for me.
The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida (1997)- I really needed to read this book. Written for men to be their best and most masculine selves, this book is great for someone feminine like me to understand a man’s reason and drive. It also helped me realize how I wanted to be treated as a woman by a masculine man. The foreword even makes a huge point of it not being about men/women but about the polarity of masculine and feminine energies so the author SPECIFICALLY accepts and encourages non-conventional relationships. That level of acceptance from a writer who speaks about men and women is extremely important. I advise every person in any relationship to read this book to better understand themselves and their partners.
So 56 books in total, with five more I am actively reading. Remember, audio books count. Look into Overdrive and your local library your free books and audio books through their app. Also, I DO stop reading books if I find them not worth my time. If you want to see what I read last year, check it out here.