Top reads of 2015: my year in books

Some of you may remember, at the beginning of 2015, I talked a little about a challenge that I was doing—to read 365 books in 365 days. As of today, I have read 372 books, and, being the generally opinionated person that I am, of course I have favorites.

Disclaimer: These books are not all of my favorites from 2015. In fact, some of them probably don’t make my top 20 of 2015 list. This post is mostly here so that you all can see some of what I’ve been reading, and maybe pick up one or two of these books in the near future. I also tried to vary the genres, so there’s something for everyone here.

  1. Traveling
    Honestly, whenever I was traveling somewhere, I did more writing than reading. But as it happens, some books are simply made for reading while on the move.-Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson. It’s a book about a road trip! It’s perfect for reading while in the car, preferably while going somewhere fairly far away.
    – Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie. This adaptation of the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights feels kind of like Salman Rushdie read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and decided that the jinni had sort of gotten short shrifted, so he wrote this.
  1. INSPIRATION
    these were the books that made me want to pick up and do something, or at the very least, gave me new role models.- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Anyone who has known me for more than 5 seconds is fully aware of my all-consuming Hamilton obsession. But also the book is great.
    – Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik – if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had not already been my idol, this book would have convinced me. If I do a quarter in my lifetime of what she accomplished in hers, then I will consider my life a good one. 
    – Between the World and Me, 
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates —Coates not only points out what the issues are, but frames them with gorgeous prose, in the form of a letter to his son. It is rare that a book leaves me completely speechless, but somehow this one did exactly that.

    (Side note: all three of these are about real people, who solved/solve problems using words and writing and communication, rather than through violence. In my opinion, everyone should read these three books)

  2. New Favorite Authors
    these are authors whose work I had not read before 2015, but now I’ve read the majority of their stuff if not all of it, and I’m pretty sure I’d pick up anything they wrote. The four most prominent:- Paolo Bacigalupi—This guy writes really dark fiction, that is in a lot of ways the sci-fi take on John McPhee (mentioned later in this list). The idea being: When humans wage war on nature, nature always wins. My favorite of his is The Windup Girl, although The Water Knife is what initially drew me to his work.
    -Victoria Schwab—also known as VE Schwab when it comes to her books intended for an older audience. If you’re looking for wacko fantasy adventures with a definite twist, her stuff is for you. I think my two favorites are Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic. 
    – Jonathan Safran Foer—I had heard this guy’s name quite a bit before I ever picked up one of his books. I adored Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (and yes, I liked Everything is Illuminated quite a lot, too). Also, he’s married to Nicole Krauss. If you’ve read any of her stuff, then you’ll understand why I find it important to note that.
    – Julia Alvarez— I picked up In the Time of the Butterflies hoping for some insight into the history of censorship and constantly shifting governments which led to the repression of literary movements in the Dominican Republic. I ended up falling in love with the story, and the people, and when I finished In the Name of Salomé, I realized that I will read anything this woman writes.
  1. Recommended to me
    All of these were recommended to me I am not going to say much about any of these, because any explanation would give away spoilers, but if you have found any of your literary tastes aligning with mine, please, please, please pick up one of these books.– The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
    – A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
    – Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
  1. No one’s heard of
    These are the books whose titles, when I try to name drop, result in questioning looks of bafflement.
    – The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan. The Night Circus– meets- Station Eleven in a lot of ways, mixed with an unearthly kind of beauty and sadness that I can’t quite describe. 
    – The Girl With All the Gifts, 
    by M.R. Carey. It’s a painful reminder of the limits of human nature. Also Joss Whedon blurbed it.
    – All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw,
     by Ned Cobb and Theodore Rosengarten.  Nonfiction, written down as the man told it. Reading it feels like having a conversation.
  2. Chosen because author
    These are what I call my “auto-read authors.” I liked them before this challenge, I read more of their work during it, and I certainly plan to continue reading their work after.
    Neil Gaiman: Sandman: Overture (if you think I’m cheating by naming a comic, then fine I also read Trigger Warning and that’s up there in my favorite-short-story-collections list). I waited years for this book, and now that I’ve read it, of course it ended up on this list.
    Brandon Sanderson: Mistborn: the Well of Ascension, and also warped, twisty fantasy with odd twists and turns and loveable characters… what’s not to like?
    Barbara Kingsolver: I’ve read a lot of Kingsolver’s work, and while nothing has topped The Poisonwood Bible, my favorite of hers that I read this year was Flight Behavior. 
  3. Chosen because cover
    You know how you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Yeah, well, I kind of did exactly that here.
    – Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this book other than “highly regarded,” and “dragon.” Dragon was a little misleading, but it totally deserves the “highly regarded.”
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (Y’all. This book. I CANNOT SPEAK ENOUGH ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS BOOK.)
    – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. If you like fantasy and Charles Dickens, or Thomas Hardy, meet the marriage of the three.
  4. My biggest ship
    Yeah, I can’t always restrain the inner fangirl. Warning: Possible spoilers may be present here.
    – Celaena/Sam, from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
    – Lila/Tarver, from These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meghan Spooner
    – Cecil/Carlos, from Welcome to Night Vale, by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. Yes, it’s a podcast. Yep, also a book. Cecil and Carlos are perfection.
    – CHAZ/RAFFY, from On the Jellicoe Road. Or possibly Jude/Narnie. Honestly, any of the relationships. Anything to do with this book.
  5. Despite the reputation
    despite the high-minded literacy of many of my reading choices, I’m afraid I’m also a hormonal teenage girl. So, yes, there are pieces of sappy YA fluffiness on this list, and I do really enjoy them, they’re not guilty pleasure books, okay please don’t judge me. I’m not going to show covers because, well, you’d judge me far too much.- The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines), by Richelle Mead. Ignore the stupid covers and the word “vampire” in any summary. Vampire Academy was good, despite the covers and the remarkably off-putting title, and Richelle Mead is some kind of storytelling sorceress.
    – Rebel Belle/actually pretty much anything by Rachel Hawkins… if you’re looking for some light reading, full of quippy lines and the occasional oddball randomness, Rachel Hawkins is my go-to.
    – the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Once again, ignore the covers, pretend it doesn’t say “alien.” It’s actually good, I swear.
    – Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I don’t care how fluffy and unrealistic everything about this book happens to be, it gave me the warm fuzzies, and continues to do so every time I reread it. Therefore, I shall keep rereading it.
  6. Made me cry
    My mother can attest to the fact that at least two of these left me sobbing at 2am, because I stayed up late to finish reading, and then I turned back to the beginning and started reading them all over again. Because of the risk of spoilers, I can’t tell you why I love them so much. Just read them, please.- On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta (again)
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (again)
    – Winger and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith
    – The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
  7. Left me delighted
    When I was reading these books, I kept ending up with this dumb little smile that wouldn’t go away. With the exception of one, I won’t say why, because if you read them, you deserve to figure out all of the little “Easter eggs” by yourself.- Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
    – Welcome to Night Vale, 
    by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (again)
    – Carry On, 
    by Rainbow Rowell

    – Wintersmith, 
    by Terry Pratchett. (I should point out that Wintersmith is actually a re-read, because I did go back and read through all of the Discworld books when Sir Terry Pratchett died, without counting them as part of my 365 goal. Wintersmith is my favorite Discworld book, and while it did feel like reuniting with old friends, I also cried at least once)
  8. It grew on me
    I did not start out expecting to like any of these, but on finishing them, I realized that I… did. Evolution, I suppose.- Shadow & Bone kicks of the Grisha trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo. Book 1? Not so great. Book 3? Abso-flipping-lutely fantastic, and it led to Six of Crows, which actually might make my top 20 of 2015 list.
    – Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. I hated pretty much everything about book 1, but for some reason I kept going… and I’m very glad I did, because book 3 might be one of the best conclusions to a YA trilogy I’ve read in a long time.
    – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I didn’t like the first couple chapters of this book, but somehow I finished the book clutching it to my chest, thoroughly upset because the library wanted it back?
  9. Best transport to a Different Time/Place
    Reading is often all about the escapism.- Red Rising, by Pierce Brown (Space. A really, really scary version of space.)
    – Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee (the current state of the Earth)
    – The Cornerstone, by Zoë Oldenbourg. (13th century France)
    – Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman (again). (Dreams. Stars. Upside down, twisty versions of reality)
  10. Best narration
    These books are all excellent, but I can say with zero reservations whatsoever that for ALL of them, the narration is a significant part of what made them fantastic in the first place. Unfortunately, if I tell you why, I risk spoiling a lot.

– Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
– The Martian, by Andy Weir
– Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire

  1. Best Endings
    These are the books whose endings felt resolved. Complete. Obviously, I can’t say much here because SPOILERS. But oh, the satisfaction. These were the books that I spent ages clutching desperately, wishing I didn’t have to let go, because it felt so perfect. Then I turned around and started reading the same story all over again, just so I didn’t have to leave.- Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
    – Winger 
    and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith (again)
    – On the Jellicoe Road
    , by Melina Marchetta (again)

Happy new year, everyone!
(all image creds to Goodreads)

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I Keep Forgetting About Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m Not Sure Why

I’ve written a lot about the influential books and characters in my life. But I think that I’ve forgotten about some. It’s weird—I devoted huge portions of my life to these books, and to these characters, but when I think hard about it, they drift out of my head completely.

I think part of me definitely wants to impress my audience, and so tries to talk more about the more “adult” books; the classics and the adult fantasy. But then later, I remember:

There are others that have influenced me enormously over the years that I stop and think about from time to time. Books that I don’t have to reread in order to be able to quote, or to correctly name all of the main characters.

They’re not necessarily high literature, though some of them might be. But they did all play their parts in defining who I was at the time, and as a result, defining who I am now.

The first would have to be the Warriors series, by Erin Hunter. Not only did I read way too many of these books (there are about a thousand of them, all in various series that all sort of interconnect and really do tell the same story over and over again), but I also spent endless hours with my friends acting out the storyline. To make this even more ridiculous, the books are about cats. A cat society in the woods. With politics. And quests. It’s absurd, and yet… I still feel nostalgic for these stories, and these characters. I reminisce about those days when I’m hanging out with people. Somehow, these books became important to me, even after I stopped reading them. I don’t even own a copy of any of them anymore, but I still think about them on a fairly frequent basis.

The next is also fairly obvious if you know me. I’m talking the glory that was the Rainbow Magic series. I had a thing about fairies when I was younger. I still have a thing about fairies now—even if my tendencies have shifted to the whole dark-fae-scary-adult-magic side of things than the light-happy-glitter-and-sparkles-magic side. But these books were all about the latter. They, too, had very similar storylines from book to book. And I really, really liked them. I went back and reread them recently, actually, because the girl I used to babysit had a fixation with them.

But they’re nothing compared to the Pixie Tricks series. This being, the series that sparked the fascination with not-all-fairies-are-good. Also the series that led to my fascination with miniature people and bubbles, though those two both went away fairly quickly. Oh well. These books did have repetitive storylines, in a sense, but not really, because they each had their quirks that made them quite separate. It was a fantastically empowering series for six-year-old me, and also strongly supported the idea that girls and guys could be friends, and still save the world, while being clever, and relying on wits instead of on magic. It was spectacular. I still uphold the idea that this book series is beyond phenomenal, and every kid should give it a try.

And then you get the series that really got me into high fantasy. Redwall. Oh, Redwall. It’s SO SO SO SO good. Rodents with swords and smarts and ridiculously awesome food. And magic mouse prophecies. They defend the world, and they don’t give a crap about traditional gender roles when it comes to the crazy combat-y stuff. And the writing is wonderful. And the riddles are witty. I love this series. I still reread this series. Not very many people have read it, which is why I don’t talk about it much. But it’s absolutely still one of my favorite series to this day. And it is the series that, along with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Hobbit got me into the world of high fantasy.

Of course, I also have to say something about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. It was good. It was. AND THEN THEY WENT AND MADE A MOVIE OUT OF IT AND I CANNOT ACTUALLY ADMIT TO THE WORLD THAT I ENJOYED THE BOOKS ANYMORE. This is why I don’t trust movie adaptations, okay???

There are other books that probably belong on this list, too. Bone. Blue Jasmine. Deltora Quest. Septimus Heap. The Moorchild. Tintin. Gooney Bird Greene. American Girl Dolls (aka the beginning of my interest in historical fiction).

It’s the strangest combination of books and characters… pretty much ever. And that’s nowhere near the end of it. I could continue listing books for a LONG while. But no one wants to read a 4,000 word long post. So I’m cutting it short.

But there is one crown jewel to this.

The entire Little House series. I will not call it Little House on the Prairie. That is the stupid TV show. And also the first book is Little House in the Big Woods. GOSH PEOPLE. GET IT RIGHT.

But this series.

For one thing, it was the series that got me ridiculously interested in sewing and crocheting, and that lasted for a good long while. I still occasionally pick up some yarn and make something. It was the series that made me really, really invested in wearing long skirts and also a bonnet for a good long while. And I love this series. It was my first indicator that someone could just grow up and be an author, that not all authors were… I don’t know what my preconception of authors was. But this changed it. And it contained so many good messages about people, and the fact that it was a true story, just…. Gah. I love it.

But I never talk about it. I talk a lot about Anne of Green Gables. I talk a lot about Little Women. But I never seem to talk about this.

And I have no idea why.

National Best Friends Day: My Literary Take

Today is national Best Friends Day.
So I started thinking… there are some really great friendships in books. There are also some books that are seemingly devoid of friendship. Or ones in which it’s just a weird, jealousy-based dynamic that the author TELLS us is friendship.
But then there are the friendships that are utterly transcendent. And those are the ones I want to talk about.

Be prepared: There will be a lot of these. As a result, I can’t talk about them as much as I would like to. Also: This is a list of NON-ROMANTIC relationships in which family is NOT a factor (I haven’t included any pairs of people who are related to each other).
Let’s get this party started.

Phedre no Delaunay and Alcuin no Delaunay (Kushiel’s Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey). THEY’RE NOT ACTUALLY RELATED. ADOPTED. So I can include them here.

Rowan and Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J. Maas)

Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, and Harry Potter (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling). Okay, two of them DO end up together, but… I’m thinking of the three of them as a group, y’all. As a group. Golden Trio.

Kenji Kishimoto and Juliette Ferrars (Shatter Me, by Tahareh Mafi).

Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon). I know, I know, they’re technically cousins… but they were estranged! So they didn’t really know each other!

Aria and Roar (Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi)

Fermín Romero de Torres and Daniel Sempere (La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

Deeba I’m-Blanking-On-Her-Last-Name and Zanna Moon (Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville)

Septimus Heap and O. Beetle Beetle (the Septimus Heap series, by Angie Sage)

Anne Shirley and Diana Barry (Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Sevro and Darrow (Red Rising, by Pierce Brown)

Kelsier and literally everyone else in the entire series (the Mistborn series, by Brandon Sanderson)

Murra-yari and Stephen (the Valley of Secrets, by Charmian Hussey)

Hugo Cabret and Isabelle (the Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick)

Kolya and Lev (City of Thieves, by David Benioff)

SO MANY BFF PAIRS (the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques)

Jonah Griggs and Chaz Santangelo and Raffy and Taylor and EVERYONE (On the Jellicoe Road,  by Melina Marchetta)

Almondine and Edgar Sawtelle (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski)

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders (The Chosen, by Chaim Potok)

Maddie Brodatt and Julie Beaufort-Stuart (Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein)

Simmon and Kvothe and Wilem (the Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss). Was tempted to put down Kvothe and Auri here as well.

Karou and Zuzana (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor)

Sam and Frodo (the Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein)

Rudy Steiner and Liesel Meminger (The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak). I didn’t want to put this one on here, because it is my opinion that Liesel DOES love him back, she only realizes it too late, but… My mom insisted that they remain on this list. So here they are.

Callanish and North (The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan)

Harper Price and Bee (Rebel Belle, by Rachel Hawkins)

Blackjack and Luther (Fool on the Hill, by Matt Ruff)

Bishop and Ragnarok (Fool on the Hill, by Matt Ruff)

Joe Leephorn and Jim Chee (all of those mystery books by Tony Hillerman)

The Gumm Street Girls, all of them (The Gumm Street Girls, by Elise Primavera)

Kira and Matt (Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry)

Milo and Tock (The Phantom Tolbooth, by Norman Juster)

Hollis Woods and Josie Cahill (Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Riley Giff)

Candy Quackenbush and John (all of the multiple heads) (Abarat, by Clive Barker)

Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams)

Bentley and Slally (Prince Ombra,by Roderick MacLeish)

Finnick Odair and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins)

Frog and Toad (Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel)

The Penderwicks and Jeffrey (The Penderwicks, by Jane Bird)

Sam Gribley and ‘Bando’ (My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George)

Top 10 Influential Books

Disclaimer: this is not a list of my top 10 favorites, perse. For one thing, I’m not capable of making a list of my top 10 favorite books. I’ve tried. That said, I’ve made a top 25 list before, and I’m pretty sure that most of these ended up on there.

Another disclaimer: I sort of divided this up into life lessons, and so there are some of them that do have two books with them. Sorry not sorry I can’t make a 10 book list…

Another disclaimer: these are books that have influenced me and my life as of RIGHT NOW. TODAY. It is a constantly changing list which will probably be very different than it is today. But here goes:

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson.

I can receive all the judgement in the world for this being at the top of this list, but hey: it’s a book about creativity, and the power of the… not pencil. Crayon. Writing instrument. Well, now the alliteration’s gone. Oh well.
Harold and the Purple Crayon taught me a surprising lot of lessons about creativity and the ability to dream big– lessons that still apply today.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

If you know me, then you know that this book had to be on this list. I still relate to Anne on so many levels. This was not the first book with a main character who I could look up to, but it was the first book that I could look at the main character and say “Oh, hey, that’s basically me and she’s reacting in these situations the way that I would.”
This book taught me so much about adversity and dealing with it, and also about the power of patience, and the power of words. It’s a story where hard work usually pays off and sometimes doesn’t, and where it’s okay to outgrow grudges and to forgive people.

The School Story, by Andrew Clements

Okay, I know this one is pretty predictable. If you know my reading habits, you knew Andrew Clements would be on here. If you know anything about my writing habits, you probably knew that it would be this one.Most people, in second or third grade, read books as adventure stories, or as ways to find information. Given a story about a girl who writes a book and then gets it professionally published with the help of her best friend, my guess is that they would read it, write a quick book report for a smiley-face sticker on the classroom “reading wall” (was my school the only one that had these?) and then forget about it.I, on the other hand, took it as a how-to manual.

The Foretelling, by Alice Hoffman

I’ve never met anyone else who has even heard of this book.  It deals a lot with the idea of “people against nature” vs. the idea of “people with nature,” and definitely taught me a lot of lessons along that front. But the main lesson fro this book is rooted in gender identity, and in challenging or reversing gender roles.

I read this book when I was almost certainly too young for it, but it’s stuck with me ever since. It taught me to challenge difficulties thrown in my way, and these are the books that taught me to challenge gender roles and societal norms in a way that I never had before

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine

Like Andrew Clements, Gail Carson Levine’s work defined an awful lot of my childhood. Her books were my first experience with retelling fairy tales, and with beautiful writing, where the prose is there not just for telling the story, but also to be beautiful in and of itself.

I was tempted to put Dave at Night on this list, instead, just on the basis of the above.
But I didn’t. Because Fairest taught me so much about myself and about other people, about how looks only really matter as much as we think they do, and about how you can fight your internal demons, and about how strengths can sing out way louder and stronger than insecurities. This book has so many positive messages, especially for younger girls who are just entering the realm of “girl drama.” 

Pictures of Hollis Woods

This book… I don’t have a lot of words to describe this book. It was my first-ever experience with nontraditional storytelling, and with a jumpy timeline, which is probably a large part of what led to my current adoration of books like

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, or Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. This book may have also been my first experience with a bildungsroman. It taught me that people make mistakes, and that sometimes, crap happens and you just have to deal with it, and it’s hard but it’s not impossible, as long as you turn around and face it head-on. More than anything, it taught me the importance of retaining creativity, and of trusting the heart.

The Golden Compasses trilogy (YES THAT IS ITS ORIGINAL TITLE) aka His Dark Materials

This trilogy was without a doubt my first experience with existentialism.
The first book, I read like a story. It was just a story. It was a story that made me think a lot, and I liked that, and it was a smart story. But it was just a story.
the second book… I got confused several times. I started to realize that some things were allegories for other things. I started to understand literary parallels.
The third book was the most intense reading experience I had ever had.
These books made me question a lot of things about the world we live in, things that I had never had reason to question before. They also put a lot of things in perspective– I might have ten hours’ worth of homework, but hey, at least I’m not dealing with the world-in-peril-and-no-one-knows-about-it issues that these characters are.
This series made me stretch my brain in ways I never had before, and I’m thankful for that. In a lot of ways, this was the first series that helped me envision multiple worlds, coexisting, which probably led to my writing about several of those worlds that I then envisioned.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
I read this book in middle school, because I needed to read something Jewish. I was reluctant to even start it, and I dawdled my way through several chapters, annoyed that I had to do extra work for a Hebrew School that I’d only spent one year at, anyway. And then I finished the book, and I was left staring at my empty hands, wishing I could keep going. This book is still one of my all-time favorites, and I still go back and reread it probably about five times a year. This book was one of the first to make me think about religion at all, and it was absolutely the first to ever make me think about what Judaism means to me– not what it means to the rest of the world, not what it means to celebrate holidays, not what it means to be a part of that global community. What it means to me, on a basic, “what-do-I-believe” level. I still struggle with understanding what I believe, and with understanding how that gels with the people I’m friends with and what they believe.

I think I encountered this book at the exact right time in my life to be able to appreciate it in full, and I hope I never let go of that– I don’t mind the idea that I’m always questioning, as long as I have some basic central knowledge to go back to. This book solidified so much of that basic central knowledge, at a time when I didn’t even know I needed or wanted to be thinking about it.

La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you’ve taken a Spanish class with me in the last four years, or if you’ve talked with me about international literature, or about books in general, then you probably knew this one was coming.
This was not the first book I had ever read in a foreign language, but it is certainly my favorite of those I have read. I LOVE THIS STORY, in English and in Spanish. It was my first experience with grown-up parallel plots, and also one of my first encounters with romance stories. I fell in love with the city, with the characters, with the story… and of course, I fell even more in love with the books.
I fell in love with a city by proxy. Powerful writing? I think this book defines it.
I taught myself extra Spanish just so that I could read this book in its original language. There’s a sort of dualism inherent there that I’m not sure I would have– or even could have– understood without doing that.

And finally, book 10. The book that I rant and rave about and push into everyone else’s hands because it’s so freaking good. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

This book has probably influenced my own writing more than any other book ever has. This remains one of the most poignant love stories I’ve ever read– not just love for another person, but love for a place, love for experience. This book helped me to understand how shared experience really can change a life, can tie people together forever without those people even realizing it’s happening.
This book taught me about nontraditional endings, and the idea of creating your own destiny; the idea of changing fate.
I adore this book.
(I suspect it also contributed to a factor that some love and some hate about my writing– the food descriptions. oh well)

Many of you are probably surprised at the books that did not make their way onto this list. I really wanted to include several that did not get on here– there are many, many books that have influenced me in a lot of ways, and there’s no way that I can really narrow it down to only ten. or eleven, which is what it actually is.

You may notice that there is no Twilight. There is nothing written by John Green. There is no Junie B. Jones, and there is no Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This is important. In fact, the absence of these titles matters almost more than the titles themselves would if they were on the list at all. These are the books that forced me to defend my own opinions, even when everyone else LOVED them. I learned, through my unpopular opinions on these books, to stand by my stance on a subject, and that’s something that I’m proud of to this day.

IRL: 5 Books that Have Made Me LOL

I write a lot about books that I love, that have made me cry. But how often do I write about the books that have made me laugh?

I know from experience that intelligent humor, the kind that isn’t too sharp or too obscure, can be incredibly difficult to write. I have nothing but the utmost respect for writers who are capable of it.
I find, however, that there are startlingly few books that have made me laugh recently.

When reading, I have a tendency to prefer the dark, the sad, and the melancholy. My own sense of humor is generally either extremely sarcastic or decidedly silly, with a dash of really cheesy puns thrown in. So, it can be difficult to find books that actually make me laugh out loud.

Without further ado, here are some of the best:

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
I read this book recently, and adored it. Yes, it’s a book that you mostly read for the “easter eggs” and the puzzles more than for the story, but… I’m a complete and total sucker for any nerd culture references. There were so many points in this book where I just burst out laughing, and everyone in my family looked at me when I was insane…

I was talking to a friend of mine about it, and we decided that the book might not be for everyone, but it’s the best homage to the world of nerds that anyone has ever seen, and as such, it’s spectacularly executed.

Rebel Belle, by Rachel Hawkins
This one probably wouldn’t be as funny to anyone who didn’t grow up surrounded by many of the in-jokes of the South that this book is based around. I go to school with people who say “I suwanee” instead of “I swear.” I have eaten and enjoyed Hummingbird Cake, and yes, I do understand the necessity of an apology cake every now and then. In addition to this, I go to school with a LOT of overachievers, and most of us are as competitive as they come.

So when I come across two main characters whose favorite way to diss each other is using the words that each used to beat the other in the fifth and sixth grade spelling bees, respectively?

I cannot help but burst out laughing.
I was cracking up in a Barnes and Noble as I read this book. A lot of employees probably thought I was really weird. I don’t mind.

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire
This is Maguire at his best, combining fairy tales and folktales from Russia, that I’ve grown up with my whole life long. It incorporates Maguire’s typical absolutely insane, off-the-walls tendencies, when it comes to the adventures that the characters get up to, aka the silliness, as well as some wisecracking one-liners from this particular iteration of Baba Yaga that had me very nearly in stitches.

the Eyre Affair (book one of the Thursday Next series), by Jasper Fforde
What Ready Player One is to nerd culture, this series is to literature. Combining spoof and somewhat-respectful-homage, this book was my introduction to the full-on loopiness of literary fiction. As a longtime lover of classic literature, I’m inclined to laugh at anything involving Mrs. Havisham driving a car, or people wandering into books of poetry and never coming out again. I’m also automatically captivated by the idea of sects of people so dedicated to Shakespeare and the question of who he really was that they call themselves the Radical Baconians. What can I say? I love the literature.
I’ve loved this series since I picked it up for the first time, and it remains one of my comfort books to this day.

City of Thieves, by David Benioff
This is without a doubt the darkest book on the list. It’s not a cheerful story. In fact, this book is also one of the ones that made me cry buckets of tears, and I still cry when I reread it.
But the humor.
It’s arch. It’s dry. It’s occasionally quite dirty. And most of it comes from Kolya. Oh, Kolya.
I would be very tempted to categorize this book as a tearjerker and little more. But I can never bring myself to do that, because every time I think about it, I end up laughing all over again, along with the tears.
These books are all excellent stories in their own right, in addition to the humor. They’re all some of my favorite books of all time. They’re clever, sharp, and insightful. And I adore each and every one of them.

“I Think I’m Too Old to Date Gabriel Witter” and Other Insanities of Growing Up

There are four fictional characters who, when combined, essentially sum up my ideal significant other.

These characters are: Gabriel Witter (from Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley), Simmon (from The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss), Chaz Santangelo (from On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta), and Jaime Beaufort-Stuart from (Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein).

I was discussing this with my mom yesterday, since Where Things Come Back is one of her favorite books as well.

And that’s when I realized: I am older than Gabriel Witter.

I am not even six months younger than Chaz Santangelo.

I’ve always read about characters who are older than me. It was part of being a pretty advanced reader for a third- or fourth- grader, and having a brother six years older. I read books meant for middle schoolers. Then, I read books meant for high schoolers. The main characters in these books were mostly somewhere between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. So, naturally, I looked up to people between the ages of thirteen and seventeen.

These are characters who I have always viewed as “older,” or more mature—partially because of the circumstances their novels put them in, but… not really.

For a long time, it seemed like sixteen was simply the age when everything big happens.

Now that I’m here, and have been for a while? I’m not so sure I agree.

I’m the same age as Katniss and Tris, and six months younger than Hazel. I’m older than June and Day. It’s ridiculous.

I started reflecting on it, and…

It turns out there are very few fantasy characters that I grew up with who I can still look up to, and still relate to, from the point where my life is today.

I’m older than every single Penderwick sister.

I’m older than the majority of the characters in the Septimus Heap books.

I’m the same age as Aria, from Under the Never Sky.

And if I’m going by societal standards, I’m too old to date most of my old literary crushes.

Of course, there are also the characters that age with the series. Alanna the Lioness is still fully present in the books when she’s much older than the young teen she is at the beginning of her series, and she makes cameos in two other series as well, with a lot of renown a future mapped out for her. Phedre nó Delaunay… well, book three of her series is set ten years after book two, and she matures/ages emotionally throughout the series, and then book four is set several more years after the first three, soooo safe to say she’s not going anywhere (although if I’m being honest, Phedre’s not exactly a role model. Oh well).

These are not the only characters who age. Of course there are others. Look no further than Harry Potter to tell you that.

But my point is, these are characters I grew up with. And it feels really, really weird to be older than they were in those books, and to realize that when I reread them, I can’t relate to them anymore.

It makes me wonder. Will I, in four years, go back and reread words about Gabriel Witter, only to think about him and the rest of his cast of characters as little kids? Will I reread Jellicoe Road, only to discover that each character seems woefully juvenile?

And what will I think of the characters who are four or five years older than I currently am? Will they remain accurate portrayals of people I could look up to? Or will they seem… empty? Unrealistic?

It’s a terrifying moment of clarity when you realize that you’re older than your role models, and they are not going to continue aging.

I hate saying that I don’t know something.

But when it comes to this, it’s sort of the only real response.

How To Fall In Love 365 Times In A Year (sort of)

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. I haven’t managed 365 yet. But that’s the goal.

It may be somewhat obvious by now, I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about books. My reading goal for 2015 is 365 books. And no, I’m probably not going to fall in love with all of them. I’m pretty far along with this goal so far, and I haven’t fallen in love with all of them.

You may already be thinking, Maxxe, why are you reading for quantity? Shouldn’t you be reading for quality?

If you’re wondering that, you might have a point.

But I’m not just mindlessly swallowing every book I come across. I promise. What I am doing is pushing myself to go outside my comfort zone, and to occasionally pick up something that I know absolutely nothing about. I’ve made a deal with myself to not read the reviews on Goodreads, and to not look any further than the cover synopsis and the blurbs before I check it out of the library. On that note, I should mention that libraries pretty much give me life. My school has a rather excellent one, and the librarians have excellent taste.

So yeah, I’ve come across a lot of books that I probably wouldn’t have normally read, if I had known more of what they were about when I picked them up.

This includes (get ready for the wall of book that will be below) M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, the entire Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, the Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (I can’t wait for book three, Morning Star, which I desperately want).

       thegirlwithallthegiftsonthejellicoeroadillgiveyouthesun

lux-seriesundertheneverskyRed Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

(Wall of book. There you go. creds to Goodreads)

In other words, I’ve encountered some titles which have rapidly become some of my favorite books of all time. I’m talking books that have made my cry, little tears and wrenching sobs. Books that I love so much that when I finished them, I refused to put them down, and just clutched them to my chest. And to think that I might never have picked them up at all.

I’ve pushed myself way, way outside my comfort zone, and it’s definitely paid off.

I’ve also fallen in love with some books that don’t fit that category, of course. Some of my favorite authors ever have come out with new books this year (I read them and adored them, as expected). I read some older books that I didn’t know existed, but were beyond fantastic.

I followed some recommendations—that’s how I found Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (Thank you Mom!!!) and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as well as Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle.

  wolfinwhitevanafinebalanceJonathan-Strange-Mr-Norrell-Susanna-Clarke

(More image creds to Goodreads. In case you can’t tell, I really, really like Goodreads)

It’s a lot of books. I’m not going to list them all (If you really want to know, you can go check out my Goodreads shelf called 2k15).

I’ve fallen in love a lot of times. Not just with the characters, although I do have to admit that there are some pretty kickass protagonists, and some deeply flawed people–villains and protagonists– who I can’t help but treasure. I’m in love with stories. Not just the heart-racing, blood-pumping action scenes, or the heart-stopping romance ones.

I’m also in it for the tragic moments, the ones that make me feel like there’s a hole in my chest where something alive ought to be. I’m in it for the moments when something inside of me wants to swell, up and out through my throat along with the tears working their way through my eyes. Sometimes it’s a sob, sometimes it’s laughter. I’ve encountered both.

I’ve also been disappointed. Kind of inevitable, really, with the large number of books that I’ve read.

Some of the disappointments have even come from some of my favorite authors (Looking at you, Jacqueline Carey. I’m not a Moirin fan). Others have come from authors that I’ve never even heard of, but the covers looked interesting, and I thought, why the hell not.

There have also been books that I didn’t love, didn’t hate, but definitely did enjoy.

And that’s the think about reading so much. I get to live 365 lives in a year. I get to see those ups and downs, those love stories and vengeance stories. I can go as far outside of my comfort zone as I’ve ever been, and then return to it a day later. Yes, there have been disappointments. But the shining stars among the rubble render the chunks of rock nearly invisible. Every story matters, but the truly transcendent ones stand out. And I’ve gotten to see, love, experience so many of them.

That’s why I have a quantity-based reading goal this year. I refuse to discriminate between genres. I refuse to say that I’ll only read something if I know a lot about it.

If I do those things, I’ll never get to do what I’ve done, or what I hope to continue doing.

I’m in love, maybe not 365 times over, but pretty close.

And it feels good.

grrc

(Image creds to guess who? Goodreads again)