,1. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
I believe I first encountered the word "ballon" in an eerie Isak Dinesen story, "The Deluge at Norderney", from her Seven Gothic Tales, also available here.. From there, I fell in love with the concept of ballet as the perfect expression of lightness. And this book by Maggie Shipstead is the most perfect expression of that: a ripping good read and the best book about ballet I've ever read.
2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I'm a little late to the Rainbow Rowell party, and it's a big one, so I'm surprised I missed it for so long. Not Harry Potter big but pretty darn sizable. I actually also read Eleanor and Park this year, and I think, also technically speaking, it's the better written book. Plus (my third technically) Fangirl came out in 2013, but I read it in 2015.... and hey! Whose blog is it anyway? I make up the rules around here. Besides, Carry On, which is sort of a sequel to Fangirl, did come out in 2015, and I also read that. As for Carry On, I liked it a lot (more in the idea of a YA Harry Potter satire than the execution), but not quite as much as Fangirl,. Fangirl is a love story about a reclusive writer, who searches for her voice and identity at a large university; there's plenty I can relate to right there, but even if you yourself are not a shy, fangirly type who favors extraverted men-- and I am possibly as introverted as a human can be and married to as extraverted an opposite as I could humanly find-- there's plenty other aspects of the story to enjoy like the aforementioned Harry Potterish fangirl stuff the MC writes. And everyone likes Harry Potter. So, anyway, all that's to say, if you enjoy YA, join our Rainbow Rowell party. She's my favorite--as in she's the most fun, most inventive, playful, witty, fearless-- writer writing in the genre at the moment.
3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon
Okay, and now this one came out in 2005, so I placed it farther down the list, but it is my number one book in 2015 that helped me the most. I found it right after my baby was born, and it actually helped me look forward to long, sleepless white nights when I could get a lot of reading done. There's two more books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series as well and maybe there'll be more. He's an author that can tell a story, write beautifully, make you think, and create lovable characters-- very, very few can tick off each box for me, and this thriller/ mystery/ love story about a boy with a passion for books coming of age in Franco's Barcelona did all that for me and more.
4. The Ladies' Paradise by Émile Zola
And now this one's from another century! I really am cheating at this game. Equally shamefully, it's my first time reading that old master of naturalism. Up until now, I've avoided reading Zola for two reasons: I wanted to read him in French, but didn't have the vocab. I've finally acknowledged that I don't know if it will ever be quite as pleasurable for me to read 19th century writers in another language. I learned French as a child, so I'm fluent, but my vocabulary isn't anywhere near as expansive as it is in English. Also, most readers probably don't even realize it, but when we read older books, our eyes recognize and skim over odd words-- like the words for the parts of a carriage. Those words catch you up when you're reading in another language. I don't know if I really know what a "button head screw" is for example, but it wouldn't hitch me up too much if I read an odd descriptor of a screw. I'd see "screw" and think got it, screw it, carry on.
In French, I'd have to look that up, only to realize it didn't matter and probably wasn't a word I'd ever encounter again. That sort of thing ruins the flow of a story, especially repeated twice a page. Anyway, sad but appropriate in this case to say, I finally read the wonderful Zola, and this particular Zola, because the bright cover attracted my eye. It's appropriate, because The Ladies' Paradise is all about the birth of the modern shopaholic-- i.e. all about the seduction of the shopper and advertising and bingeing on fashion and spectacle. It's also one of Zola's more upbeat novels, the 11th from his Rougon-Macquart cycle of 20 and actually a good one to start with for that reason-- its upbeatedness.
Also, in English, it wasn't work at all to read it. The lush descriptions of clothes and home goods did sometimes become a little lengthy-- I wouldn't recommend this one to my husband, who has zero patience for description of any kind let alone gorgeous ones of outfits-- but I didn't mind. It was like reading the best-written catalogue ever, and I enjoyed the story, too. Plus, he's a very keen observer of humanity, something that's rare to come across in more modern writers. I feel like 19th century writers could find just the right words to describe the soul and heart in a way that I can't name anyone writing today accomplishing quite as handily. Anyway, I can't wait to dip into more of his books, although I will stick to English for anything written earlier than the 20th century.
5. Tied at 5-- Some Others I Enjoyed This Year But That Plenty of Others Have Written Plenty More (and Better) About
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
The man writes like a modern Tolkien/Gunther Grass on speed. He's funny, insanely passionate, and a good storyteller, and he does these really odd, wonderful things to English as a bilingual writer, things that I wish I could emulate with French-English, only, in my case, without sounding like a pretentious ass. Mais, hélas, c'est impossible. See? If you speak French in any English context (or arguably in any context), even if you are French, for some reason you immediately sound like a pretentious ass. But Diaz just sounds so cool interspersing his English with Dominican expressions.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I found this book to be uneven but a mostly pleasurable read with many intensely beautiful passages. A must if you are like me and love to read books about characters in New York City. However, the vivid descriptions of child abuse and self-harm might be too much for some readers. *spoiler alert* I also found the MC's lifelong pity party a little much by the end of the book, not to mention the ridiculous levels of success that he and all his friends achieve. More and more, I wanted to bash them all over the head and steal their fancy lives... No, not really, then I'd have to give up my kids, but...sigh... you can really tell the author used to write luxury articles for the New York Times Magazine. My compassion for his suffering withered with each million dollar purchase the MC made. (Joking, not joking?) Still, it's refreshing to read a queer love story, especially if you're beyond tired of the old rom-com formula.
My Struggle (Vol. 2) by Karl Ove Knaussgard
I was as scared to read this as I was Zola, but it was even more accessible. Knausgaard can write about brushing his teeth and keep you on the edge of your seat. Plus, if you're a writer with kids, you'll find a lot you can relate with him about. More on this book and my first foray into the wonderful word of autofiction here.
6. Books by Friends in 2015: Letters to Zell by Camille Griep, All in Letters Bound in String by Samantha Memi, Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer
7. Books I wish I'd had the chance to read/ TBR 2016
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Life in Motion by Misty Copeland, The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Asking for It by Louise O'Neill, The Feasts of Lesser Men by Stephen Parrish,
And here's to the best books of 2016... when me and my friends Roz and Cynthia**'s first books are all coming out! AH!!!
**I couldn't find a cover of Blue Hallelujahs yet, but if you click on Cynthia's picture, it will take you to the publisher's page, which includes more information on the book and some excerpts of her poetry.
I'm a busy mommy of two and a writer who loves fashion. I also want to teach myself and my children to care for and love the environment! I don't have the energy or time to be as 100% perfect as I'd like to be about my carbon footprint, but I'm trying to do the best I can. For example, I switched to a vegetarian diet (with a little bit of fish thrown in for now-- ah I cannot live without fish tacos!--), walk when I don't have to drive, wear as many sustainably made or secondhand clothes as I can, and recycle in other ways, too. Follow me as I try (at least 50% of the time) to strike a balance between the two-- mothering and writing, shopping and sustainability. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IsabellaMDavid.