Its been a good year of reading, better than I had planned for.
I started the year with a GoodReads target of 20 books, a deliberately conservative one because I wanted to make the time to read a lot more outside the book and fiction format.
Must confess – I am a GoodReads geek and give it all the credit for keeping me on my reading toes as well as helping me meet some of the best books out there. The thrill and excitement of looking for my next read never fades and the feeling of accomplishment with every book read is too good to give up.
With FlipBoard as my initial companion and Feedly, a later discovery in the year, there was a whole new world of information that opened up to me. This is also where I discovered #longform journalistic articles, which I am completely latched on to now. I read some of the most moving, well researched and interesting stories here, all brilliantly written and a great lesson in reportage writing.
The best part has been that I ended up reading so much more beyond my fiction fixation. With no pressure to complete my annual target of 20 books, I ended up reading 26! The only side effect was a bit of digital dry eye syndrome, what with constantly staring at my work computer, then at my ipad screen or at a book. But nothing a few eye drops couldn’t take care off – my 20/20 vision prevails 🙂
So with no further ado, here’s a list of the 10 best things I read this year, in descending order of bestness.
1 Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
5/5 – – – – One of the best books I’ve read this year, EINTY had me hooked from the very beginning and kept me absorbed with the same (if not increasing) level of interest and involvement throughout. Being a debut novel, this is an accomplishment. As The Guardian put it very well, “By the third of the 12 chapters, it is apparent that there is much here that might impress Pulitzer and Man Booker judges as much as the panellists of an online bookseller”. The book topped Amazon’s 2014 list of top 100 best sellers of the year.
The story of a mixed race family that snaps, cracks and splinters when Lydia, the apple of their eye daughter, is found dead. The narrative runs back and forth in time, lending perspective and background to how the family has shaped into its present form over the years. What expectations, insecurities, failures and disappointments have culminated into this one dreadful and tragic event and the desperate attempt they make to explore and question everything and anything that may have led to it.
All of the 6 main characters are very well developed. Their perspectives, flaws and feelings, even the ones they don’t express, come through so clearly, it is not difficult to empathize with each one and to understand their motivations and impulses. The desperation of both parents in trying to mold their unfulfilled ambitions into one child is unsettling. Hannah, the youngest member of the family was the most endearing character for me, I wished many times to be able to re-assure her.
In the end, the book is about so many things. About love, ambition, identity, loss, fear, security and individuality. #HighlyRecommended #AMustRead
2 Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
5/5 – – – – My first 5 starrer of the year, I thought this one deserved 6! I’m not a sucker for romantic stories, but this one was so well done, so smartly written and super witty, that I just loved it and couldn’t stop recommending it to every second person I met.
Epistolary novels are one of my favorite kinds, especially the contemporary ones, which take place mostly on email. Rainbow Rowell’s writing is witty, hilarious and so practically real that I could totally believe this story to be true. I can only imagine how funny she must be in real life, to spare enough for Beth and Jennifer to have their own individual senses of humor and such funny email exchanges, they make you giggle and smile throughout. Two people, best friends, who totally get each other can totally have conversations like the ones in this book – drifting between funny and sad and supportive and grumbly.
It lead me to read Rowell’s two other books – Landline and Eleanor & Park, but neither makes the cut like this one.
An ideal single sitting book – for the beach, for a plane ride home or just for a quiet Saturday afternoon.
3 Malice – Keigo Higashino
4/5 – – – – I can’t decide if I actually like this book better than The Devotion of Suspect X. There is something about it that lingers and it’s definitely a more complex plot. Keigo brings out the true meaning of malice in such a brilliant twist that it’s literally like a tangled mess of knots being unravelled. Just go read it.
4 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler
4/5 – – – – As I began reading this book, I pictured the author to be an older person, someone mature with experience and the patience that comes with it. The story unfurls gently, as if you are listening to her tell you about this family she once knew, over her knitting needles on a winter afternoon.
I was surprised to discover that the book was written over 30 years ago in 1982, but less surprised to see that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1983 (also the year i was born, wow).
Set in the mid-20th century, this family saga of sorts follows Pearl Tull who is a proud, old fashioned woman whose world is limited to her husband and three children – – a result of her own choices, priorities and outlook on life, and her three children, outlining their personalities, their manner of dealing with the lemons life gives them, and their persistent denial in accepting the truth or giving in to a difficult situation.
Anne Tyler tells this simple story of deep emotions very well. Its definitely a book worth reading. You are likely to identify with most of these characters, if not with yourself then then definitely with someone you know…
5 People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up – Richard Lloyd Parry
4/5 – – – – Many readers called this a true crime, high drama, psychological thriller all wrapped into one and I couldn’t agree more. At the same time it is well written and well researched.
Being a journalist, with the power to make a very sensational publication on the event, the author seems to have successfully steered away from that temptation and maintains a dispassionate (yet considerate) tone to the story. While the writing is very factual and unfolds in chronological order, it remains gentle in describing the events, not lending a bias to any characters one way or another and not really aiming to shock the reader with grim descriptions.
What I liked about it was that the author doesn’t dwell too much on the crime but focuses on the events that led to it and how the dynamics of a country can greatly affect the progress of solving a crime like this one. Just like the reader would, the author is also digging deeper and trying to rationalise why a person would commit such a crime. Rather than place a quick conclusion on mental / psychological imbalances, there is an attempt to explore the backstory of the person to gain some perspective that might make this more palatable….
Different people process grief differently and this comes through very well when one reads about Lucie’s parents and their diametrically opposite actions / reactions and conduct to her disappearance and death. In the end, losing a loved one to such violence alters the lives of those left behind so drastically and enduringly, and while the legal process may finally bring them “justice” and respite in the sense of it, it never can or will make up for that loss as expected, even though the families hang on to it like the last thread of hope.
This is a sad story of an unfortunate series of events and a tragedy waiting to happen, which may have been avoided had the law and order system been more sensitive to the signs and very direct leads they received long before this happened. But it is also a very interesting insight into a parallel world that most of us live such insulated and ignorant lives from.
6 American Horror Story: The Cecil Hotel #Longform
It started out as a routine missing persons case. But by the time the internet was done with her, Elisa Lam had become a macabre celebrity, a conspiracy magnet—and the inspiration for a TV series.
This story had me thinking about it for several days, so I can understand the internet frenzy it created around the mysterious circumstances that Elisa Lam disappeared under; and the inexplicable recorded piece of evidence that is eerie, disturbing and mystifying all at once.
7 The Outcast #Longform
For almost twenty years, Greg Torti has lived the life of a convicted sex offender: monitored by the authorities, unable to go near schools or parks, forced to make his home on the outskirts of a tiny town. It’s exactly the kind of miserable life a pervert deserves, he would tell you—if he were one.
A #mustread story about how one incident changed a man’s life and the heavy price he continues to pay for it. Even if he wasn’t guilty as charged. Reading this story made me realize how most of us live blessed lives, and how the complexities that overwhelm us are so insignificant in comparison to what some people face.
A quote that stayed with me,
“Everybody gets dealt a hand in life, and it’s not always a fair one”.
8 Lost Girls #Longform
Women, sex, and the Arab Spring
Another great article from Morocco, telling us Meriem’s story, who became a prostitute because she lost her virginity – because in Morocco it is still culturally and socially imperative that a woman be a virgin before marriage. Many marriage contracts include a clause stipulating that the bride produce a certificate of virginity before the wedding can take place. A falsified certificate is grounds for divorce.
An excerpt from the article:
“I received frequent unsolicited advice on how not to be confused for a prostitute. The lessons were delivered so often that I came to see the issue as a national obsession.
If you smoke cigarettes in public, people will think you are a prostitute. Do not put lipstick on in public, not even lip balm. Don’t put anything on your face in public at all. Don’t overly wax your eyebrows — you can have them waxed, but not too waxed. See? Don’t sit on the ground. Don’t spread your legs even a tiny bit while sitting and especially not while sitting on the ground. Don’t chew gum in a solicitous manner. Don’t chew gum at all. Don’t go to nightclubs. Don’t go to bars. Don’t go to cafés. If you must go to cafés, at least go to the right kind, and go with a girlfriend, never a man. Never be seen alone with a man, never, not anywhere. Don’t wear anything that shows your knees. Don’t show your feet, don’t show your upper arms, don’t wear red. Don’t walk alone after the sun has gone down. Never go out alone, and especially not at night — I mean, you can do whatever you want, you’re a foreigner, but not even prostitutes go out alone at night.”
9 They Burn Witches Here #Longform
And then they upload the photos to social media. A journey to an island caught between the ancient world and 2015.
A cringe worthy account of the reality of our times.
10 Memoirs of a Revolutionary’s Daughter #Longform
A daughter reconstructs the events that led to the execution of her father under the new Islamic Regime in Iran in 1983.