‘Tis the season to pick and choose the best and most remarkable books read in 2015. I’ve seen many bloggers post their lists in the last few weeks, but I’ve been holding off because “it ain’t over until it’s over”. However, I’m now quite certain that I won’t be finishing Hanya Yanagihara’s 800+ paged A Little Life before the year turns into 2016, so it’s time to look back and reminisce.
Despite my good intentions to read bigger books in 2015 and thus read “less”, I read a total of 98 books – I’m already terrified for what will happen in 2016. As you can imagine, there were some duds in the almost 100 books, but luckily there were more than just few absolutely wonderful books that blew socks off my feet. These books definitely made an impact on me and I hope to revisit them again in the future. I’ve narrowed my “best of” list down to ten books, so I’ll try to limit myself to a brief synopsis as well as a link to the review (if published). Let’s get started!
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose was one of my first reads of 2015 and it has stuck with me the entire year. A mystery set in a monastery in the 14th century offers both excitement, historically accurate descriptions of monastery life and philosophy that runs deeper than just the plot. The religious, political and scientific debates in this book challenge not only the characters but also the modern reader. A masterpiece that I most heartily recommend to everyone.
The Red Line by Ilmari Kianto
Finnish classics tend to be rather bleak and depressing, and in that sense The Red Line is no exception. It follows the first universal vote in Finland (1908) and the frenzy surrounding the political camps. However, the bleakness is quickly forgotten as the intriguing plot, beautiful nature imagery and symbolism wrap this politically loaded book into a stunning package. It’s such a shame that this book has not been translated into English! It might not give the most sophisticated image of the Finns as a nation, but it is a damn good book.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Snow Child surprised me and dazzled me with its writing and character development. Set in the 1920 Alaska the story follows an older couple moving to the wilderness and building their life anew. Another book with stunning imagery of the nature, The Snow Child, however, focuses more on the family relationships and different types of love. It is a heartwarming tale told with such poetic and engaging writing that it did not matter that I read it in the spring – the bone-chilling coldness was inescapable.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Unlike in 2014, I read only a handful of plays in 2015. However, the quantity was replaced by sheer quality because of plays like Waiting for Godot. On the onset it is an odd one: nothing happens, twice. The simplicity of the setting, the slightly offbeat dialogue and the bare-bonedness of the presentation invite the reader/audience to interpret the text in so many ways. Waiting for Godot is definitely a play I would love to see live, because I feel that the physical nature of the roles would really enrich the experience – and offer new interpretations.
Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson
Funny thing how one book can lead you to another very good book. In the beginning of 2015, I received the great news that Peirene Press would be publishing the English translation of White Hunger. Looking through the publishers catalogue, I discovered they had also previously published another Finnish title: Mr Darwin’s Gardener. The book is set in the 19th century Kent following the collective consciousness of the villagers, their reactions to the Thomas Davies’ isolation after his wife’s death. The lyrical language and the thought-provoking passages blew me away, and I savoured the story from beginning to the end.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The 1970s New York was a curious, wild and free environment that pulled in young creative people to gather and share their art. Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning memoir follows her first years as an artist and a poet, and depicts her relationship with her friend and lover famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The honesty and warmth with which Smith writes evokes wonder at the times and the people. It’s not just a name-dropping contest, it’s a honest portrayal of the struggles and small successes of a budding artist and an inspiration for all creatives.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
One of my goals for this year was to read a novel by Charles Dickens, and I couldn’t be happier with the one I chose to read. A Tale of Two Cities is a historical fiction novel set during the French Revolution following both the English and the French. It is possibly one of his most stunningly written novels, with enthralling sentences and memorable passages. Dickens is more often known for his characterisation, but this is novel in which the language runs the game. The depiction of the French Revolution is also a depiction of human cruelty, reminding the reader that no revolution comes without pain and injustice.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The dystopian trend in literature seems to be passing, but it doesn’t change the fact that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four still feels like a dead-on prediction of our society. The society devoid of freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of thought is cruel place to be, which is why the familiarity of Orwell’s fruit of imagination is so terrifying. Never one to shy away from political criticism, the book does not offer any kindnesses towards the Socialist movement. However, the struggles of Winston Smith connect to more than just one political party, raising questions about the innate nature of power struggles.
The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy
One of my challenges for this year was to read more poetry, and I set myself a goal of four collections. I did just that, and two of the collections even made it to this list. The Bees is collection of poetry by the Poetry Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – a name I recognised but always mixed up with Joyce Carol Oates (don’t ask me why). Duffy’s poetry is exquisite in its simplicity and emotion. The recurring theme of bees knits the entire collection together and the poetry book itself is a piece of art. The Bees was both sad and happy, joyous and jealous, and I loved every single of this rollercoaster. More, please!
Aniara by Harry Martinson
Aniara: An Epic Science Fiction Poem started off as a joke. I jokily asked my friend who is a big science fiction buff to recommend me something and he immediately presented me with The Nobel Prize winning Aniara. I expected to simply enjoy the book, but it surprised me in so many levels, that I almost forgot I was reading epic poetry. The story follows a regular space flight that is thrown off course by a meteor and subsequently loses the chance of ever getting back to the destination planet. A large colony lost in space and with no hope of rescue turns into a study of humanity explored with painfully beautiful writing. Heart-wrenching.
Honorable mentions: There were simply too many good books that I didn’t make the cut – some almost equally wonderful. These books are also ones that I can heartily recommend and I hope you’ll love as much as I did. Honorable mentions go to To Kill a Mockingbird, Saga vol. 1, We Should All Be Feminist, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, Station Eleven, Villimpi Pohjola (Northern Overexposure) comic series, The Sandman vol 1–3, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Hamlet & King Lear.
Happy New Year! May the odds be in your favour and the your 2016 bookish. x