I know I’m late to the favorite-books-of-2015 party (is there one?), but I’m pretty much late to just about every party these days, so why break the habit? 🙂 Honestly, I read a lot of great ones last year, but there were a few (and especially one in particular) that have really stuck with me.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I listened to the audiobook version of this one and I think what drew me in right from the start was Debussy playing during the introduction. It immediately set a melancholic, reflective tone for the book that really stuck with me, so much so that I had it in my head for at least a week or two after finishing it.
The book didn’t turn out at all how I expected or thought it should, but in this case, this wasn’t a bad thing as I can’t imagine it turning out any other way than it did. The characters are extremely real and believable and I love that they have flaws, especially Werner. So often I read books where the main character is heroic and stoic and honorable and I can’t relate. They get into these morally difficult positions and I have to wonder if I’d do the same in their case. In Werner’s case, I’d like to think I wouldn’t do some of the things he did, but who knows?
Aspects of this book are both shocking and inevitable, in a way that makes you surrender to the story. You know what’s coming and it’s going to be sad. But you read on anyway because it’s so well-written and utterly engrossing.
If you read this rather than listening to the audiobook, I’d highly recommend having some Debussy playing in the background. 🙂
Home by Marilynne Robinson. I have to preface this one by confessing that I did not like Gilead, Robinson’s more well-known book, despite all the acclaim it has received. I’m actually working my way through it (again) right now as I never finished it before and because I loved this one and Lila so very much, I had to wonder if there weren’t a few hidden gems in Gilead that I had missed.
At any rate, I almost didn’t continue listening to this one after the first few minutes. I didn’t really care for the narrator, but the story itself is so deep. There’s nothing flashy or exciting or dramatic about it. It’s just a story about struggle, self-doubt, and a lot of self-hatred. Of making mistakes and not forgiving yourself, even if those around you have already done so. And it’s about unconditional love, even when you can’t accept it. Mainly, it felt like it was about making our lives more difficult than they have to be by not having grace with ourselves and dragging around the labels of our past mistakes as permanent luggage.
The two main characters in this one, Glory and Jack, are so multi-dimensional and full of feeling. They are, at the same time, infuriating because they refuse to break free of the ruts they’ve gotten themselves into, and entirely relatable. I could put myself in their shoes. I could feel the things they were feeling because they were such deep characters and because I think we all suffer from the human condition.
It was a sad book. But so thought-provoking and, as with all of Robinson’s other work, extremely well-written.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I think the reason both Lila and Home really struck a chord with me was because they were about supposedly unwanted or irredeemable people, and I feel that I can relate on both accounts.
Lila is the story of an unwanted woman. She was unwanted as a baby (for which I have a soft spot), unwanted as a child, and unwanted as an adult until she came to Gilead. But she never felt sorry for herself…. I think that part stood out to me the most. A woman who had all the reason in the world to feel sorry for herself, and yet she wasn’t. Her thoughts were simple, though I don’t mean that in a “simpleton” way. They were just not complicated. I think I found that appealing because my thoughts are definitely the opposite of simple and the clarity in which she lived was just so calming.
In comparing this one to Home, it was almost interesting to see how her life evolved verses Jack’s life. She came from no where, from no one, and he came from a loving family who continued to show him grace and forgiveness, despite the fact that he couldn’t accept it. Yet who was the better of the two?
It was both sad but also redemptive in the end when she found a place for herself, albeit very untraditional. This book make me want to move to Gilead.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. And I saved the best for last.
In a word, this book was amazing.
It wasn’t deep like the others, at least not in a philosophical way, though there were definitely moral dilemmas that were interesting to ponder. I think what stuck with me so much about this one was how immersive she made the world. How believable it all was and how she included aspects and characteristics of a post-apocalyptic society that I never in a million years would’ve considered. Parts of this book have stuck with me so strongly that I still think about them in wonder almost a year after I read it (in particular, Air Gradia 452).
It was definitely sad and actually quite disturbing in parts, but it was written so well that reading it wasn’t necessarily about how sad or disturbing or shocking it was, but rather more about the story. About the lives of the characters and how they adapted to this catastrophic change in their everyday lives. She so subtly added the other things into the story as if they were just commonplace. As if seeing skeletons in car after car after car after car in the road was perfectly natural.
I’ve actually considered reading it again for the reading challenge, especially as I got E a copy for Christmas (which also shows that I thought it was an excellent book). That says a lot.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. This one kind of surprised me as it was sort of a whim read. But the story was engrossing and the ending was fairly unpredictable. I struggled with it in some ways as I think I was able to project a lot of my own life story into it. But that’s also the sign of a good book. 🙂
The Complete all the Midwife Stories by Jennifer Worth. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to read any of these, but I’m so glad I didn’t miss out. They’re not just the story of midwives in 1950s East London, but also the stories of the people they helped. Shadows of the Workhouse was particularly poignant and I learned a lot, not only about the ins and outs of birthing babies, but just how hard life was for these people.
So I guess I’m drawn to particularly introspective, sad, melancholic books with well-designed, simple covers. 🙂 Who knew?