Books of 2015

Or why I still have a blog.

Once again, it’s time to examine my year in reading. This year, I have read 90 books, which is a full 57 books fewer than last year.

Wonder how that happened…

IMG_1186

Baby looking surprised as if she has no idea what effect she has on my reading

Anyway, let’s see how this year stacks up. It looks a lot like last year, interestingly enough.

Publication Years 2015

Books by Publication Year, heavily biased towards 2015

Nearly half the books I read in 2015 were published in 2015. One will be published next year – I read the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) and have no regrets. About 90% were published this decade. Basically, this was a year for reading new books as they came out and little else.

Ratings of 2015

Books by Ratings

The ratings look about the same as last year – mostly 4s and 3s. Interestingly enough, I read the same number of 5s this year as I did last year. Which suggests that I’m getting better at picking the books I’ll love. And all of those books were written by authors I’ve already read. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not. Still, a pretty good track record.

Genres of 2015

And, once again, Fantasy wins out by a landslide. This comes as no surprise. And, honestly, most of the historical books are also either fantasy or speculative fiction. I’m beginning to wonder whether the genre differences are specious. I’m not sure what they actually tell my readers about my reading habits.

Although it will always be more interesting to look at the actual books than the stats, the stats are important too.

Books and Authors Inclusivity

Books by Inclusivity

This particular set of stats, for example, is quite important. Also, wow, not reading any non-fiction has really skewed the gender ratios. And I did much better than last year in terms of reading authors of color. 1 out of 5 is not good – 50/50 would be better, but, it’s definitely an improvement over last year. Progress requires effort and, honestly, I found that while I was more aware of race and gender as they applied to books this year, I’m not sure how much actual effort I put in. I was, at least, determined to track down new releases by authors of color that I was pretty sure I would like. So I’m both pleased to be a little better and determined to continue embettering myself.

Okay, now that we’re done with all that, let’s move on to the fun bits. Favorite books of the year, as sorted vaguely by category.

Fantasy:

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. This was so good. This was so far beyond good, I don’t even know what to do with it. Jemisin has always been a master of world-building, but the care with which she crafts (and destroys) this one is unparalleled. More importantly, the world and the characters in it make strident points about the workings of power and oppression by being compelling characters in richly detailed settings. She tells a good story and, in doing so, shows what epic fantasy is capable of.
  • Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. Gladstone is my most read author this year, with all four published books of the Craft sequence on the list. He’s an equally interesting example of what epic fantasy becomes in the hands of a talented writer. Gladstone’s books ask, rather simply, why epic fantasy is always set in medieval realms with sword fights and great armies clashing. What happens if it’s set in a more contemporary setting? Well, the battles move to the courtrooms, the desks of accountants and lawyers, the slums about to be gentrified. Start with either Three Parts Dead or Last First Snow.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. A bit less serious than my other recommendations, but no less enjoyable (and will not rip your heart to shreds, unlike my first recommendation). Cho clearly enjoys the Regency romance and the conceit of setting magic in 19th century England, which makes her book a loving pastiche rather than a vicious skewering. The latter may be enjoyable, but they are rarely good stories. Cho’s book blends romance and fantasy in a way that makes both better and, really, what more can you ask from a genre mashup?

Science Fiction

  • Radiance by Catherynne Valente. …This might not actually be sci-fi. It is set in the science fiction novels of the first half of the 20th century–before we know what we know now about the solar system and intrastellar travel. But it’s also set in an alternate version of the 20s, what Valente calls Decopunk, with silent movies and the silver screen on Luna and it all sounds incredibly madcap. Valente also tells much of the story through transcripts, movie pitches, and screen plays, which makes the book feel like it should be a movie even when it is so obviously unfilmable. The use of other forms of written media to tell a visual story is brilliant and I still can’t quite believe she pulls it off with such a degree of panache.

Speculative Fiction

  • The Just City by Jo Walton. Quite literally speculative fiction, Walton’s premise is that, for reasons best known to herself, the goddess Athena collects an array of humans from throughout history to set up Plato’s Republic on an island far in the past. It’s a gedankenexperiment masquerading as a story, but it works because it’s also a story about the people of the city, the governed and governing and what it means to have agency. Walton’s brilliance lies in her understanding that all good thought experiments about people only work when feelings are involved as well. I’m not sure if this is the work of speculative fiction that I enjoyed the most this year, but it’s certainly the one I found the most interesting.

Fiction

  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Given that I read so few books that are not genre and given that I think Atkinson is brilliant, this book was kinda a shoe-in. It’s a companion to Life After Life and, while it mostly lacks the conceit of its predecessor, Atkinson tells the story with the same disregard for chronology that made Life After Life so successful. She makes a mystery out of ordinary life, piecing together the clues that make one man the man that he is, and uses that one man’s life to tell the story of Britain during and after WWII. It’s a genre that, though often reworked, never gets old when done well.

YA

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Everything I wanted in a young adult novel. It’s like returning to all my favorite authors from when I was a teenager without the lurking presence of the suck fairy. (When you go back to a beloved childhood classic to discover that it is racist, sexist, filled with wooden characters, badly written, or all of the above, it has been visited by the suck fairy. Clearly it could not have been that bad when you were younger. Something must have happened.) I’m not sure if I can pinpoint why this book is so good–the story is innovative although not new, the plot pales before Novik’s telling of it and it’s not as though female character driven YA is new or anything. She does what she does so well, it’s impossible not to enjoy it.
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Wait, two WWII novels about pilots on this list? Code Name Verity is no less brilliant for being shelved in the YA section. Wein’s story about the women’s auxiliary branch of the airforce during WWII is fascinating, packed full of information I’d never even guess. All of which is secondary compared to the two brilliant women at the heart of the narrative.

Nonfiction

  • Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Cetury by Shaul Stampfer. A niche market, I know, but if you happen to be interested in what it was like to attend Volozhin during the 1800s, look no further.

And there you have it, the books of 2015. Maybe next year I’ll aim really low. Like 50 books.

For more details, in depth reviews and a look at my ratings, feel free to check out my books of 2015 on Goodreads and I will see you all next year!

My Year in Books on Goodreads

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