Monday, February 1, 2016

Best books I read in 2015

It's my annual reading round-up time! I read a lot the first half of the year, then had a two month slump where I read almost nothing (thank you, moving!), then got back into it last few months of the year. Here are my favorites, in the order I read them (titles with an asterisk=five stars, ones without=four):

*Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Gawande's latest book may be the most thought-provoking book on my list. Immediately after I read it I had Neil do the same so we could discuss. It explores the state of eldercare in the country--what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, why it is the way it is, and possible solutions. The most interesting question to me was how to balance what children want for their aging parents (safety) and what the parents want for themselves (freedom and autonomy). It made me think about how I want to age and die in a society that prefers not to discuss those topics.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

This one is the third book of four in the Raven Boys series (the fourth comes out this spring!). I read all three in early 2016, and it is a rare series where each book is better than the last. It is YA fantasy fiction, so if that is not your jam, then you should skip this series, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Funky, interesting characters, an unusual plot premise, and quality writing.

*All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It is no surprise that this book one the Pulitzer as I found myself savoring every word as I read it. It is a WWII story, but so much more. Who is good? Who is evil? How would we respond to the kinds of moral questions that defined that era? It is depressing, but in a way that connects us more deeply to humanity. Beautiful, beautiful prose that elegantly wove together multiple story lines.

*Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This one was a book club read for two different book clubs (one in Austin and one in Bloomington), and with good reason. It was well-written and provided plenty of fodder for discussion. The premise: the world's infrastructure collapses after a flu epidemic kills off most of the population--what does civilization look like twenty years later? In reading the book, it became clear to me that I would not be a survivor; I do not have the instincts and quick wits required. Neil on the other hand would make it through unscathed.

*Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Genova tells the story of fictional Alice, a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. I have thought about Alzheimer's from the perspective of loved ones before, but never from the point of view of the person experiencing it--at least not as deeply and intimately as I did through this book. Heartbreaking, but worth the read.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I have enjoyed all of Rubin's books, but this one more than most. It is a quick read with many useful tidbits, strategies, and anecdotes on how to make the type of changes you want in your life. I love that she doesn't have a "one-size fits all" approach, but emphasizes knowing yourself and what strategies would work best for you. I also recommend her podcast, Happier.

*How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber

Oh, parenting books, how I both love and hate you. But this is one of the best. So much of it is in line with RIE philosophy (see Janet Lansbury's site for more on RIE). Reading the book was just what I needed after the move to realign my actions with my values in the parenting realm. I think it is one that I will reread every few years to remind myself of the kind of parent I want to be.

*Alif the Unseen by Willow G. Wilson

I likely never would have read this book if it had not been the pick for my online book club. Abby's pick was such a pleasant surprise. It explored the themes of religion, tradition, and feminism in an unnamed Middle Eastern country from the perspective of a teenage hacker. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and commit to the story, but if you do, you will not be sorry.

*Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Friends, if you have not read this book, run to your nearest library and remedy that situation immediately. It is without question the best book that I read in 2015. Every person I know that has read it has also loved it. The book explores the idea of virtual reality and life lived online. Are we more of our true selves online? Or less? How well do we know people virtually? It is filled with 80s trivia and references, so I think it would be most fully appreciated by a video-game lover born in he early 70s, but I had no problem loving it with limited cultural knowledge of the era. What else can I say? Interesting, diverse characters, beautiful storytelling--I couldn't put it down.

The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

This is the book that had me talking about microbes and poop for weeks on end. The book itself was really well done for a health/science book. The authors were upfront about what we do know about the microbiome and what we don't. They clearly explained the limitations of the research, while still stating what we can do with the knowledge that is available. After reading it I was inspired to start brewing my own kombucha (again--we did this before HP was born but then haven't since), making our own yogurt, and culturing kefir at home. Also, lots of fiber. For my birthday I want to get my poop tested by the American Gut Project. Happy birthday to me!

Honorable Mention (other books I gave four stars):

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money by Ron Liber
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Fire by Kristin Cashore
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson
Trash by Andy Mulligan

For more, see my favorite books from 2012, 2013, and 2014.


  1. We have such similar taste and book history! I have not met anyone else who has read Alif the Unseen, I picked it up from the library randomly a few years back and loved it. I'm going to put Ready Player One on request, hadn't heard of that, sounds great. I should do a round up like this. I read a ton but for some reason never feel excited to write about books, I like discussing them but not writing about them, kind of weird!

    1. I don't love writing about what I've read, but I really like looking back on it so I make myself do it. Discussing is way more fun. I would love to see your list as I have noticed whenever you mention what you are reading that more than half the time it is something I've read or something I want to read. Or, even better, make a little segment on your book club GND episode where you discuss other reads you have enjoyed lately.

      Do you use Goodreads? I love it for tracking what I'm reading. If I didn't have that info somewhere I would forget within weeks what I've read and what I've liked. When I was looking through what I'd rated five stars this last year I had already forgotten about several of them. Sad, but true.

      Also, I have you to thank for the Good Gut. So fascinating. Making our microbes happy is regular dinner conversation at our house now.