Books I read in 2015

As you can see below, my 2015 reading efforts have drastically dropped from previous years. Not sure what has happened, other than the vague “I’ve been really busy.” My life doesn’t seem terribly different in 2015 than it was in 2014, so my lack of reading is puzzling. Well… there is always 2016 to get back on track.

  1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. You MUST read it. This big novel draws from real events and follows the main character after he breaks out of an Australian prison and escapes to India. He hides within the city of Bombay and gleefully becomes a local, even living for a time in a slum…and develops a deep and abiding admiration for the people around him. This tortured man is always trying to be better, and he does succeed, and then fails, and then succeeds again as he winds his way through volunteer work as a doctor, making counterfeit passports, bonding with the incomprehensibly poor and the incomprehensibly rich, drug use, catastrophe, adventure, and loyalty. He makes the best friend a man could ever have, in Prabaka, and many others display a code of friendship I envy. There is so much comedy (like when his friend misinterprets the meaning of “bear hug” and sends him a real bear who hugs), and deep, wrenching philosophy as he absorbs this world and tries to place himself in context. There is a painful, unrequited love of a woman, but a joyous, fully requited love of Bombay. I felt this city open up to me in a way I know would never ever happen to me in real life because I just couldn’t take it on, 110%, the way the main character does. In the end this book made me feel like India must be, foremost, a country made up of her people.
  2. The Bush Devil Ate Sam by my friend and fellow blogger, Curt Mekemson from Wandering Through Time and Place. Curt is a natural storyteller, evident once you begin reading his blog. In this book he focuses on a short period of time in his life as a young man whose world is rocked when he arrives at UC Berkely in 1963 from a small western town. Two years later, when he is on the radar of the school administration and the federal government for being in the vicinity of multiple disturbances of the peace, and distinctly resistant to placid behavior, Curt decides to join the Peace Corps and serve the people of Liberia. The stories of how spider-infested outhouses, rifle-toting authorities, ant migrations, adoptive beetle-eating dogs,  cockroach vs. human battles and truces, and the reputation for keeping schoolchildren in line all become part of daily life is a great tale. This book is well written and includes diversions as Curt-of-today ponders again the events experienced by Curt-of-yesterday.
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline has rocked my 2015! This SciFi YA novel is set in 2045 in a land where everyone who is anyone spends most (if not all) of their time inside a virtual world online. The Earth is almost entirely ruined due to pollution and poverty and the energy crisis. People use their computers to escape that misery. But it’s not a sad story at all! It’s jam-packed with adolescent excitement, epic friendships, epic evil corporations, love, battles to the death with magic spells and relics and vorpal swords! The storyline requires non-stop 1980s references, to include breakfast cereals, TV commercials, pop music, movies, video games, cars, clothing and even expressions. I can’t tell you how many times I gasped in delight, “Omigosh! I totally remember that!” (hm, that reminds me: one glaring thing missing was Valley talk) I have been recommending this book to anyone I come into contact with.
  4. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. An actually funny book by someone intending to write a funny book. (Egads I’m so judgmental) Not since I read Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh have I laughed so hard at a book. (Hm, I don’t think I ever reviewed that one. I’ll add it next.) “the Bloggess,” Jenny’s book is funny in the way that she frames her life. To another person, the challenges she encounters could be problematic or curious, but to Jenny – it’s freaking all out chaos! In the midst of it all, she’s just a blogger who’s living her life. Like you and me.
  5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. I had previously seen a lot of the book in her blog (which includes a post about the Alot my favourite mythical creature most often referenced by people with poor writing skils), but this woman is the funniest human I think I’ve ever come across. Her artwork kills me. I have been reduced to gasping on the floor in a puddle of my own tears this book is so damned funny. If you want to laugh – really laugh – I’m talking can’t-even-tell-if-the-giggles-are-still-a-reaction-to-the-book-or-if-you-just-suddenly-developed-a-mental-disorder-that-causes-giggles, then this book may be the one for you. Allie shows her world through the eyes of herself as a child, and also talks about her dogs, and a goose. If you only want a quick giggle, just read the name of the book.
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I read this ten years ago or so, the author raved about his own brilliance in living off the land, and it did not impress me, as I grew up living off the land and being resourceful. There are entire American communities that live as he did, and not making a point to society, but simply surviving. I wanted to read it again because from 2004 to 2007, I rode the train past Walden Pond twice a day nearly every day while I attended school. I grew to love the pond for itself, and got curious about the book again. This time, prepared for his accounts of how wonderfully resourceful he was, I was able to pay attention to his reasons. And it strikes me that he and I are similar in our (mostly) silent rebellion against the status quo. It sounds as if the society he was rejecting was rather severe, and the points he makes needed to be made to those people. Things that are obvious to me were not obvious in the society around him, who judged him repeatedly for not following their social pressure like one more sheep. I am also interested in his constant activity and scientific studies of his environment. He packs the book with life lessons and admonitions, and while half of them are truly valuable, half of them are rubbish. But I do not fault him so much this time. He was putting all of himself onto those pages, and the odds of getting so many personal revelations to have enormous societal significance is an admirable feat.
  7. The Frontiersmen: A Narrative by Allan W. Eckert. This is one of those stories that takes true events and tells them like a story, rather than a documentary. The author has skillfully collected facts and has woven them into a storyline that flows. All the characters are real, the events are real, the timeline is spot on. It begins when the US was a British Colony, passes through the Civil War, and continues on. The main characters are the Frontiersmen and the Indians – the people who lived and worked in what is today called Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The two main characters, Simon Kent (Butler) and Tecumseh emerge early on, and I dare you not to be impressed with both of them for their humanity, their leadership, their pride and honor. These are the kind of men a country is built from. The book follows their lives and ends when they do.
  8. Africa Must Unite by Kwame Nkrumah. This is a careful, conscious, and detailed academic study of how and why the entire continent of Africa is dependent upon all its nations to join together and build the political and economic future that they desire. Only then will Africans have real freedom. Ghanain politician and activist Nkrumah published this book in 1963 and his clarity of vision is inspiring. I found myself wishing that every African country had a man like this in charge, and maybe some of the unraveling of pain and violence could begin. He desires nothing less than total commitment of all African nations to a common goal, and the support of the rest of the globe. I’m not familiar with the politics of 1963, but I’m afraid that in 2015 this goal seems so very far away.
  9. Tricky Twenty-Two: A Stephanie Plumb Novel by Janet Evanovich. This was a fun detective novel told first person from a spunky female bounty hunter. It was the first I had ever read, and didn’t know till later that the title is actually the number of books in the series. Wow. 22 books. My favourite sidekick was Lula, who finds a way to work a good meal into every errand. Stephanie herself is brave and resourceful and seems not to know what to do with the men in her life, but at least she can find the bad guy in the end!
  10. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I just read this about two years ago, but I had the chance to read it again with Tara in the car with me on a road trip to north Idaho. Who could pass up an opportunity to read a comedy about a boy raised in a graveyard after the rest of his family was murdered, while the murderer remains at large, desperate to finish the job? The dead rise at night and teach Bod (short for Nobody) how to fade from sight, walk through walls, and respect for elders. Those who were actual teachers prior to being buried, teach Bod lessons. His vampire guardian becomes his closest friend, until that post is usurped by a human girl, and then the ghost of a child hanged for being a witch. The adventures are remarkable and the story is as sweet and gentle and bizarre as any you would expect from Gaiman.