The last year wasn’t really one of extensive reading (or reviewing) for me. However, quite a bit of what I did read ended up sticking with me so I thought I’d take this chance to reminisce about the books that refuse to leave my thoughts. I’m disappointed at the lack of diversity in my reads last year, so I’ll be changing that this time around, but for now here are the 2015 stars.
(All images are from Goodreads.)
- The Book That Displayed the Intricacy and Complexity of Life While Managing to Hollow Out My Heart
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James
This was probably the best book that I read last year. And certainly one of the best I’ve read in my life. I cannot accurately convey the absolute beauty and depth of this book. Chronicling the triple narratives of an elephant orphaned and separated from his herd, of two young boys roped into the dangerous business of ivory hunting, and of some conservationist filmmakers, this book reveals the layered complexity of conservation, the treatment of animals, and what defines that intimate bond between two entities. My favourite aspect was the narrative of the elephant. They are my favourite animals, and James does a a great job of depicting the elephant’s perspective, so much so that I may or may not have been moved to tears. The writing is poetry at times, and is as lush and vivid as the forest the story takes place in.
- The Book That Made Me Want to Whoop With Understanding While Also Leaving Me Subdued.
Feed by M.T. Anderson
This novel is set in a future where humans have managed to find a way to wire the internet directly into their minds, and it chronicles the predictable breakdown in communication and critical-thinking that such a step might entail. Beneath the surface, however, is an extended shrewd look at how the way technology is handled might lead to such a despairing situation. I like to think, that implied within the critique is the assertion that the way technology is put to use has enormous positive potential, if society keeps in mind its benefits and disadvantages and acts accordingly. It’s easy to interpret the story as a dismissal of technology, but Anderson’s story is far more complex and multi-faceted than that, and gives you a lot of food for thought (yeah, I had to pun).
- The Book That Managed to Give a Comprehensive Guide to Humanity’s Past Without Being Boring
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
It really is a comprehensive guide. Harari starts from the absolute beginning of humanity, tracking our progress on social, cultural and economic platforms, and manages to do it all without being overbearing or dry in his communication. That’s what I most appreciated about this novel, as it makes the contents easily accessible for anyone regardless of their educational background. You don’t need to have taken a biology paper, or a cultural studies class to appreciate the novel. Plus, it’s not restricted to any particular age group. I have a prickly dislike for academic books that like to clothe themselves in theory and jargon like impenetrable battlements. What’s the point of knowledge if it cannot be shared in ways that are accessible for all? This increases my apprecation for Harari two-fold.
- The Book That Was Heartbreakingly Optimistic, yet Refused to Ignore Reality
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
This story takes places in the segregated South, and is told through Stella, a bright, conscientious child. When Stella spies a Ku Klux Klan meeting one night, she’s forced to come to terms with the grim realities that surround the lives of black people like her. I loved how Draper managed to convey Stella’s childlike tone while imbuing her with that intrinsic wisdom that children, especially those who undergo harsh times, possess. Stella was a wonderfully optimistic child, the likes of Anne Shirley, but the cruelty Stella experiences is in such stark contrast to the whimsy. I was impressed with the balance that Draper created – Stella’s brightness and the darkness that surrounds her. Draper does not coddle you or Stella, and that restraint is what makes this novel powerful.
- The Book That Stared Unflinchingly Into the Lonely Landscape of an Immigrant Stranded in a Foreign Land
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
This was such a bleak novel. And yet, I enjoyed it. It made me relate to my parents’ experiences, opening my eyes about the more temporary, but nevertheless painful, slights that they might have faced as newly arrived immigrants in a strange land. This novel takes a good look at the connections human make, though it’s a bit skewed as it only uses romantic love as a platform for this.
- The Book That Made Me Smile Sappily and Then Sniffle Like a Baby
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Oh, this book. It’s definitely one of those heart-warming reads. A woman, Lou Clark, at the end of the line employment-wise, takes up a position as the carer for a quadriplegic man, Will Traynor. The formula is almost predictable. The man is initially very prickly, and almost cruel, towards her, but soon starts softening, and through a series of montages they develop a friendship and eventually something more. But that’s where the formula ends. The book is not taking you along for a ride of fluffy sweetness. It’s an unabashed look at real life: I loved how Lou’s financial situation was presented with such stark honesty, her need to support her parents, while resenting having to share space with them, and her guilt at the resentment; Will’s crumbling perspective of the world, his progressive friendliness, which is still tempered by his grim realizations about his life. Also, I would like to adamantly state that it IS a romance novel, first and foremost. It’s about two people falling in love, and whatever anyone might say, it is not the lesser for being a romance story.
- The Book That Was Truly an Experience
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This title has been making the rounds recently due to the t.v. adaptation. Set in 1800s, it’s about the revival of magic in England, primarily by the two men in the title, and their ensuing rivalry. The size of this book alone makes it an Experience. But what really makes this story world so real is the frequent (and rambling) footnotes interspersed throughout. It’s a whimsical and humorous world-building technique. I’ve heard this described as Jane Austen with magic, but honestly, it’s just a novel set in the 1800s with magic in it. It doesn’t really look at society’s idiosyncrasies or romance the way Austen did – what it DOES do is give us another way to look at fantasy. Also, it pokes fun at Lord Byron’s dramatic, so that’s always a plus.
And what were your favourite 2015 titles, reader?