The son of a librarian, I had no choice through nature or nurture but to grow into a book nerd. I rarely go anywhere without a book or eReader in tow, and this year was no different. I was shocked this year to discover that after receiving an eReader as a gift, I not only became acclimated to it immediately, but I ended up reading more than usual. It also made it easier for me to use the fabulous Philadelphia Free Library with one click, which eased the burden on my wallet considerably.
One of my favorite literary websites, The Millions, has an annual feature in which they ask famous authors to describe what they read that year, regardless of when it was published. I’m not a famous author, but since people are always asking for book recommendations, here are the books that moved me the most this year.
The book that I pressed into others’ hands the most this year was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you haven’t read it, then surely you know someone who has. If we could have harnessed the wind energy from the turning of the pages of this book on beaches this summer, we’d be years closer to energy independence. It’s best not to know much about the plot going in, but the book centers around a highly dysfunctional couple. When the wife goes missing, the husband becomes the prime suspect. Cue countless plot twists. It’s a rollicking thrill of a book, and, below the surface, it asks serious questions about identity, gender politics and what parts of yourself you give away when you get married.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson was a fictional account of an insider’s look at North Korea. It’s a surreal, yet somehow plausible, look at the horrors inside this mysterious kingdom that manages to be hilarious and heartwarming in parts. The book that surprised me most was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This is a retelling of the Achilles’ saga during the Trojan War from the point of view of his best friend and lover Patroclus. It’s a deeply sensitive look at heroism and intimacy that infuses the Iliad with heart.
I’m still haunted by Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, a meditation on memory and youthful indiscretions. I didn’t know how I felt about it right after reading it, but it’s planted a seed that causes me to revisit the protagonist’s story and my own youth quite a bit. We the Animals by Justin Torres was a heartbreaking gut punch in the form of spare prose. The best book about war I’ve read in years was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, a skewering of the pro-war American public’s smug satisfaction in “supporting the troops.” I laughed the most at Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, a hilarious tale of job dissatisfaction that hit a bit too close to home.
I prefer my non-fiction to read like fiction. So, I was knocked out by People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry, an expose of the underworld of Tokyo’s nightlife and the British airline stewardess who was fatally swallowed up by it. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo took the reader to the slums of Mumbai to tell the story of inhabitants who were left behind in corruption and squalor as affluence blossomed around them.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a gorgeous collection of unconventional advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed of the Dear Sugar column. It is profane and audacious yet overflowing with empathy. My favorite collection of essays was Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan, which was mordantly witty and deeply personal in equal measures.
Now with the length of my “To Be Read” list rivaling my Christmas shopping credit card bills, there will be no end in sight to my reading adventures. But that’s the way I like it.