I just can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by. It’s been an odd year for reading, in that I got my scary, grown-up job and therefore have much less time for reading. I also started taking Russian lessons and was ‘promoted’ to Cub Scout Leader… whilst continuing my previous volunteer work. And attempting to have a personal life. Still, I have managed to fit some reading in.
I read 63 books this year, which is about 45 less than usual, but in my Defence… well, see above. I also spent three months on War & Peace and six weeks on Moby Dick, which didn’t exactly help, although I am glad I bothered now that I’ve finished.
With that in mind, here are Booking in Heels’ Top Ten Books of 2015.
1) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This book. This book this book this book.
I read it last January and I’ve been dying to put it in this list ever since. It’s perfect, and geeky, and references Hitchhikers Guide, Pern, Ghostbusters, Middle Earth and a million other old school fandoms that I love. I already want to reread it. Please, please, please pick this up if you have any interest in anything remotely geeky.
‘I hate that I never again get to have the experience of reading it for the first and it also bothers me that I have to wait a whole year before I can include it in the Best Books of 2015 list. Which I will be doing. I finished the novel with a tight, happy feeling in my stomach and the knowledge that I will buy everything that Ernest Cline writes.’
2) We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
It completely blew my mind and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
‘I was absolutely hooked by the end of the first page. It’s narrated by Merricat, or Mary Katherine Blackwood, in a very formal yet oddly chatty tone. She lives with her sister, who was formerly on trial for poisoning the rest of their family, and their Uncle Julian, who somehow managed to survive the whole thing. It’s one of those books where the truth is finally unearthed with little hints here and there, dotted in and amongst the narrative of their daily lives.’
3) The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This was actually a short story in one of those little black Penguin books they released this year, but it fit nicely into my apparent dark, Gothic, mental illness phase of this year.
I’d heard of it before and I read her novel, Herland, when I was a teenager, although it probably went mostly over my head at that time. However, I still wasn’t prepared for just how disturbing The Yellow Wallpaper was going to be. I read it when I was alone and promptly had trouble sleeping for a good few nights. Thought-provoking and unnerving.
4) The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
This has been on and off my wishlist for quite literally years, but I finally picked it up early this year. Despite it being 600+ pages long, I flew through it in days. It’s engrossing, with a twist so amazing that I actually gasped out loud.
It has a very silly-sounding plot, but it’s done in such a mature way that you get on board with it after just a few pages.
‘There’s just something about the tone of the book that infers a touch of respectability to a plot that could turn very silly very quickly. There’s a pervading atmosphere throughout, whether Claire is on an isolated Scottish moor or in a bustling castle kitchen, it always seems so real. If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be ‘immersive.”
5) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
A few years ago, we all read-a-longed Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and it was great. Changing perspectives, interesting characters, a grand reveal, etc etc. I’ve been meaning to read The Woman in White ever since, but you know how it is. So many books, so little time.
I eventually picked this up when I was packed off to a wedding in Norfolk on my own and I fell in love with it. It has the same changing perspective device as The Moonstone but it also has a creepy house and murderous plots. Whilst I liked both, I have to say that this book is even better.
6) Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
This is a lovely little book about village life, but with a twist. It’s the kind of book you want to snuggle down in front of the fire with and muse on how nice people are really. It’s charming, but with some satirical little comments that renders it still relevant to 2015. I quite desperately want to read Ms Stevenson’s other books now.
‘It’s just so nice. Even the characters who are slated in her book aren’t really nasty – they just receive a gentle nudge in the right direction. Not that they see it that way, of course. However, it’s also quite clever in a subtle, satirical way. Miss Buncle is naive, but Dorothy Stevenson was most certainly not.’
7) Redshirts by John Scalzi
Oh oh, Redshirts! I loved this! I read it in my Ready Player One after-glow, when I was looking for any book that even resembled the amazingness that was this book. Thus, Redshirts.
It’s a sort-of Star Trek parody, but not really. It is a novel in its own right, with a plot and fully-developed characters, but one that gently pokes fun at the sci-fi genre in a very meta way. I’d recommend reading it, even if you’ve never seen a Star Trek episode in your life.
‘Redshirts is so much more than a parody. It’s funny, clever, occasionally philosophical and really made me care about characters I expected to be two-dimensional and flat.’
8) Austenland by Shannon Hale
It’s a great book and a great film, although the two are very similar so it’s probably not worth bothering with both. Book. Go with book and be happy.
‘I put down the novel smiling like a child (albeit a child who is ill-advisedly allowed to read adult romance and has an obsessive understanding of Jane Austen). It’s just such a lovely, uplifting book that restores your faith in happy ever after.’
As rabies is obviously quite a niche topic, the book branches out into all sorts of topics – vampires, werewolves, hunting dogs, vaccines, Edward Jenner, etc – and it’s fascinating.
My favourite part was the chapter dealing with Louis Pasteur who not only vastly developed the field of vaccination and pasteurisation (well, obviously – the clue is in the name, people) but created the first ever effective vaccine against rabies.
10) Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Oh, I loved this book. Not only is the content fascinating, but the writing is beautiful. Far more impressive than you’d expect from a professional who has never studied literature.
This is an informal, very accessible collection of several essays about the world of surgery and why things go wrong.
‘Complications is far from merely a collection of anecdotes about ‘when things go wrong,’ however, and I do think it would interest everybody. Instead, Dr Gawande examines the concepts of surgery itself and discusses the different theories behind why things go wrong and the difficulty of actually implementing improvements. It’s absolutely fascinating.’