My 2015 Reading List

I didn’t set a reading goal for 2015, but I’m pretty pleased with the result: 16 books finished, most in the last three months of the year. Here’s a tally, with a brief review for each one. 

Two caveats: I’m using Goodreads to track which books I read this year, but only started using it in earnest around September. This list might omit books I read in early 2015 but forgot to add. It also doesn’t include books I haven’t finished yet, or don’t plan on finishing. 

One more: you’ll notice there aren’t any business books on this list, and that most are fiction. I went hard on entrepreneurship books in 2014, but found that I get a lot more value out of articles, blog posts and podcasts in that genre. More on that later. 

My full reading list is on Goodreads. Add me if you have an account — I love to find new book recommendations based on what others have liked. 

In chronological order: 

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed. 
    Read in January 2015
    I was an avid fan of the Dear Sugar column (home of the “Write like a motherfucker” line) and couldn’t wait for this book, especially when the author was revealed as Cheryl Strayed. I read most of this book in an afternoon, drinking red wine in a courtyard. It’s a soothing read, and I would have loved it even more when I was in college. 

  2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
    Read in March 2015
    Didn’t everyone read this in March 2015? It sure seems like it. This was a great read, and the length factor is mitigated by the fact that the setting changes so frequently. It feels like a mini-series, not like a novel. 

  3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
    Read in April 2015
    Another trendy read — I’ll just stop noting that for now. I really disliked this book, as I rarely do. The writing is fine, the translation probably could be improved, but the premise (you have too much stuff! You don’t need most of it!) doesn’t need a whole book. The medium is the message, I guess. Thankfully I bought this as an ebook, so I don’t have to worry about the clutter created by the hardcover version (beautiful as it is). I’m probably not the target audience for this, having moved continents with one suitcase five years ago. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

  4. Dept. of Speculationby Jenny Offill
    Read in May 2015
    This was fantastic. It’s a look at marriage from within one, as it breaks apart then slowly comes back together. It will make you reflect on your own relationship, and your own choices, in a whole new way. 

  5. Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life, by Bea Johnson
    Read in May 2015
    Do you sense a theme here? Just like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this book was meant to have me question my life choices and simplify. Instead, I became concerned about the vast amount of waste others must be producing if the lifestyle described in this book is viewed as extreme. I should just stop reading this kind of book. 

  6. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
    Read in October 2015
    Yes, that is a rather long gap between books. I’m sure I read some other books in the interim, but I don’t remember them. 
    This one, though, this was great. It starts as three stories that eventually merge into one. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s settings — often rural, always small towns, the kind of place I can see myself in one day. 

  7. Flight Behaviour, by Barbara Kingsolver
    Read in October 2015
    Another great book by Kingsolver, again set in Appalachia, this time with the harsh financial realities of farming in America. It made me question my approach to talking with climate-change skeptics, and, really, anyone whose opinion on a topic seems incredibly naive. 

  8. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
    Read in October 2015
    I took a vacation in October and spent most of it reading Kingsolver novels. Pure pleasure. This is probably her second-most recommended novel (after The Poisonwood Bible, which I’ve read many times), both for the quality of the writing and for the charm of the characters. It made me long for small-town America, with its dirty motels and cheap diners, in a way I hadn’t in a long time. 

  9. Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver
    Read in October 2015
    Yes, one more. Last one. This was even better than The Bean Trees. It’s a sequel of sorts, but focuses on a completely different issue: Native American adoption and the laws and customs surrounding it. Once again, this book gave me renewed compassion for people with strong, different opinions. It’s heart-wrenching to agree with every character in a dispute. 

  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    Read in October 2015
    After I’d binge-read through my suitcase full of Kingsolver novels, I picked something up at the English bookshop in Ubud. That place was amazing: heaps of cheap paperback editions of English-language novels, and one shelf of amazing books on textiles and sewing. No room for those in the carry-on, unfortunately. 
    This was the first thriller I’ve read, and it was good. Not enough to hook me on the genre, but I did find powering through it on the nighttime flight home. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t think I will. 

  11. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
    Read in November 2015
    This book destroyed me, to the point where I couldn’t look at it without starting to cry. In fact, I quickly passed it on to the first person who showed any interest at all in reading it (sorry Adam). The reviews will tell you all you need to know, but my main reason for loving it was that I’d never really looked at male friendship before. I mostly read (fiction) books by female authors, most of my close friends are women, and I’ve (obviously) never been privy to the details of friendship within groups of men. It’s a topic we should probably talk about more, as a society (there’s no Sex and the City for guys, is there?). 

  12. The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
    Read in November 2015
    Quand j’aime une fois j’aime pour toujours” and all — I’ve taken to binge-reading through an author’s catalogue, can you tell? 
    This was good, not as gripping as A Little Life, but the structure was fascinating. It’s written as a memoir, with a foreword that announces something crucial: every narrator in this book is unreliable, as is the “editor”. It’s a fascinating plot device, and it kept me guessing at the “real” events at every page. 

  13. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
    Read in November 2015
    I expected to sob my way through this book, but found it mostly numbing — that’s deliberate, I’m sure. I loved the backwards-and-forwards narration, and the fact that the author/narrator/subject is an older woman, one of the groups we most seldom hear from. She reminds me so much of my aunt Thérèse, in all the good and bad ways: intransigent, loving, elegant, demanding, intelligent. If I loved this book, it’s because it brought my great-aunt back to me for a few days. 

  14. Holding the Man, by Timothy Conigrave
    Read in November 2015
    This book follows a couple from high school through to the 90s AIDS crisis. It’s deeply Australian, deeply touching, and did more to personalise AIDS than years of documentaries and articles. Top-notch. 

  15. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    Read in December 2015
    This was recommended by friends on Instagram after I asked for a non-depressing novel. I’m not sure they really understood what I was looking for, but at least this one didn’t leave me sad for days afterwards. Set in a post-pandemic world, it’s the closest I’ve come to reading a disaster novel, and I kind of loved it. The questions raised by this alternate reality (why didn’t they… surely they could have…) stayed on my mind for days, and were revived once my partner also finished the book. Maybe I should branch out into some science-fiction next year. 

  16. What’s Stopping You: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Canby Robert Kelsey
    Read in December 2015
    The first 60% of this book was a revelation: I have a high fear of failure, and not everyone in the world is like this. I soon started to classify my friends and colleagues into two camps: those who are motivated by achievement, and those who avoid failure at all (or most) costs. It explains so much! 
    The rest of the book was fine, but not nearly as interesting. There’s some fairly standard entrepreneurial advice, and a few chapters cribbed from How to Win Friends and Influence People. Worth reading just for that new world view.